F54 MINI Cooper S Clubman-1

The thing about the new F54 MINI Clubman that jumps at you is its width, both literally and figuratively. Sure, like the previous R55 Clubman, this new one is longer and taller than the standard hatch, but in a departure from the outgoing wagon it’s also now wider, and considerably so.

However, the newfound breadth of new longroof goes beyond its actual dimensions. This is a Clubman that has greater ambitions than the one that preceded it, targeted at a much wider audience and positioned nearer the top of the MINI lineup. In doing so, it has ditched the previous model’s quirky details and idiosyncrasies to become a more mainstream product, offering conventional doors, a higher-quality interior and – by virtue of being MINI’s largest model to date – much more space.

Its broader capabilities and more upmarket presentation is also representative of the wider aspirations of the MINI brand itself, as it aims to push further up into the premium segment. The cleaner, flatter brand iconography and typography – introduced during the unveiling of the Clubman in June last year – is representative of the company’s move into an increasingly discerning space.

But as the brand inches upwards, some big questions arise, particularly as sister brand BMW is plotting its own move downwards – right into MINI territory. Can the new Clubman hold its own against more established premium models, especially those from the same company? We drive the most powerful Cooper S variant across the beautiful landscapes around Stockholm to find out if it can.

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With the switch to the F54 generation, the MINI Clubman becomes quite a different proposition from before. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the doors – gone is the previous car’s silly “Club” rear suicide door on the right-hand side (on both left- and right-hand drive models, meaning it opens out to traffic on the latter).

In its place are conventional forward-opening rear doors on either side; however, the characteristic barn doors at the tail end remain, so this car is technically a six-door wagon.

Break out the measuring tape and you’ll realise that the new Clubman’s title of biggest MINI ever was won by a wide margin. At 4,253 mm long, the new car is 293 mm longer than its R55 predecessor (which, at 3,960 mm long, doesn’t even breach the four-metre mark), 271 mm longer than the new F55 5 Door and 156 mm longer than the R60 Countryman.

Elsewhere, the 1,441 mm height is 16 mm taller than both the old Clubman and the new 5 Door, while its 2,670 mm wheelbase is 122 mm longer than the R55 and 103 mm longer than the F55. Most importantly, the 1,800 mm width is 116 mm wider than the R55 and 73 mm wider than both 3 Door and 5 Door hatches.

This added width necessitates an entirely new body for the F54, rather than being a stretched hatch as the previous Clubman was. At the front, the signature MINI round headlights are retained, but the hexagonal grille is slightly revised both in shape and design, as are the air intakes low down in the bumper. The Clubman also sees the first application of BMW’s Air Curtain inlets and Air Breather vents on a MINI.

Down the side, the squared-off corners add extra definition to the Clubman’s design, while haunches stretched over the wider track give a more muscled appearance, as well as accentuating its bulldog-like stance. Finishing off, the tail lights are now positioned horizontally (à la Paceman) instead of vertically – this further accentuates the car’s width – and are inset into the rear doors.

This is pretty much as was shown on the Clubman Concept that preceded it, although the twin centre exhausts have now been switched to a single tailpipe on the left side. One thing to note – the brake lights have been moved to the bumper, presumably due to regulations that require them to be seen even with the rear doors open; the concentric tail lights only light up at night.

As always, the quicker Cooper S and SD models are differentiated via a faux bonnet intake, a mesh grille with a single chrome rib (rather than the multiple chrome slats on other models), unique side indicators, a more aggressive front and rear bumper design, twin corner exhausts and plenty of S badging.

Overall, the larger size means that, to this writer’s eyes, this is the first MINI to comfortably wear the brand’s new design language – the oversized head- and tail lights and massive grille sit awkwardly on smaller models. Of course, the debate regarding whether or not such a maxi car should be wearing a MINI badge in the first place will rage on until the end of time, but that’s another story for another time.

