MINI Clubman 2015The first MINI Clubman was a curio with weird doors flawed for British use. With this all-new second generation one, it’s getting sensible and serious – at becoming a cool alternative to the sternly serious Volkswagen Golf. Yes, with the new Clubman, MINI reckons it has its first ever family hatchback.

It’s confident, because the stats bear it out. A whopping 270mm longer than the MINI Hatch 5dr – a similar gap exists between the Ford Fiesta and Focus – it is also 73mm wider and has a 100mm longer wheelbase. The latter two stats promise significantly improved interior space (and the MINI 5dr isn’t as small as you’d perhaps think).

It has a Golf-sized boot at 360 litres, with Golf-like extendability to 1,250 litres thanks to split fold-flat seats. MINI’s made it posher than ever inside, with an electronic parking brake and even optional electric seats (for the first time ever in a MINI) and it says no MINI has ever rode this well.

Praise be, two normally-hinged rear doors open up the more passenger-friendly cabin, instead of the single should-have-stayed-on-the-drawing-board rear-hinged door of its predecessor. The twin outside-hinged ‘Clubdoor’ tailgate does remain though, and why not: this bit actually does work (and looks way cooler than a Golf’s hatchback).

MINI Clubman 2015

MINI’s been able to do all this because the new Clubman is based on the same ultra-flexible platform of the new Hatch – that’s the one also underpinning the BMW 2 Series Active and Gran Tourers, the X1 and the future 1 Series hatch. Itself a premium alternative to the family hatch mainstream.

With the Clubman, MINI’s role is to provide a more interesting alternative to a Golf and a more usable alternative to the MINI Hatch. Fleet users are on MINI’s radar with the Clubman (most sales to date are retail); previously, the cramped Clubman’s lack of proper rear doors excluded it from user chooser lists. Mums with kids are too: until now, when the children came, the MINI went.

British Clubmans will all be Coopers: that’s 136hp Cooper or 192hp Cooper S petrol, 150hp Cooper D or 190hp Cooper SD diesel. All are turbo, all are shared with the BMW 3 Series, as is the optional eight-speed automatic available in all but the standard Cooper MINIs for the first time.

Visually, as you can see, it remains polarising. The mini-estate lines have sculptural rear haunches, a slightly sporty curve to the roofline and terrific horizontal rear lights that make it look super-wide and chunky from the rear. It’s unlike nothing else and we like it. But not everyone will. Nor are they meant to, says MINI. Want derivative? Buy a Focus or Golf.

So, it’s a new class of MINI, according to the firm. Certainly, it’s competing in a new class, but does the Clubman convince in its newfound role as family hatch alternative to a Ford?

2015 MINI Clubman: on the road

MINI Clubman 2015

BMW’s excellent UKL platform means the MINI Clubman doesn’t feel like a BMW despite being based on one. It’s purposefully not as livewire as the MINI Hatch, but the genes are still there. It’s taut, alert, darts quickly and cleanly to the steering, delivers huge amounts of feel through its stiff chassis and general poise.

Standard 17-inch wheels are grippy and, again, the feel they deliver makes it easy to push on without wondering what’s happening beneath. Such directness is usually found in hot family hatches, but all Clubmans are likely to deliver it.

Compared to the Hatch, the steering is a bit slower and, surprisingly, more nervously electric-assist, but the dynamic edge is only toned down a bit, not eliminated.

Ride has been improved considerably over the Hatch. It’s striking, how much more compliant and absorbent the Clubman is. It’s less frenetic and irritable over broken surfaces, quieter and more serene when worked hard and has an underlying cushioning lacking in the hatch. Sure, compared to a Golf, it’s firmer, but it’s no more hard work than a 1 Series and probably preferable to an A-Class.

One caveat: the test cars had adaptive suspension. We’ll see how cars on standard passive suspension perform when UK cars arrive in the autumn.

MINI Clubman 2015

MINI launched it to us in Cooper S guise, with the raspy 192hp 2.0-litre taken from the BMW 3 Series. A strong, torquey engine, it spins smoothly and isn’t shy of getting the electronic front differential lock putting in overtime, although it does make some oddly high-tech whines and whirrs at times.

The engine’s lack of aural appeal is compensated by its exhaust. In Sport mode (flick the cheap-feeling collar around the gearlever to the left), it rasps and burbles amusingly, regularly popping and crackling on the overrun in a childishly fun way. The exhausts ‘sound’ naturally tuned too, aided by the echo chamber of the Clubman rear; turning off Sport mode mutes them, sadly.

