This review was first published in Issue 243 of Top Gear magazine (2013)
Good news! If you desire a two-seater, lightweight, stripped-out Mini, you no longer need make do with the hideous Roadster or Coupe. Now there is a new driver-focused Mini on the block, and its name is... Clubvan.
The Clubvan, as you will have deduced with your brain and eyes, is a van. More specifically, it's the panel-van version of the Clubman, with metal where the rear windows once dwelled, no rear seats, but the same, now-near-pointless single suicide door. Of course, this makes it the Mini of choice for owners of small businesses specialising in the delivery of, I dunno, boutique Pomeranian-themed gluten-free cupcakes. But, far more importantly, it's also the best-driving two-seat Mini you can buy.
Honestly. The way this thing drives puts the clunky Mini Coupe to shame. Maybe the removal of the rear seats means less weight over the rear wheels than in a standard Clubman, easing Mini's oft-lumpy ride. More likely, it's a refreshing change to drive a Mini that's not in vertebrae-grinding JCW spec, a Mini with tyre sidewalls measurable in inches, not microns. Whichever way, this Clubvan, with its 112bhp diesel and modest alloys, drives like, well, like the first wave of BMW Minis, a benchmark too many of the recent additions to the marque - the overwrought Countryman and Paceman, the lumpy Coupe and Roadster - have failed to reach. From the B-pillars forward, this is all Clubman, so the driving position is spot-on - low, with pedals perfectly aligned - and the handling is as sweet as said boutique cupcakes. With the same posh multi-link rear suspension as the standard Clubman, the Clubvan corners with fizzy willingness, never descending into Mini's all-too-frequent headbanging harshness.
And, what's more, the Clubvan's got a CAGE! Behind the driver's head, just like in them there WRC rally cars! OK, we suspect it doesn't add much to the structural rigidity of the car and has more to do with keeping your boutique Pomeranian-themed gluten-free cupcakes from ending up around your ears, but still - a cage! How much more performance can you get?
For such performance, of course, sacrifices must be made. This thing boasts blind spots massive enough to qualify for a seeing-eye dog and an extendable cane, but such is the joy of a white van: the inevitable dents and scrapes simply add to its rufty-tufty charm. If you're a van connoisseur (a vanatic?), doubtless there are cheaper, bigger, more practical ways to transport your ethically sourced wares. But if you want a two-seat Mini that drives the way a two-seat Mini should - with a whacking great boot thrown in for free - the Clubvan is the upmarket, customer-facing business.
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