Mini Clubman Cooper D

The new Mini is as charming as ever but it can't hide the fact that the door for the kiddies is on the wrong side

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit: Members of the Tufty Club
Price: 15,400
Performance: 125mph, 0-60 in 10.8 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 51.4mpg
Further information: 0800 836 464

They were only supposed to put some bloody doors on. But instead of a more practical, four-door Mini estate, we get this botched, three-door attempt at reviving an old Leyland stalwart. The one rear-side door that BMW's designers have deigned to give us isn't even on the correct side it's on the driver's side so that the kiddies, who are about the only ones who can fit in the back, will have to exit into the middle of the street. Does anyone have Tufty's phone number? I think we're going to need some urgent road safety education.* BMW has claimed that it can't put a door on the passenger side for "technical reasons", but Toyota managed it with the even shorter Aygo. Sounds like typical German work-shy shirking to me.

So, not a good start to this review but things get much, much better, so stick with me. This is still a Mini, so it has more charm than George Hamilton III trying to get a traffic warden to put her pen away, from its cartoonish interior with its toggle switches and dinner-plate speedo, to the lovely, darty, eager way it steers, accelerates and changes up and down through its slick six-speed 'box.

You can't help but fall in love all over again. And for all my griping about the side-door (and don't get me started on the driver's seatbelt which, as in the similarly portalled Mazda RX7, acts as the perfect tripwire for rear-seat passengers, or the fact that the damn front seat never returns to its original position after you've moved it forward), the van-style rear doors allow fantastic access to the larger boot. It is little short of miraculous, too, that the Clubman's designers have kept the weight increase over the standard car down to just 20kg, yet still built a car that feels really hefty.

This, along with a clever alternator that recharges the battery only when the car slows instead of being a constant burden on the engine, as is usually the case plus an even cleverer system that turns the engine off when you stop in traffic and restarts it when you depress the clutch, helps keep fuel economy and emissions equally miraculous. This is the diesel version, of course, and there is a price to pay for 109g of CO2 emissions per km (within 5g of a Prius) and 51.4mpg the engine sounds like Arthur Mullard coughing up a greeny in a tin bucket, for instance, but never mind. You'll be able to hold your head high at your local Greenpeace chapter meetings.

This being a Mini, the other price to pay, of course, is the price to pay particularly for extras, which could easily see your jazzed-up Windy Miller van (I'm sticking with these obscure 1970s kids' TV references) topping out at around 20,000. But if you keep it simple, the Clubman is worth it if only because it puts a smile on your face every time you drive it. And that's something an Aygo will never do.

Now, if only they'd blow that bloody door off or blow another hole in the other side... *

*Although, and it's only now that this dawns on me, really the last animal you'd trust for road-crossing advice would be a squirrel

It's a classic: Mini Clubman estate

Those raging pedants of the motoring press (excuse the tautology) have been gleefully pointing out that the original Mini estate was called the Traveller, not Clubman. But here is proof that there was indeed a Clubman estate, built from 1969 to 1980.

You can always tell a Clubman by its squared-off face, which was never as loved as the chubby-faced original. The reason for the new look was, typically, engineers' meddling. In the original it was difficult to reach the distributor, but the new front gave a little extra space for mechanics to manoeuvre. Unlike the new Clubman, back-seat passengers didn't get any more room; all the extra length went to the boot. Other beloved traits were ironed out inside too, with the trademark centrally located speedo moved to a binnacle in front of the driver; out too went the dinky toggle switches. All in all, it is a miracle they made more than 330,000 of the things.

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