Dual test: welcome to the Mini Country Club, man
Different as they may appear on the outside, the new Mini Clubman and Mini Countryman share a lot of their underpinnings. What are they like in practice – and which of them is the better option for your fleet?
Size: it does matter
To the regret of many owners of the previous Clubman, the new estate version of the Mini Hatch is no longer a stretched semi shooting brake derivative with a right-hand side suicide door, but a fully-fledged ‘station wagon’ with four regular openings. Most of them will heave a sigh of relief when they realize the iconic ‘barn doors’ for the boot weren’t scrapped – indeed, this brings the total number of ‘hatches’ to six. The newcomer’s design is certainly less maverick, but the gain in practicality makes up for the loss of originality.
The new Clubman is also a foot longer (some 30 cm) and a hand wider (9 cm), resulting in entirely different proportions indeed. The Countryman, the SUV of the Mini range, has evolved in a comparable way, but the transition is less obvious. It uses the same platform as the new Clubman, including a 2.67-metre wheelbase, but it is nearly 5 centimetres longer than its six-door estate sibling (4.30 metres instead of 4.25). Most of the extra length is to be found in the rear overhang, which translates into a 450-litre loading capacity.
The Clubman, rather disappointingly, doesn’t offer more than 360 litres. That is comparable to a BMW 1 Series, but for an estate, it is far below average. Even the new VW Polo five-door – a hatchback - can take 351 litres of cargo. Visibly, Mini has chosen interior space over transport capability. With the seats down, the advantage of the Countryman is even bigger: it has room for 1,390 litres worth of stuff, whereas the Clubman offers a maximum volume of 1,250 litres.
Same platform, different drive
The platform used by both cars is the one inaugurated by the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer – the first front-wheel drive car made by the Bavarian brand. Logically, the Countryman weighs more than the Clubman. It’s a matter of 65 kilos, but these can be felt during acceleration, cornering and braking. We even found our Countryman test vehicle to lack stamina regarding the latter aspect. Indeed, the difference in suspension set-up, ride height, weight and centre of gravity makes for an entirely dissimilar driving experience.
One might expect the Countryman to be more fluffy than the Clubman, with its longer wheel travel and slightly higher tyre walls (205/65R16 instead of 205/55R16). This assumption proves to be incorrect. To contain body roll, the engineers have chosen a relatively firm damping set-up, causing irregularities in the road surface to be communicated in a rather dry manner. A recommendable option in this respect is Dynamic Damping Control, which offers three degrees of ‘hardness’. At the same time, these three programmes influence the way the car steers and how aggressively the engine responds to throttle input.
In the case of the Clubman, we were pleasantly surprised by the balance between handling and comfort. In any case, both Mini’s like to be grabbed by the horns. The steering precision and feel is second to none, and the manual gear lever requires some muscle to shift through the gears. Some people might even find the gear changes a bit cumbersome. In both cases, a six-speed automatic can be ordered as an optional extra, and the more powerful engines can be mated to all-wheel drive.
TCO: snapping at each other’s heals
The extra weight and height of the Countryman have repercussions on performance and fuel consumption. Looking at the Cooper version – which in both cases is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder producing 136 hp – Mini’s SUV requires 0.5 seconds more to accelerate from zero to 100 kph ad burns 0.4 litres more petrol to cover 100 kilometres, resulting in an 8 g/km CO2 penalty.
Second disadvantage for the Countryman: its (standard) tyres are quite a bit dearer than those of the Clubman, even though the only apparent difference is to be found in the tyre wall height. Third drawback for the SUV: it is some 1,300 euros more expensive than the Clubman. However, the above downsides to the Countryman are compensated by a higher residual value. Indeed, most lease companies expect the SUV to be more in demand as a used car than the estate.
And the Countryman has another trump up its sleeve. Contrary to the Clubman, it can be ordered with a plug-in hybrid powertrain – the same one used by the BMW 225xe Active Tourer, which we tested in November. This is a USP in the compact SUV segment and is likely to lure many more customers to the Mini showroom. In some cases, this S E Hybrid version is the best option in terms of TCO.
In a nutshell: Countryman or Clubman?
|Fuel efficiency & performance||Clubman|
|Cooper 136 hp||Clubman||Countryman|
|NEDC fuel consumption||5.1 l/100km||5.5 l/100km|
|NEDC CO2 emissions||118 g/km||126 g/km|
|0-100 kph||9.1 s||9.6 s|
|Weight||1,375 kg||1,440 kg|
|Standard tyre size||205/55R16 91W||205/65R16 95W|
|Boot capacity||360 - 1,250 litres||450 - 1,390 litres|