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More spark than a Spark: A Seat-of-the-Pants Review of the 2014 Mini Cooper Clubman

By  February 3, 2015
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As hard as I tried to get the Miata done on Superb Owl Sunday, I was still a couple of hours away from it being road worthy, and I didn’t want to rush it and risk messing something up. Since my wife had jury duty the next day (yesterday), we rented a Chevy Spark for me to drive to work. Walking up to the Enterprise rental car office, I noticed that I didn’t see any Chevy Sparks in the parking lot. As I was walking, I thought to myself “It must be out back or something. I hope I don’t have to wait for someone else to return it before I can leave. Hey, that’s a nice little Mini. It must be an employee’s.” Only, it wasn’t and I didn’t have to wait. They were all out of Sparks, so they gave me the Mini Clubman with no upcharge. Win!

The day started out well enough. Although I’d been curious how the tiny Spark would be to drive, it was a relief to be in something a bit more premium, especially a Mini. After a quick video search on how to start it (the trick with the start button is that the brake has be held down), I was off. Pulling out of the parking lot, I noticed that the torque rose like a bell curve. Not a lot of go down low but it was adequate once it found 3000rpm. Since there wasn’t going to be much driving during the day, a mere 9 miles to work and 9 miles back, I decided to make it count by putting it in Sport mode and turning off the traction control. Unfortunately, the traffic was full of slow pokes the whole way to work, but I was relatively comfortable. The ride felt a bit rough until I remembered that my back was a little sore from working on the Miata the night before. Any other day it would have felt fine. The springs were a little bit harder than my MkV VW Rabbit, so you could feel the road a bit more, but the spring rate combined with a fast steering rack made turns a breeze.

At first, the seats felt a little hard. The seats in my cars are much more soft, but by the end of the day, I could see the value in the harder foam. These seats were more supportive, especially for the lower back. My wife appreciated that very much at the end of a long day of waiting around at the courthouse in an uncomfortable chair. If there was one thing that I could pick on, it was the seating position and the sun visors. Towards the beginning of the day, I noticed that with the seat where it was at, I couldn’t see traffic lights if I was the first car waiting at the light. I brought the seat down a few steps and it was better but still not great. You could only really see the bottom one and a half lights. So, I put up with it.

When I finally got the seat bottom to what felt like the right distance from the pedals, the steering wheel felt too far away. I couldn’t figure out how to tilt the seat up, so I pulled myself a little closer to the wheel with the seat bottom and went with it.

At the end of the day, with the sun going down, it was a relief to find a side shade, on the driver’s side at least, but at the same time there was a good inch of the windshield that wasn’t being covered by the front shade. Frustrating to say the least. Another minor annoyance was that with the wipers on high, the wiper motor made a loud “BWEEBWEEBWEEBWEEBWEEBWEE” noise. That shouldn’t really happen in a car at this price point.

2014 Mini Cooper Clubman interior

Getting a little taste of the British Car Life…

One doesn’t however buy a Mini for its seats or its sun visors; you buy it for the drive. And here, it excelled. With the car in Sport, compared to the Cooper S that I tried a couple of years back, it felt not quite as zippy but maybe half way there, like a Cooper and a half, I’d say. The speed that it crept along in idle didn’t feel as “Whoa, wait a minute there!” as the S did either, but that just meant it was easier to creep forward with in stop and go traffic. The steering was tight and quite fun but not as telepathic as the S either. But in a way it was easier to get acquainted with the steering this way than it was in previous the Cooper S. In the S I found myself correcting a lot of steering movements that I didn’t even realize I was making, in this Cooper, it just went where I told it to. One last bit that shined in the drive was the brakes. Direct and trustworthy, and with the car being so light, by the end of the day I was flinging it through corners, barely using the brakes, like I would with the Miata.

My wife found the car to be pretty slow compared to our daily driver Rabbit, and it is, but part of that is that the Cooper seemed to require a bit more throttle than the Rabbit, so I if you spend a day driving it, you’ll grow to either love it or hate it. The throttle and transmission seem to work together better than in our Volkswagen. I felt like I could much more easily roll into the throttle without any awkward dive-by-wire jolts that I sometimes got from the VW, and that only got better in Sport mode.

2014 Mini Cooper Clubman center stack

“Keep the water in the cup” Here we are in full Takumi Fujiwara mode. Well, that is if Bunta Fujiwara drank Starbucks and if Takumi drove a Mini…

By the end of the day, I was growing more and more fond of it and was sad to see it go. “It’s all fun and games until things start breaking” I told myself. We didn’t quite mesh well at the beginning, but by the end, driving it was like shaking hands with an old friend. This 2014 Mini Cooper Clubman will soon be replaced with the new unfortunately more normal traditional 4-door Clubman, with a less attractive face and a slightly bigger body. It was good to at least get to spend a day with this long body Cooper as it definitely had more spark than the Spark.