Sneak Peek: The 2016 Mini Clubman Goes Larger, More Premium

“It’s definitely a step up, but small size was the single biggest reason for customer rejection,” says Mini U.S. product planner Pat McKenna as he shows us the 2016 Mini Clubman. “Style, fun, and performance is what they’re looking for from us. That’s what makes it a Mini.”

The car has all of its badges and emblems covered up because it won’t officially debut until the Frankfurt auto show next week, but somebody wasted a lot of time with all that tape, because the Clubman parked before us is unmistakably a Mini. From the outside, Mini’s designers did their job. It wears a very familiar face up front, bearing only small departures from the Cooper Hardtop, including black plastic fender cladding that includes “air curtain” vents to channel wind past the front wheels. More dramatic changes crop up around back, where elongated horizontal taillights stretch across the trademark split-door rear hatch. It’s a fresh, stylish take on a spacious modern compact.
2016 Mini Clubman 12

The operative word there is spacious. The Clubman is a foot longer than before, now 0.8 inch shy of a Volkswagen Golf. The wheelbase is almost 5 inches longer, too, which means the 2016 Mini Clubman can actually accommodate four full doors rather than tiny rear-hinged ones. It finally looks like Mini intended to build the Clubman as a larger hatchback from the outset, rather than simply wedging in an extra door at slicing the liftgate in two.

Differentiating the core models

As Mini focuses on what it calls its core models (Hardtop, Clubman, and Countryman, for now), it’s also trying to differentiate them from one another. That’s why the word “Clubman” will be splayed across the rear doors instead of quarantined off to the side, and why the new car’s interior has its own design and layout. “Gone are the days where we just stick the Cooper interior into the Clubman,” says McKenna.

2016 Mini Clubman 21

The redesigned interior is totally familiar, but it’s noticeably less constricted than the Hardtop. The extra length and width of the UKL 2 front-wheel-drive platform means the large center infotainment dial, center stack, air vents, steering wheel, and gauge cluster can be positioned further apart. The Hardtop and Four Door have all of the same circular design cues, but they’re packed so tightly the cabin feels like a claustrophobic Venn diagram. The Clubman’s interior vibe comes across as less forced, and therefore more refined.

Despite the interior differences, the 2016 Mini Clubman’s powertrains are almost exactly carried over from the Hardtop. The base model retains its 134-hp, 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, paired to a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. Cooper S models have a 189-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-four, with either a six-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
2016 Mini Clubman 19

Mini’s strategy is to move the Clubman upmarket. Details like a Clubman-exclusive illuminated “welcome mat,” standard Mini Connected infotainment with Bluetooth, an electric parking brake (also exclusive to Clubman), high-quality leather, and increased sound deadening help push the Clubman toward a more premium buyer. Mini isn’t trying to take on luxury brands outright, but McKenna says that the 2016 Mini Clubman has a more luxurious and more customizable interior than the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3, as well as more head- and legroom.

The second Mini for the household

A full 2 inches longer than Mini’s own Countryman, the Clubman is also aimed at families who might be growing out of their Hardtop or older Clubman. Mini U.S. sales are already up 14 percent so far this year after the addition of the more practical Four Door model.
“With low gas prices, we’ve moved on from the MPG hounds of the first generation who only wanted heated seats. You want to get that person who might be leaving you for the next life stage,” says McKenna. “Clubman can now be the second Mini for the household.”

2016 Mini Clubman 18

Build your own

The 2016 Mini Cooper Clubman will start somewhere around $26,000, meaning average prices out the door should easily eclipse $30,000. Mini has data to back up its push toward more premium pricing. Even though the Hardtop starts at $20,755, average transaction prices for the small car are closer to $28,000 — 35 percent over sticker price. Not that every shopper loads up on options: “And for the driver who wants a stripper with a manual gearbox, we can do that, too,” McKenna says.

While the Mini badge might not have the same cachet as Audi or Mercedes-Benz, one big lure is the level of personalization available to customers; there are literally millions of possible Mini combinations. Thirty percent of shoppers opt for the custom build-to-order program.

2016 Mini Clubman 02

If you’re wondering how Mini can take all of these orders and still deliver cars to U.S. buyers in as few as four weeks, it all comes down to “streamlining” the order process. That means eliminating certain options with low take-rates, as well as canning unpopular models like the Paceman, Coupe, and Roadster.

Still room to grow

So where does Mini go from here? According to McKenna, there is still the possibility of more to come from the Mini Clubman. A plug-in hybrid variant, inspired by the Mini E, is all being evaluated. An All4 all-wheel-drive version of the Clubman is also possible, given that the same UKL 2 platform will get it on the BMW X1. A John Cooper Works variant, although not officially confirmed, is all but guaranteed.

2016 Mini Clubman 27

Thinking more broadly, there’s absolutely an internal conversation about whether to build the popular Mini Superleggera roadster concept. McKenna insists that it was only a design concept that indicated “what a Mini could look like,” but AUTOMOBILE European bureau chief Georg Kacher says we’ll see it in production as early as 2018. As for a sedan or MiniVan, don’t count on it: “It makes sense on paper and in terms of business, but to us neither car would feel quite like a Mini should.”

It’s bigger than any Mini before, so we’ll have to see if the 2016 Mini Clubman still drives like one. Look for more details when the 2016 Mini Clubman makes its official debut on Tuesday, September 15.

2016 Mini Clubman 04

Source link