Friday, September 5, 2008

Mini Cooper Goes Practical


If you grew up in the sixties, especially the mid-sixties, you undoubtedly remember the British invasion. For all of you whippersnappers, no, we were not actually attacked by the Brits. During this period, America’s fascination with all things U.K. didn’t end with bubblegum rock n’ roll. There were also cool and quirky automobiles that made their way stateside. Many of these cars, like the MG and Austin Healy, became the object of fascination and affection of many baby boomers. So, it was no big surprise that when BMW revived one of these quirky British cars back in 2002, the boomers went bananas. For the last six model years, Americans have rediscovered their passion for this featherweight. Looking like nothing else on the road, the Mini Cooper not only conjures up nostalgia for baby boomers, but is also a fuel efficient and trendy option for younger motorist. However, due to its size, there have been a number of consumers who wouldn’t or couldn’t consider buying a Mini. Enter the Cooper Clubman.


After allegedly redesigning the Mini in 2007, this year’s version goes basically unchanged. This is the case under hood as well. No matter what trim level you purchase, Coopers come with a 1.6-liter four-banger. However, depending on trim horsepower output ranges from 115 to 172. Considering the negligible difference in miles-per-gallon, I don’t know why all models don’t come with the more powerful version. My tester came outfitted with the 118 horsepower iteration. While I certainly wouldn’t call it quick, its short hood and low ride height go along way towards making low speeds seem faster.


Driving the Cooper Clubman around corners, it becomes pretty obvious why people are so passionate about these little cars. Is it going to give a Corvette a run for its money? Of course not! But, will it make you feel like Juan Fangio? Without a doubt!


Okay, here comes by first bone of contention. As enjoyable as driving the Clubman can be, operating the instrumentation can be equally irritating. Some of the symbols used don’t seem to match their function. And, some knobs and switches are downright hard to find. Also, I question the wisdom of a single suicide door on the passenger side as the only access point to the back seat. On the other hand, there is more storage space than in the Cooper, and once you fight your way to the backseat, there is more room than you might imagine. Plus, it just looks pretty cool.


Generally speaking, I get the allure of the Cooper. The Clubman version certainly adds an element of practicality that was previously missing.

No comments: