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Technology

The new Mini Cooper S Clubman AA4 is fun to drive, but has terrible value

As the market shifts away from small cars, Mini has had to grow its lineup to include a slew of two- and four-door models to compete in more profitable segments. That all started in 2007, when Mini launched the Clubman, a four-door, split-tailgate version of the retro-modern Mini Cooper.

Now, the Clubman is in it’s second generation. The Cooper below it is growing, offering up to four doors, and the Countryman above that isn’t too much bigger.

So, in 2017, I spent a week in the Clubman to find out whether there’s still a place for it in the lineup.

It seems with every progressive generation the Mini lineup gets a bit fatter, a bit more awkward and a tad uglier. The first interpretation of the modern Mini in 2001 was cute and fun. Since then, we’ve seen a slow march away from adorable, and towards awkward teenager looks.

The Clubman doesn’t break the trend. While it’s still quirky and fun looking, the size has ballooned and the styling doesn’t really work on the bigger canvas. And big it is. Surprisingly so.

Around back, it’ has the trademark Clubman “barn doors” that open outward rather than up. There’s nothing wrong with them functionally, but I think they make the rear of the car look awkward and poorly proportioned. The doors also mean your view backwards is divided. That, combined with the high beltline and long body, means visibility is atrocious.

In keeping with Mini tradition, almost everything inside the car is circular. Every switch and toggle is circular or cylindrical, harking back to the trademark round Mini headlights. Even the center screen surround, which encompasses a square screen, is still circular.

That surround is one of the most interesting interior details, too. Its LED changes color depending on what you’re doing. Turn down the interior temperature, and the LED goes from red to blue. Turn up the volume, and the ring lights up more parts of it as it goes up. Pop the car in sport mode, it goes red. Put the Clubman in, get this, “MINImize” mode to save fuel and the ring goes green.

It’s all quite gimmicky, but it’s admittedly fun.

Other controls, from the starter to the ambient light control, are satisfying faux-metal toggle switches. They all have a satisfying clunk to them when you flick them, and they make the car feel unique. The whole interior is very different, but it’s extraordinarily high quality for the class. Even on the base model that I drove, it felt like a premium cabin.

The tester I had was a Cooper S Clubman ALL4. That means it’s powered by a twin-scroll turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder mill sending 189 horsepower to all four (get it?) wheels. This Clubman also comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, rather than the optional 8-speed automatic.

Put these pieces together, and you get one heck of a hot hatch. The transmission has short throws and great feel, with slick shifts coming naturally. It also features automatic rev-matching, so the car automatically blips the throttle on downshifts, so you don’t have to heel-toe. It’s convenient, but if you’re opting for a manual transmission you probably aren’t looking for a computer to get involved in your shifting.

Handling is spectacular, with enough grip that you aren’t stepping over the limit on public roads. Despite the confident handling, not as much road feel gets through the steering wheel as I would like. The trade off for all of this is a slightly firm ride, in the traditional German way where it isn’t harsh but you’re certainly feeling the bumps.

Here’s where all of it falls apart. The sticker price on my tester was $32,300. That’s not absurd for the class, as you can option a Volkswagen GTI up to that figure if you’re dedicated. No, what’s absurd is what equipment you don’t get when you shell out this much cash for a small hatchback.

You don’t get blind spot warning. You don’t get power seats. Don’t expect a touch screen, or even collision avoidance. No, you don’t even get a backup camera. And that will be legally required starting next year.

If you’ve ever wondered if you can get a car in 2017 that doesn’t come with an alarm, I have your answer. Not the $12,995 Mitsubishi Mirage, which has one as standard kit, but the 32-grand Mini. It’s a $500 option, which this car doesn’t have. As a value case, then, it’s a hopeless cause.

What I really hate is that I love this Mini. It put a smile on my face every time I drove it, delighted me on the backroads and was a quiet and mostly comfortable companion for the week I had. Its turbocharged engine was responsive and never felt caught off guard, and the six-speed manual allowed me to keep it right where I wanted it.

It’s got a lot of space, can comfortably seat four, and can run with some of the best hot hatches. Just know that even paying more than $32,000 won’t get you equipment that’s standard in more affordable cars. You’re paying for style.

Still, I can’t possibly recommend it. If I wanted to spend $32,300 on a small hatch, I’d expect Mini to throw in a lot more than a lousy alarm.

Exterior: 3 stars
Interior: 5 stars
Driving Experience: 4.5 stars
Value: 1 star
Overall: 2.5 stars

Price as configured: $32,300

Source: Tech CNBC
The new Mini Cooper S Clubman AA4 is fun to drive, but has terrible value

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