It’s simply a slightly different car than the Mini Cooper hatchback
you’re used to seeing, with a longer wheelbase (25.4 centimetres
longer) that gives you more room on the inside. This gives the car a slightly elongated profile – it’s a little as if the original Cooper got married to one of those old Woody wagons, and this was their child. In addition, there are rear access doors so that you can slip into the back seats more easily and a rear cargo door that – get this – is vertically split. It opens like the doors of an old-fashioned milk wagon. (There are also twin wipers on the back doors.) Now, this car isn’t radically bigger than a regular Mini. You get an extra 6.3 centimetres in rear legroom, plus a little more than an extra cubic metre of cargo space. The back seats fold down for ease of cargo access, and that’s really nice: you might not be able to fit, say, a surfboard in here, but then, you didn’t expect to. Sub-floor storage space accommodates the little stuff. Plus there’s a bit more room for your head. We’re both tall, so every bit counts.
Needless to say, this car gives you that classic Cooper style in terms of design, both on the outside and the inside. Our ‘hot chocolate’ model was an elegant brown on the outside, with two nifty white stripes down the bonnet and a white roof, plus white trim in other places. Inside, the retro-styling knocked us out. With its chrome-trimmed, circular dials and lots of dark-brown artificial wood, the interior of this vehicle reminded us of a restored classic vintage airplane. As much as we hate to admit it, however, it’s possible that this gorgeous dashboard and control panel looks better than it performs. For example, the round, oversized speedometer is mounted in the centre of the console, above the gear shift. Interesting, right? It is indeed, until you learn that it’s a big unnatural to have to glance to your right to see how fast you’re going. Presumably you get used to it after a while, but still. The RPM gauge, on the other hand, is above the steering wheel.
Anyway, we settled into our Clubman, pleasantly surprised by how well the two front seats accommodated our tallness and luxuriating in the brown leather upholstery, and headed for outside the city. It was time to see how the creature handled itself on the road.
A Tiny Titan
It handles itself well. It’s like you’re driving a go-kart. Yes, that’s a compliment. You feel the road in this thing; you’re in tune with the driving experience. The car feels like an extension of your body, and the power-steering makes turning the wee car with the extra-thick wheel even easier than it would be, although one of us, who’d driven the conventional hatchback Mini, said that the conventional one turned more handily. But then the Clubman is bigger, and therefore more stable. The spring-strut front suspension and the multi-control-arm rear suspension perform their tasks admirably. The suspension is tight, which might be less than ideal on Kyiv’s often crumbling streets.
Out on the Left Bank, we opened the Clubman up (well within the bounds of the framework of the law, of course) and were as impressed as we expected to be. In addition to the classic British heritage behind the thing, you’ve got the German engineering, courtesy of BMW. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine makes this a wonderfully powerful little midget, and we loved the way that it took the turns on its slightly oversized tyres. (Which might give you little bit of drift on rough surfaces.) And while we would have preferred a manual transmission, rather than the six-speed automatic that we had, we could tell that this is a car that will satisfy people who love cars and love driving. Hit the gas, and the Clubman simply jets right forward. (It goes from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in 9.8 seconds, to be exact.)
In sum, this is a great car. In some ways, it’s the ultimate car for Kyiv. The chicks will dig it, for one thing, and its fast-accelerating zippiness will make it useful for navigating through the momentary spaces that form in this city’s traffic jams. Heck, not only that – it’s so small that you can probably drive down the sidewalk without anybody noticing. In addition, it’s got great mileage (5.5 litres will move you 100 kilometres), so you won’t have to be as personally reliant on Russian energy supplies, which is a good thing.
On the other hand, and even though we know that small, maneuverable cars like the Mini are statistically safer than the whale-like SUVs, it might be intimidating driving a Mini around a city where almost everybody seems to be in the biggest SUV or Hummer they can find. What if they run into you? And what do you do about the heaps of snow that Kyiv gets? Mini Coopers are originally products of England, where snow’s not much of a problem. This is a wonderful vehicle, but it might be better to keep it at your dacha down in Crimea, if you have one. If you don’t, get one!
Alexey Karas and Mark Sabchuk