"It is hard, honestly, to think of a more useless, patronising and stupid present than a toilet. Not even a gift-wrapped copy of the worst book ever written - Versailles: The View from Sweden – comes close. But after much sucking of my ballpoint, I have come up with something: a turbocharged Mini Cooper S Clubman.
I should make it plain from the outset that I like the normal Mini. I think that although it has a wheelbase longer than the Land Rover Defender, and therefore isn’t mini at all, it has a lot of charm and so many natty design features, you really don’t care that the back is suitable only for Anne Boleyn and that the boot couldn’t handle even half a king charles spaniel.
I was therefore expecting great things from the Clubman. Because here is a car that offers all of the Mini’s edge-thin, Conran-cute design stuff in a package that doesn’t force you to amputate your passengers’ extremities.
Or butcher your dog.
My expectations were lifted still further by an excellent review in this newspaper back in September, and then by the look of the thing when it arrived at my house. I loved the double doors at the back. I loved the huge speedo. And I loved the fact that this practical little car was fitted with a turbocharged 1.6 litre engine that pumped out 175bhp. On paper, it’s hard to think of any car that offers the modern motorist quite so much. And all for a shade more than £17,000.
Unfortunately, after a week, I have decided it’s one of the worst cars in the world. About as desirable as a packet of dung or a can of worms. Truthfully? I’d rather have a goat.
The first problem is the single rear passenger door. It’s on the right-hand side of the car, which is fine if you live in Germany or America, where everyone drives on the wrong side of the road - pull up at the kerb and your kids get out onto the pavement. But here in Britain, where we do things properly, your kids are forced to get out into the traffic.
Then there’s the boot. Yes, access is good, and yes, you get 100 more litres of space than you do in the normal Mini. But it’s still pretty small. As that September review pointed out, the boot in a Honda Jazz is 100 litres bigger.
Furthermore, you can see out of the back of a Honda Jazz. You can see out of the back of most cars, in fact. Seeing out of the back is jolly useful and is one of the reasons the Lamborghini Countach was not a big seller. But you can’t see out of the back of a Mini Clubman. Glance in the rear-view mirror and all you can see is the pillar where the two doors meet.
It’s a good job that speeding is now monitored by civil servants in vans, because there’s no way you’d see a police car if it were on your tail. And it’s a doubly good job because the natural cruising speed of the Clubman S is 110mph.
The cruising speed of a car is a bit like the natural parting in your hair. It’s just there, and you have to concentrate hard to make it go somewhere else. Weirdly, it has nothing to do with engine size. It’s a combination of things – the resonance of the body, the suspension settings, the gearing. My Merc, if I’m not concentrating, sits at 85. It’s its default setting. And that’s fine. But fail to concentrate in the Mini, and it sails up past 100. You have to be alert to keep it down, and that’s wearing.
But not as wearing as the torque steer. I do not know why the Clubman is so badly affected when the normal car, with exactly the same engine, is not. But I do know that there is no point paying extra for satellite navigation, because this is a car that goes where the camber of the road dictates. You, the man behind the wheel, have no say at all.
And woe betide the chap who decides to put his foot down hard coming off a greasy roundabout, because what happens next, in my experience, gets perilously close to dangerous. At best, it appears to be an extreme flaw.
And that’s probably enough problems to be going on with, if I’m honest. Looking for good things in a car that torque-steers like a wayward horse and has no boot, no rear visibility, a silly door and a ridiculous cruising speed is a bit like looking for good things in a piece of fish that’s dry, tasteless and bony. There’s no point.
Anyone who grew up in the age of loon trousers knows that style can often win out over practicality. But with the Mini, the price is too high. There are just too many issues to make it work as a car. Think of it as loon trousers with no crotch.
And on that rather unusual concept it’s time to move on to a seasonal close. Please have a wonderful Christmas. Drink too much. Eat too much. Don’t feel guilty about the presents you give or those that you receive. Care not for your carbon footprint or the impact of your naked consumerism. Be happy. And remember, you are having a much better time than Gordon Brown because he has no friends and you’ve got lots."
Model Mini Cooper S Clubman
Engine 1598cc, four cylinders
Power turbo 175bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 177 lb ft @ 1600rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Fuel 44.8mpg (combined cycle)
Acceleration 0-62mph: 7.6sec
Top speed 139mph
UK price £17,210
Clarkson's Verdict Humbug
Our Verdict 5 star !!!!!!!!!!
Standard Clubman S
Pepper white / black roof supplied from new with:
Chilli pack, multifunction steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, cream line interior, piano black trim, Crown Spoke 17" alloys and darkened rear glass.
The Modding Process:
Dealer fitted from new we had black front spot lights and chilli red super wind resistant wing mirrors and a black roof mounted rear vortex generator.
Day 1 saw the addition of 18" JCW R105s in matt black. These instantly changed the whole look of the car and gave it a much more purposeful look.
Day 14 saw the addition of Stage One of his Graphics upgrade with pinstriped viper stripes. These were black over the bonnet and rear doors and pepper white over the roof with vision vinyl over the sunroof. All accompanied by pinstripes to outer edges. the two A panels to the rear of the fron tyres were also wrapped in black vinyl. Work was carried out excellently by Phil at Mini Pirate
Day 22 saw the addition of a set of Eibach Springs lowering the car by 25cm. This has improved the handling immensely and given the car a meaner lowered look. The work was carried out excellently by ThinkMini.co.uk A Worcestershire based New MINI and SMART specialist.
Day 28 saw the addition of Stage Two of his Graphics upgrade with pepper white Cooper Laurels on his Black A-panels, his BP500-3 roof decal and his Beastmaster.co.uk logos - all courtesy of Mini Pirate. He also got Rear door reflectors (U.S. Style) and JCW bubble badges for the Glovebox.
Day 45 saw the changing of the front grill surround from chrome to the black JCW grill surrounds.
The Malvern Mini Show saw a modest mod - the addition of a John Cooper decal to the front bumper!
The latest mod is colour coded sideskirts which are about an inch and a half lower on the sides.