The modern BMW-produced Mini has an illustrious history, beginning in 1961 with the release of the Morris 850, which would be renamed in 1962 to Morris Mini 850 then again in 1964 to just Mini. The old Mini is an iconic two-door sedan designed by the legendary Alec Issigonis produced for a time by BMC Australia at the company’s Victoria Park plant in Zetland, Sydney.
The Morris Mini became the Leyland Mini following the formation of the Leyland Motor Corporation in 1972, which coincided with the release of the Mini Clubman a year previously. The old Mini would finally be known as the Rover Mini before being discontinued in 2000.
In the 1990s, BMW expressed a desire to enter the small car market, and following its purchase of the Rover Group in 1994, a plan was set in motion to produce an updated version of the classic Mini design, which was eventually submitted by Frank Stephenson of BMW Designworks in California, USA. The updated design obviously owed a great debt to the original, which was very much the intention, with Stephenson himself stating that he wanted the ‘first impression when you walk up to the car to be, it could only be a Mini.'
When BMW sold Rover in 2000, it kept the Mini design and name, but to capitalise on the iconic status of the Mini name itself, BMW decided that the new car in all its iterations would be given the Mini marque, as opposed to being known as the BMW Mini, for example. The new Mini was released in 2002.
With such illustrious history in mind, it was under close scrutiny that BMW set about recreating a classic design. Fortunately, BMW managed to capture much of the essence of the original, with the same cute looks and proportions that had made the old Mini such a popular car in the first place. Two of the most popular iterations of the Mini are the standard-size Mini Cooper and the Mini Clubman.
When introduced in 2002, the Cooper had 1.6L SOHC 4-cylinder engine that had a power output of 85kW and a torque of 149Nm in standard form, whereas the turbocharged Cooper S produced an output of 120kW and a torque of 210Nm. The standard Cooper was available with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or 6-speed constantly variable transmission. The Cooper S was only available with a 6-speed manual gearbox.
In terms of the ride, many critics have stated the ride is too firm, and this is certainly the case on early models. However, the suspension on all models is well tuned, producing a nimble chassis that makes the Mini fun to drive.
Standard equipment includes 15-inch alloy wheels, head and side airbags for first and second row occupants, ABS, CD player, air-conditioning, engine immobilise, and leather steering wheel. Later models include Bluetooth and a USB interface.
Whereas the Cooper models lack room, the Clubman – released in 2008 – offers a lot more space, as its increased size would suggest. The Clubman also uses a 1.6L 4-cylinder engine, and the 2010 version uses 128kW of power and 240Nm of torque. The Clubman is therefore sprightly, nimble, and ideally suited for city traffic. The manual gearbox is a lot smoother than previous test models with automatic transmission, although the reverse gear is a little awkward to engage for someone not used to the car. The Clubman reaches 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds.
In terms of design, the third door (or ‘clubdoor’) is hinged closer to the back of the Clubman in order to provide easier access to the rear seat and access to the boot is facilitated by twin doors providing greater room for wider objects. One problem with the design is the way in which the third door opens on the driver’s side and will therefore be more of a risk to open at times, limiting its use. In addition, although there is more space than the standard-size Mini, there is not a great deal of room – only 260L – but folding the rear seats down provides plenty of extra room – 930L, in fact.
In terms of safety features, the Clubman is impressive, with 6 airbags, stability control, EBD, ABS, and a fantastic hill-start assistance package. This ensures the car doesn’t roll backwards when being started on a hill, making the handbrake starts, that were so necessary with the old Mini, a thing of the past.
Competition comes in the form of the VW Golf and Ford Focus for the standard-size Mini, as well as the Alfa Romeo 159 Sportswagon, Peugeot 308 Touring Wagon, and Mercedes B-Class as rivals to the Clubman.
While the Golf and Focus provide great handling and excellent performance, the Cooper arguably wins hands down in terms of individuality and style.
With regard to the Clubman, all of its aforementioned rivals – barring the Alfa Romeo – are more affordable. The Clubman, however, maintains the Mini’s cute, individual style despite being significantly larger.