Extras include LED headlights (adaptive items optional) with LED daytime running light and indicator rings, LED fog lights as well as a range of alloy wheels available in sizes from 16 all the way up to a massive 19 inches in diameter (Cooper S and SD models get 17-inch wheels as standard).

You’ll also be able to choose from four solid and eight metallic paints – including the new Melting Silver and Pure Burgundy that you see in these photos – along with contrasting roof and wing mirrors in white, black or silver. There are also optional bonnet stripes and Chrome Line trim for the grille slats, lower front air intake and fog light surrounds, just like on other models.

The Clubman’s unique design extends inside as well. While the overall interior ambience will seem familiar at first glance – with a giant centre circle, a three-spoke steering wheel, toggle switches and plenty of circular details everywhere you look – a closer look reveals some significant changes over the standard hatch.

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The dashboard design is completely new, with a lozenge-like upper panel and an outer layer that goes around the corner air vents (which are now rectangular instead of circular). This makes the cabin feel wider, and also allows for extra customisation – the inlay for the outer frame and the upper dashboard trim can be configured separately. Also revised is the centre console – while the switchgear is identical to those found on the new-shape hatch models, they are now housed in a thick wraparound surround.

The transmission tunnel is also taller and has twin trim strips that run along its length, while an electronic parking brake frees some much needed space; the cubby holes in the doors and the centre console also have a cool new tartan lining. Elsewhere, the seats can now be specified with power adjustment and memory for the first time, and a circular trim panel now runs across both the front and rear doors, as on the 5 Door.

Plenty has been carried over from the hatch models however, starting from that large centre LED ring that surrounds the infotainment display – like on the hatch, the latter can measure up to 8.8 inches across when specified with the MINI Navigation XL system. The upgrade also adds a touch-sensitive top panel to the BMW iDrive-esque MINI Controller aft of the gearlever. Also identical to the hatch are the speedometer and rev counter pods as well as the optional head-up display.

Personalisation remains a key feature, with a variety of interior finishings including the new Chester leather seats in Indigo Blue (with diagonal stitching and Pure Burgundy piping), as well as Cross Punch leather seats in Pure Burgundy. Additionally, the Clubman can also be specified with a range of more unique trim and colour options from the MINI Yours programme, introduced on the 5 Door.

These include the solid Lapisluxury Blue paint, new 19-inch two-tone MINI Yours Masterpiece alloy wheels, Carbon Black Lounge leather seats (with a cool Union Jack pattern on the back of the headrests), a MINI Yours sports steering wheel with contrasting silver stitching and a choice of Piano Black, Pure Burgundy and Fibre Alloy interior trim. Pick any of the MINI Yours trim pieces and you’ll even get backlit door trims that glow in accordance with your chosen ambient lighting colour – a new feature introduced on the Clubman. Neat.

In the right spec, the interior’s new design, trim and materials certainly provide the Clubman with a plusher, more upscale ambience and feel compared to previous MINI models. Build quality appears to be up to par too – everything feels well screwed together, with the kind of precision we’d expect from a brand that’s now taking aim at a more premium competition.

Most importantly, the increased dimensions have provided the Clubman with considerably more headroom and legroom compared to even the 5 Door hatch. The extra width in particular makes itself known, enabling the rear seat to sprout a proper centre seat. It’s still not exactly commodious here, however, so use of the middle pew is best limited to occasional full-up journeys.

And bless – the Clubman features wider rear doors compared to the ridiculously cramped portals on the 5 Door. They really make a big difference in entry and egress (you’re no longer going to smack your arm on the C-pillar when getting out), and will likely help tremendously in the installation of a child seat, too. There are also rear air-con vents, the first on a MINI.

Boot space is also a beneficiary of the bigger body – luggage capacity has increased by as much as 100 litres over the previous model (and 82 litres over the 5 Door) to 360 litres. This increase may sound dramatic, but that’s still three litres less than a Honda Jazz, which, lest we forget, is a small B-segment hatch that’s a whole 298 mm shorter. Kinda ironic that a MINI had to resort to building an extra large estate variant to match the interior space of a supermini, don’t you think?

