Side-hinged tailgates, retro tweaks it's BMW's take on the old Traveller. Er, what's the extra door for? Who cares, it's brilliant, says David Wilkins

Price: £14,235
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds, 51.4mpg
CO2: 132g/km

Worth considering: BMW 1-series three-door, Mercedes A-Class three-door, Skoda Fabia estate

This week, our panel of readers try the Clubman, the new estate version of the BMW Mini. It's a little longer than the standard car, a change that makes for a very handy increase in rear legroom and luggage space.

But if you've heard anything at all about the Clubman, you will know that its most controversial feature is a single additional rear-hinged side-door designed to make getting in and out of the back seat easier.

This extra door is fitted to the right-hand side, regardless of whether the car has left- or right-hand drive which means that it opens into the traffic rather that towards the kerb on UK market Clubmans.

In practice, I don't think this makes much difference as it's still possible to get into the rear seat from the left-hand side of the car anyway. But I can't help imagining what would have happened if any of BMW's predecessors as custodians of the Mini brand had introduced such a feature.

"The Mini with the door on the wrong side" would probably have gone down in history as one of the great British Leyland cock-ups, alongside "the hatchback without a hatch" or "the car with the square steering wheel" (the Leyland Princess and the Austin Allegro respectively, in case you've forgotten).

But don't get too hung up on that door, because this car is wonderful in all other respects. The increase in rear legroom allows adults of average height to make themselves fairly comfortable in the back, even for longish journeys, which anyone familiar with the standard Mini will recognise as a big improvement. The longer load-space means that Mini owners can transport reasonable amounts of luggage, too.

But the most obvious plus is that the Clubman is still a Mini, so it is at least as zippy, nippy and grippy as anything else on the road, which makes for a lot of driving fun. And I have no doubt at all that the Clubman will depreciate just as slowly as the standard car, making for a great ownership experience, too.

The Clubman's estate bodywork has also given BMW an excuse to introduce a large extra dollop of retro Mini detailing. Van-style side-hinged load doors and contrasting pillar trim, for example, echo the design of the Traveller versions of the original Mini in a most agreeable way.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that the new Clubman's extra length and distinctive rear styling make it an even better looker than the standard car especially, dare I say it, from the left, where its clean lines are not interrupted by that extra side-door.

Will and Beth Dawes, both 34, innovation manager and primary school teacher, Whitley Bay
Usual cars: Audi A6 Avant, VW Polo GTI

We have owned a Cooper and a Cooper S in the past, and we have a little one on the way so would love to know if we can use as an everyday car. It had very good feedback when being driven hard, and the ride comfort was a lot better than we expected. Performance was brisk, especially with 3 up the engine felt a lot smoother than our last Cooper. We liked it a lot, but with the pepper pack and a couple of other tasty options the price was around 16,000. This really starts to play on your mind when you consider what else you can afford for that money in terms of size and performance, eg a two-year-old Mk5 Golf GTi, just!

Mark Nichol, 28, student, Newcastle upon Tyne
Usual car: Renault Megane 1.9 dCi

There's something goofy-looking about the Clubman in photographs; it seems disproportionate and a bit van-ish. In the metal, though, it made me laugh, in a good way. The detailing is excellent. Stuff like the roof-coloured rear pillars that wrap around the tail lights, and the individual wipers for the rear van doors, make the Clubman genuinely individual. The single rear side door seems a bit superfluous it opens out on to the road and it would still be useless for a trip to Ikea, but it's noticeably bigger inside and the driving experience is virtually unchanged from the regular Mini, which is great. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, but I loved it.

Heidi Finlay, 30, teacher, Newcastle upon Tyne
Usual car: Fiat Punto

The Clubman seems to offer all the fun of the Mini experience to a wider range of people. The side door would enable small children to clamber in the back with slightly more dignity. The boot, with its two doors opening in the middle, offers enough room for transporting goods, a pram or a small dog. For city driving, the car switches itself off when put into neutral and turns itself back on when you go into first. For motorways or country roads, the car is comfy cruising along in sixth gear. Small-business owners and dog lovers now can experience the Mini's fun and flirty nature, while mums-to-be no longer have to trade in their Mini for something more sensible.

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