Join the club Mini overhauls sleek Clubman four-door for 2016

The 2016 Mini Clubman four-door, redesigned for the first time in seven years, has arrived at Mini of Charleston.

In the beginning, there was the new Mini. It was a quirky two-door compact, sister to luxury manufacturer BMW and a slightly larger iteration of the tiny British Mini Coopers all the rage in the early 1960s.

That was 2001, and the Mini was an instant hit.

Even today, buyers can purchase the basic model, which hasn’t changed a whole lot since it appeared 15 years ago. Still, Mini executives decided the company couldn’t stay with just one design indefinitely. So Mini began to evolve, bringing out a convertible, a rounded top and in time, four-door editions. These lengthened Minis include the sharp Mini Clubman, introduced in 2009.

A newly-released second generation, the 2016 Clubman, arrived in the Charleston area last month with a thorough makeover. It departed from Mini’s traditionally basic features to include electronic gadgetry and multimedia perks.

The Mini Clubman has built a following in the last seven years. “They call them ‘Clubbies,’“ said Mary Skinner, motoring advisor for Mini of Charleston on Savannah Highway.

In designing the new model, Mini aimed to preserve the Clubman’s strengths, such as roominess and extra doors, while modernizing the four-door. The model offers high-end options such as a center console screen tied to the communications system and Harman Kardon audio system and with a backup camera; Bluetooth hands-free phone; and an electronic upgrade to open the rear twin “barn doors” by waving a foot under the bumper area.

The Clubman is one of the largest Minis, 6.6 inches longer than its fellow four-door, the Countryman. It’s expanded to four doors for the first time, previously sporting two doors on one side and a single large entry point on the other side. In another upgrade, the Clubman starts and stops thanks to a red-and-white toggle switch. For the first time, the car doesn’t need an ignition device (although a key fob must be on hand for everything to work).

As a base model, the Clubman starts at $24,100. A generously equipped edition at Mini of Charleston last week cost $31,250.

Skinner notes that the Mini Clubman has a five-star crash safety rating and boasts fuel mileage of 34 mpg highway, 25 city for a combined 28 mpg. Another improvement is a turbocharged, three-cylinder engine, generating 134 horsepower and 160 pounds-feet of torque. The vehicle’s information cluster settings include comfort speed to preserve fuel and sport mode that gives the auto a burst of highway kick. Standard wheels on the Mini Clubman are either 16 inch or 17 inch.

The Clubman also includes dual climate control features for the first time: previously, the carmaker felt the driver’s and passenger’s seats seemed to be too close together to need two sets of temperature gauges.

The four-door sports an “excitement ring,” blue and red lights that spin on the centrally-located circular information screen — standard on the Mini since 2001. Ambient lights keep the car brighter, even at night. And a dual pane sunroof can provide light in the back seats while opening above the driver and passenger. Manual adjusted seats are standard, but power seats for both the driver and passenger are available, Skinner says.

In its brochure, Mini breaks out specs on the Clubman and on the new higher performance Clubman S, which hasn’t arrived at Mini of Charleston. The two models each come with six-speed automatic and optional manual transmissions. The Clubman generates 134 hp, while the Clubman S churns out 189 hp with a four-cylinder turbocharged engine. The Clubman weighs 3,160 pounds, while the S checks in at 3,300 pounds. Luggage capacity is the same: each offer 47.9 cubic feet with the rear seats folded and 17.5 feet cubic feet with seats in use.

Judging from a drive in the well-heeled Clubman, the Mini brand can consider its foray into the world of four-door hatchbacks a smart decision. The Clubman’s streamlined body looks classy, and it showcases a variety of exterior colors from Pure Burgundy metallic to Lapisluxury Blue.

The vehicle handles firmly, taking a page from BMW. Brakes work with a modicum of pressure. The three-cylinder motor, which conjures images of a tiny two-seater, instead provides ample power, accelerating like a high performance car when in sport mode. From a comfort standpoint, the Clubman offered plenty of legroom and head space and wasn’t scrunched in front. The rear double doors automatically opening one at a time was a nice touch. Cargo space proved more than adequate.

Another pleasant upgrade with the Clubman is the center console, which offers audio channels, performance settings and other information via easy-to-use knobs, toggles and a touch screen.

One area where the Clubman lags is in omitting certain modern features that are standard on many cars. Manual seats included in the test model worked well but aren’t what you expect in a $31,250 car. Visibility through the rear view mirror was a little obscured by the back seats, headrest and doors.

What’s most important, however, is the Mini Clubman’s broad range of features, not the few shortcomings. It scored higher than anticipated in terms of driving quality, one of the most critical procedures in any car.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.