But we digress. Pop the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats down and boot space is boosted to 1,250 litres. Like the 5 Door, the Clubman features a false floor that can fit flush with the folded rear seats (and to keep items from prying eyes), or lowered to increase maximum boot space.

Access to the load bay is via a fairly wide aperture thanks to the wide-opening barn doors, although the sill could sit lower still. Need a hand to open those doors when your hands are full? Specify the Clubman with Comfort Access keyless entry and you’ll gain Easy Opener hands-free operation, enabling the opening of each cargo door via a well-positioned kick under the bumper.

The Clubman is offered with a choice of six MINI TwinPower Turbo engines, mostly carried over from the hatch models. At the base of the range sits the MINI One Clubman, powered by a 1.5 litre petrol three-cylinder mill – up from the One hatch’s 1.2 litre engine – that pushes out 102 hp at 4,100 rpm and 180 Nm between 1,200 and 3,800 rpm.

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The Cooper gets an uprated version of the same engine, making 136 hp at 4,400 rpm and 220 Nm (230 Nm on overboost) at 1,250 rpm. At the top of the range sits the Cooper S that you see here – that one gets power from a 2.0 litre four-pot, churning out 192 hp at 5,000 rpm and 280 Nm (300 Nm on overboost) at 1,250 rpm.

On the diesel side, the One D (not to be confused with the other 1D) gets a 1.5 litre three-pot turbodiesel that delivers 116 hp at 4,000 rpm and 270 Nm from 1,750 to 2,250 rpm. Meanwhile, the Cooper D graduates to a 2.0 litre four-pot that pushes out 150 hp at 4,000 rpm and 330 Nm at 1,750 rpm, while the top Cooper SD punches 190 hp and 400 Nm from the same engine and at the same RPM.

All models come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with the three-cylinder models getting the option of a six-speed Steptronic automatic, just like on the hatch. However, the four-pot variants are available with the Aisin-sourced transversely-mounted eight-speed automatic, also used on front-wheel drive BMWs like the 2 Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer and the X1 – it’s another MINI first.

Buyers of the Cooper S and SD can also upgrade to a sport automatic with paddle shifters, faster shift times and a Launch Control system. There’s also the option of All4 all-wheel drive for these more powerful models, although of course it’s unlikely to be offered in our market.

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Weighing an extra 75 kg over the equivalent 5 Door at 1,390 kg, the Cooper S Clubman feels understandably less rapid, but this is still a quick car. The sprint from 0-100 km/h takes just 7.1 seconds before reaching a top whack of 228 km/h – and it feels every bit as fast as those figures suggest.

Much of that is due to the engine, which impresses with its eagerness and linear power delivery. Step-off response is immediate, but where the big mill really shines is in mid-band punch, and it pulls with surprising vigour all the way up the rev range.

Taking things up a notch is Sport mode, which, like on other MINIs, is accessible through the rotary switch at the base of the gearlever. In this mode, the throttle response is sharper, and a twitch on the throttle elicits a quicker response from the sport automatic gearbox (fitted to the cars on test), along with ultra-fast gear shifts. There’s a nice crackle on upshifts and on the overrun, too, although the boomy exhaust at lower revs does get grating after a while.

We also get to test a manual variant, but while it’s always nice to see a row-your-own gearbox on a test car overseas, the experience is not exactly all it’s made up to be. The shifts are notchy, and the unconventionally-shaped gearknob rests uncomfortably in the hand, balking progress still further. To be quite honest, intrinsic engagement from the manual aside, the sport auto is a much better bet.

