TG grilles the man in charge of setting up the mid-engined 'Vette...
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£20,125 when new
I guess this was inevitable. So why haven’t they done it already? Because with the first two generations of ‘new Mini’ the platform couldn’t support a wheelbase long enough for a five-door. So they built the Clubman, a half-extended Mini. This is a fully-extended Mini. By how much? By 72mm in the wheelbase, all behind the front seats, so there’s sensible rear legroom. Plus 89mm in the rear overhang, for a boot that’s nearly a third bigger than before. Must be a right bloater then?
Not really. It’s the same length as a five-door Audi A1, and it costs about the same money: £15,900 for a Cooper, up to £20,050 for the Cooper S Diesel (£600 more than each equivalent three-door Mini). And the back seat is roomier than the opposition. Forcing an adult into the back of a three-door Mini constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. In contrast the five-door is actually quite comfy for a small car. And it has a pair of proper rear doors, instead of the Clubman’s odd one-sided reverse-hinged half-door. And to make the apertures bigger, the doors have framed instead of frameless windows, so the sealing structure swings out of the way. Is it just me, or does it look a bit odd? It’s not just you. The roof is about the same length as the hatchback’s, to keep it looking small. So to accommodate the stretch, the rear screen is quite raked, and below that the tail swells into a slight bustle over the boot. Trouble is when you see the tail alone, it looks like an MPV driving backwards. Or if you have a long memory, the whole car looks like an Austin Maxi. Which was an enlarged version of the original Mini. Fair enough then. Does it still feel like a Mini? It’s about 60kg heavier, model for model. So the 0-60mph time is dulled by a couple of tenths of a second, which isn’t enough to be noticeable. The handling is very much the same, which means brilliant. Super-fast-reacting, neutral, highly controlled. You’re intimately involved, thanks to abundant feel from the seats and from one of the very best electric steering systems anywhere. If we’re being picky, the five-door isn’t quite as throttle-steerable as the three-door. On the other hand, it doesn’t react quite as twitchily on a motorway, which is a benefit. Long-wheelbase cars are meant to ride better. There’s not actually much difference here. The three-door car already controls pitch very well, and you sit low and centrally amid the wheels. So the five-door feels much the same. Which means a busy and slightly agitated ride, but it’s able (where the last generation couldn’t) to cope with big bumps. Though there’s too much tyre noise. Will it sell? Without a doubt. There are people who want a Mini but need space. This one isn’t as charismatic to look at, but from the driver’s seat it’s still the real thing. So does that mean the end of the Clubman? They’re going to do another one of those, but with proper side doors this time, albeit retaining the barn-door back end. It’s already been previewed by a concept and is on course for launch next year.
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