11 July 2008

Frankfurt show: Mini Clubman and JCW Challenge

Suicide-door estate fails to convince but we like Mini's track-only racer

Mini Cooper

While most manufacturers are happy with a revolving stand and a couple of flashing lights to show off their latest model, Mini has constructed an entire cavern to unveil the new Clubman in Frankfurt.

The slogans read, 'Clubman: the Other Mini', which pretty much sums up our feelings towards the little estate. You'll have seen the pictures, but rest assured that it looks no less contrived in the flesh.

There's just too much going on at the rear - two handles, two windscreen wipers, two colours (the C-pillar and back bumper can be painted silver) - but that doesn't seem to have stopped the international media descending on the Clubman like seagulls on a discarded packet of crisps.

We can only assume they're all from countries where you drive on the right. With the steering wheel on the left, the Clubman's suicide-door arrangement makes some sort of sense, but in right-hand drive it's going to prove hellish.

Why? Because while the steering wheel will change sides when the Clubman reaches Britain, the suicide door won't. That means it'll open straight out on to the road, and moreover that the driver will have to budge forward to let any of the rear passengers out.

Oh, and unbuckle, because the front seatbelt runs straight across the suicide door. Complicated.

Despite a few centimetres more rear legroom than its hatch brother, the Clubman is still a four-seater (though a three-seat rear bench will be optional), while bootspace looks limited.

Unlike the very cool-looking John Cooper Works Challenge race Mini, which has loads of room on the inside. Mainly because everything's been stripped out to save weight: this is a hardcore track car, complete with rollcage, six-point harness and HANS restraint system.

A massive speedometer dominates the centre console, while the tiny steering wheel gets a line of LED change-up lights. Performance? How does 0-62-0 in just 9.2 seconds sound? 

Sadly, it's not road legal. But we still want one, so much more than the Clubman.

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