The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times staff

The Daily Drivers: MINI Cooper S Clubman: Zip, hip and one fun trip

The bottom line: You don't need to sacrifice fun when you're looking for fuel efficiency. The MINI Clubman is perfect for that assertive driver who needs a little extra space — and wants to stand out from the compact crowd.

Since the U.S. introduction of the new MINI Cooper in 2002, fuel- conscious drivers have been snapping up these little machines. (Until recently, Lyra was zipping around in her 2002 S.) But many needed more space and easier backseat access. Along comes the Clubman to answer their call. And, most importantly, it retains what defines a MINI: fun.

Appearance: At first glance, the Clubman looks a little, well, odd. The front half is the regular Cooper with signature features like the black or white top, bulldog stance, circular headlights and optional bonnet stripes. But you'll notice significant differences — longer side windows, bold taillights and a barn-door hatch — in the rear. Not so noticeable is the hidden passenger door for easier entry. Our test car with Laser Blue metallic paint and a black top was a stunner.

Performance: The 172 horsepower on the turbo-charged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is a rocket. Lyra thought the longer wheelbase would make the handling more sluggish, but not so. The drive was just as peppy as her '02 Cooper S and still handles like a go-cart. But she felt a slight torque steer on hard acceleration. Peter loved the six-speed Getrag transmission, which, Lyra says, shifts smoother and much more lightly than the 2002 version. The only quibble is that reverse is next to first gear, but that's something you'll get accustomed to.

Interior: Inside, the Clubman retains all the quirky MINI charm, including the Frisbee-sized speedometer/screen on the center console, circular gauges and toggle switches. Peter was impressed with its headroom, but he found the footwell too narrow. The barn doors in the back are perfect for easy access, but the center pillar obstructs the rear view. The dual-pane sunroof brings in lots of light. But the mesh screen isn't enough to keep the heat out. And there's a lot of plastic on the dash. Many controls are plastic with metallic finish. Some have chrome accents, but that only means scorched hands in the summer heat. The center armrest is tiny with a compartment for a cell phone or an iPod. At least MINI heard the countless complaints about cup holders. The Clubman now can hold a nice, big cup of coffee.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Shifting: This is the car for learning how to drive a manual.

Handling: You don't need a lot of horsepower to have a lot of fun.

Style: Pick your adjective: funky, cute, retro or all of 'em. And make mine British Racing Green.

Lyra Solochek

Seats: These seats are made for cornering. The bolsters hold you in tight as you whip yourself around turns, and the fabric is like Velcro. Looks cool, too.

Seat releases: They're on the top of the seat, so you don't have to reach down to fold the seats forward.

Cup holders: Now I can have my coffee during my commute.

The bottom line: You don't need to sacrifice fun when you're looking for fuel efficiency. The MINI Clubman is perfect for that assertive driver who needs a little extra space — and wants to stand out from the compact crowd.



Our 3 favorites



Seat: These seats are made for cornering. The bolsters hold you in tight as you whip yourself around turns, and the fabric is like Velcro. Looks cool, too.

Seat releases: They're on the top of the seat, so you don't have to reach down to fold the seats forward.

Cupholders: Now I can have my coffee during my commute.

Shifting: This is the car to learn on if you have never driven a stick.

Handling: You don't need a lot of horsepower to have a lot of fun.

Style: Pick your adjective: funky, cute, retro or all of 'em. And make mine British Racing Green.

2009 MINI Cooper S Clubman

Price: $23,700 base, $34,450 as tested.

Powertrain: Turbo-charged 1.6-liter 16-valve inline four-cylinder

Horsepower: 172 at 5,500 rpm

Torque: 177pound-feet at 1,600-5,000 rpm

Curb weight: 2,855 pounds

Dimensions in inches:

Wheelbase, 100.3

Length, 155.8

Width, 66.3 (without mirrors)

Fuel economy:

26 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway

Fuel type:

Premium

Safety features: Six air bags, Dynamic Stability Control, anti-lock brakes, Corner Brake Control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.

Trim levels: Clubman Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper JCW. Other options: hardtop Cooper, S and JCW; convertible Cooper, S and JCW

Options worth considering: Dual-pane sunroof, bonnet stripes, park distance control, keyless ignition, Bluetooth, xenon headlights, Dynamic Traction Control, rain sensor, automatic lights.

Web site: www.miniusa.com

The Daily Drivers: MINI Cooper S Clubman: Zip, hip and one fun trip 08/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 1:13pm]

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