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Refinement has never been MINI’s particularly strong suit, and it’s unfortunate that, despite noticeable improvement, the Clubman still doesn’t excel in this area. There’s still plenty of road noise, and wind noise is especially apparent around the A-pillar and the upright, flat windscreen, even at moderate highway speeds. If the design and trim materials hint of MINI’s potential in becoming a more premium brand, the lack of cabin quietness shows that there’s still some way to go in fulfilling it.

The saving grace of the Clubman is the ride, at least on the cars we tested, which were fitted with the optional Electronic Damper Control (EDC). Driving across the cobblestones of Stockholm, there’s an inherent stiffness that is apparent even in the standard Mid driving mode – as you would expect on a Cooper S – but the excellent damping adds a sense of compliancy, soaking much of the harshness.

Select Sport mode and the whole thing stiffens up considerably, but even then, the suspension retains enough pliancy – likely as a result of the longer wheelbase – to avoid feeling like the shock absorbers have suddenly been filled with concrete. Of course, as is the case on all MINI models sold in Malaysia, our Clubmans will probably not be fitted with EDC, so we would need to assess a passive suspension setup on local roads to form a proper opinion on the ride.

But comfort is only a secondary concern on a MINI – cars carrying the winged roundel are only worth their salt if they are able to conquer a twisty B-road. And while the new Clubman does a roundly good job of tackling the bends, on first instance it does raise some surprising questions about the veracity of the badge on the bonnet.

Turning off onto the sphincter-tight Swedish country roads, the sheer width of the Clubman makes it surprisingly daunting to carve through the twisties. It’s a rather different experience from the one this writer had blatting in the 5 Door across Oxfordshire a year prior, and really drives home the fact that, truth be told, this is quite a larger car than the brand faithful have come to expect – even after the BMW takeover.

Thankfully, the wider roads that followed gave us a chance to explore some of the car’s better traits. As with other MINI models, the Clubman has impressive control over body movements and exhibits very little roll, while grip levels are high enough that you’d have to be travelling at silly speeds to unstick it.

If there is one thing that we had to nitpick, however, it would be the steering. In isolation, there’s nothing really wrong with it – it’s linear and accurate, with a pleasing weightiness to it in Sport mode, if little in the way of feel. But the slower rack means it doesn’t feel nearly as agile as its stablemates, even though the chassis remains keen on following your every input.

Put it all together and the Clubman feels a little lazy and – whisper it – a bit more like a BMW to drive. That’s inevitable considering the car’s comfort-oriented nature, but it’s a shame nevertheless.

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In short, the F54 MINI Clubman is a largely successful redrawing of the MINI formula as the brand strives towards a more mainstream and upmarket audience. It’s arguably the best-looking car in the current lineup, and the significantly revamped interior goes a long way towards justifying any premium over the hatch.

It will need all the help it can get; although prices have yet to be revealed so far, it’s not going to be cheap, not when the outgoing Clubman (in Cooper S form) already asked for a cool RM259,888. If only refinement saw a similar improvement – it might have helped push the Clubman’s case further in its favour.

But the more relaxed driving demeanour mean that it loses much of the typical MINI fun factor, and the brand’s convergence with the lower end of the BMW lineup is going to be more than a little awkward; it remains to be seen if buyers will take to MINI’s new positioning, or if they will prefer to graduate to a more established premium marque. The company’s logic in using a wagon as an anchor to move itself up the food chain – at a time when the bodystyle is losing favour even in Europe – is also befuddling to say the least.

It might sound like we are having a downer on the Clubman, but the truth is that the new car is a thoroughly capable machine, one with enough substance to back up those handsome looks. With the premium small car segment being a hotly contested one, however, it’s going to have a real fight in its hands. Wish it luck.

The F54 MINI Clubman has been launched in Malaysia, priced at RM203,888 for the Cooper model and RM253,888 for the Cooper S. Both prices are on-the-road without insurance, inclusive of a four-year, unlimited-mileage warranty and a four-year/60,000 km free service package in accordance with MINI’s Condition Based Service. Browse full specifications and equipment of all MINI Clubman variants on CarBase.my.