Mini Clubman Cooper SD ALL4 review - Is the 4WD, diesel, Clubman still as fun as a Mini should be?

We drive Mini's surprisingly entertaining small estate

The Clubman, as you probably know, is the sort of small estate version of the Mini. It now sits between the new Mini five-door hatchback and the much larger Countryman in the range. Its most distinguishable feature is the vertically split boot opening. This is the all-wheel drive version of that car.

Technical highlights?

The only model available on the launch in northern Germany was the Cooper SD variant. This comes as standard with an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. There is also a petrol Cooper S version of the ALL4, which is available in both six-speed manual and eight-speed Steptronic.

While the diesel wouldn’t be our first choice, the numbers are remarkably similar to the petrol. In terms of power, 187bhp at 4000rpm in the diesel plays 189bhp at 5000rpm in the petrol. However inevitably, the diesel’s 295lb ft of torque at 1750rpm out-twists the petrol’s 221lb ft (with overboost) at 1250rpm. As a result, the 0-62mph times are very close, with the diesel’s 7.2seconds only three-tenths behind the equivalent petrol.

As you might expect, the ALL4 remains a front-wheel drive car for most of the time, only diverting power to the rear wheels when necessary. There is an electrohyrdaulically actuated hang-on clutch just in front of the rear differential, which is dictated to via an ECU, which in turn is connected to the DSC. There is also an Electronic Differential Lock on the front axle (essentially braking individual wheels to mimic a conventional LSD).

What’s it like to drive?

I had something of a Mini adventure on the launch. I ended up with a car to myself (I had a sniff under my arms but the deodorant seemed to be doing its job, so it must just be my love of ‘90s Trance) and while everyone else sat in traffic for hours and then went straight to the hotel I managed to nip through the outskirts of Hamburg and then follow the rest of the launch route out into the countryside.

There is a rotational collar around the base of the gear selector that lets you swap driving modes. If you nudge it anti clockwise you get Green mode, which seemingly puts the stop/start on high alert and ratchets back the aircon a bit. The stop/start is actually one of the better ones I’ve tried, the engine waking up nice and quickly rather than needing to be dragged from its slumbers. Nudge the collar clockwise and you come back to Mid mode, which is the standard driving mode. Initially the steering feels best in this setting, as its weighting seems to be more in-sync with the reactions of the tyres and suspension. However, when push harder the wheel feels too light and unconnected.

>Read our Mini Clubman Cooper S review

Nudge the collar clockwise once more and you reach Sport mode. As well as adjusting the steering assistance, the gearbox, throttle and exhaust maps become more exciting. Perhaps exciting is the wrong word for the Cooper SD, but it doesn’t sound bad, the engine revs smoothly up to about 4000rpm (it’ll go further, but feels strained) and upshifts are as snappy as you could wish (the downshifts are a bit ponderous). A bigger surprise was how willing the chassis felt. It’s nice having some appreciable roll and pitch in a car and although the Clubman doesn’t look like it’s on stilts it feels like there is more suspension travel in the ALL4. It’s not wallowy at all, it just leans nicely when you pitch it into a corner feeling well-supported and keen to let you use the weight balance to get the nose in. You can even trail brake or lift-off mid-corner and get the tail playing a little. It’s surprisingly enjoyable if you’re willing to drive it hard enough.

On an empty stretch of autobahn I managed to wind the Clubman up to an indicated 230km/h or 8km/h above its claimed Vmax. It felt perfectly stable at this sort of speed too, although the brakes are not the most encouraging part of the car (they’re effective enough, but need a good shove deep into the pedal travel) so it felt wise to leave plenty of margin for slowing. At the other extreme of the road network, the pre-loaded sat nav route took me down a couple of miles of gravel track. I assume this was intentional, it was certainly good fun. With the DSC slackened off, the loose surface merely affirmed the findings from the sealed surface that the Clubman has a rather pleasing handling balance, taking attitude under braking and coping well with the rougher surface. 

Interior and tech?

In my opinion, what used to be a striking and indubitably funky interior, has rather gone too far in the latest Mini. The dashes of the fully loaded Clubmans on the launch looked cluttered and slightly messy with far too many oversized and overdesigned trinkets scattered about the place, occasionally making it hard to find what you were looking for. At least the head-up display (which is on an odd piece of protruding plastic) is clear and does a good job of distilling the vital information so that it is available at a glance. The infotainment system also works extremely well, providing you like BMW’s iDrive system (which I do).

More personalisation than ever is possible via the ‘Mini Yours’ programme, and on the backs of the headrests in the test car was stitched a union flag. The room in the rear seats isn’t vast and the relatively low roof can make it feel a little claustrophobic – a light coloured interior might help. The boot doors can now be opened from the key (the right-hand door always has to open first), and although the boot space looks quite small, it actually measures an impressive 360 litres (a Ford Focus hatchback only has 316 litres).

Rivals?

The clever thing about the Mini brand is that they look sufficiently different, that if you have your heart set on one then it’s unlikely you’ll find anything to rival it. The cheapest ALL4 Clubman is the Cooper S manual at £24,285 rising to £27,390 for the Cooper SD version (with auto ‘box as standard). If you want four wheel drive, and the same infotainment system, but with more conventional looks, then a BMW 120d xDrive Sport Auto will set you back £29,040. Of course, if you don’t need all-wheel drive, then a standard front-wheel drive Cooper SD Clubman will leave you £1300 better off. 

Anything else I should know?

You would probably get used to it, but the view of the road in the rear view mirror is slightly disconcertingly interrupted by that central upright join in the doors.

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