“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.