2015 MINI Clubman: on the inside

MINI Clubman 2015

The beautifully-finished interior is another Clubman surprise. With premium materials throughout and attention to detail sometimes lacking in the Hatch, it’s set to surprise those coming from both a regular MINI and a Focus or Golf, and draw comparisons with the 3 Series sitting in the BMW showroom next door.

The design is also different to the Hatch. It’s more grown up, more substantial, with things such as a proper centre console, proper door armrests and proper central cubby armrest all making it feel like a mini BMW. Practicality is superb, from the bottle holders in the doors to the stowage-packed capacity of the centre console (we love the tartan-effect rubber mats too).

Flat side glass gives the usual clear MINI view out, with over-shoulder vision enhanced by large, deep rear windows. The rear-view mirror does have a big black line through the centre of course, although the adorably cute little twin wipers work well.

MINI Clubman 2015

In the back, first tick: it has normal doors. Two of them. Second tick: it’s easy to step in and out – easier than the 5dr Hatch, thanks to the stretched wheelbase. The bench is a bit low and flat, but it’s passable – and levels of space are more than up to measure for a family hatch.

Your six-foot correspondent sat behind a driver’s seat positioned for him and found plenty of leg and kneeroom; no need to shove the front seat forward. In a MINI! Even headroom is adult-friendly (although watch your head on the sides as they do intrude a little).

MINI Clubman 2015

Star of the show is the boot. 90% of people only open a single Clubdoor (an interlock means you have to open right and close left first). Gas struts make it contactless: press the remote and the right whooshes open, the left hinging out with another press. Or kick your foot beneath to do it hands-free.

The space is ample and it’s cleverly designed to be square and practical. Being able to walk right up to the squared-off rear, without having to duck below a tailgate, is an unexpected bonus, and MINI even claims that the doors make it easier to load in tight parking bays, despite not looking it.

The Clubdoors even have cubbies within them; a novel feature on the original Clubman, they’ve grown up into a genuinely useful differentiator, well supported by all the extra space behind them.

2015 MINI Clubman: running costs

MINI Clubman 2015

MINI’s expecting great residuals which, combined with surprisingly keen pricing, will keep PCP payments low and affordability high. Starting from £19,995 for the Cooper – with BMW-grade colour sat nav standard on all – it’s no wonder more than half of buyers are expected to pay £2,785 for a Chili pack upgrade.

The Chili pack claims to save 30% on the price of options it adds. Goodies include part-leather heated sports seats, climate control, parking sensors and, impressively, LED headlights and foglamps.

The Cooper D Clubman costs £22,265, making the £33,755 Cooper S Clubman look a bit of a bargain. Only the £24,255 tag of the Cooper SD Clubman seems steep, although 190hp and 295lb ft of torque – the most ever in a MINI – will help some justify it.

The Cooper SD averages 62.8mpg and emits 119g/km CO2, which is also impressive. The test Cooper S officially claims 45.6mpg and 144g/km CO2, which may limit its fleet friendliness. Choose an auto on both S and SD for a few mpg more; it makes no difference on the Cooper and Cooper D.

The Cooper D claims 68.9mpg and 109g/km, which is good, but you pay that £2,270 extra for it (or, at least, the accompanying PCP monthly uplift). Will it really save that much over the Clubman, which returns 55.4mpg and emits 118g/km CO2? For this reason, expect the standard Cooper to be the most popular Clubman by far.

2015 MINI Clubman: verdict

MINI Clubman 2015

The old MINI Clubman was a nice idea; now, it’s a nice car, and a very nice alternative for those bored by Focus and Golfs. Within minutes of speaking to him, MINI’s product manager was drawing comparisons with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. After spending a day with it, we understood why.

It’s roomy, sophisticated and practical inside, makes good use of BMW tech (engines, infotainment) but still feels like a fun MINI to drive – without making everyone else suffer for the driver’s enjoyment.

It still looks like a Clubman, so will still be love it or hate it, and that’s exactly what MINI wants. That’s the MINI-ness: you get it or you don’t. But now it’s grown up and focused on what it wants to be, and does it well, we feel many more people than before will indeed get it.

2015 MINI Clubman: specifications

Petrol engines: 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo, 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo

Diesel engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel

Price: £19,995 – £24,255

Power: 136 – 192hp

Torque: 162 – 295lb ft

0-62mph: 9.1 – 7.4

Top speed: 127 – TBA

Fuel economy: 45.6 – 68.9

CO2 emissions: 109 – 144g/km