September 23rd, 2016 at 1:00pm
Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.
Reviewer: Chip Drake
Vehicle: 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman
Price: $32,530 (including $850 Destination)
Though its sales might not exactly show it, there’s a cult of personality that surrounds the MINI Cooper. It starts with a simple wave… by passing MINI motorists and moves onto hundreds of owners who vacation together by driving cross-country in what’s called MINI TAKES THE STATES.
But how does a brand ignite such a passion? Well it’s got to start with the car so let’s look at my recent MINI loan and try to figure it out.
I drove the 2016 Cooper S Clubman with MINI’s 2-Liter twin turbo 4-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. This powertrain always delivers a very high “fun quotient” whichever Driving Mode you’re in: Sport, Mid or Green.
But despite the “cuteness” inherent in the MINI – it is a great looking design – I find the car a tad heavy when it comes to ride and handling. The suspension seems ultra stiff for my taste. And when you try to close those exclusive Clubman Split Rear Doors, it helps if you’re bench-pressing about 300 pounds – they’re not exactly feather-light.
And though you can’t complain about the upgrades that BMW continues to pump into the brand’s interior, for some reason I just don’t feel comfortable in the cabin. Whether it’s the legroom, headroom or some other reason, even though I like the brand and its vehicles, they’re just not for me.
But they do seem to be for a lot of other people. So why is there such love for the brand? I can point to a couple reasons.
First, you can customize the heck out of the car. Want a Cooper Hardtop 4 Door in Electric Blue? That’s the easy part. From there it gets a little tougher since you’re choosing from a possible ten million combinations. That’s a bit overwhelming for me but many MINI owners seem to like it.
MINI enthusiasts also seem to like the special editions the brand releases as well. Like the “Highlands Countryman” or the “Carbon MINI Hardtop 4 Door” and “Seven Edition” available on several cars.
Then, of course, the other attraction for many is the quirkiness of the brand, which is still evident in today’s design. The toggle switches throughout the cabin are an homage to the ‘60’s version of the MINI as is the large dial on the center of the I.P. But where that dial used to be the speedometer – which is now in the traditional spot — today it is home for the technology center with Navigation, Entertainment and a Rear View Camera among others situated there. And just to prove that not even technology can escape the MINI touch, the dial is encircled by what’s called a LED Center Instrument ring, which changes colors with systems and functions.
For instance, the Park Distance Control can flash from red to yellow to green when in reverse each color denoting distance. In fact, those same colors also represent the three Driving Modes as well. And still other features like the Audio System, Climate Control and Active Driving Assistant each have several different colors associated with a function. All in all, we guessed about 50 different color combinations, but even that might be conservative.
If I were in MINI Design I might ramp up all those colors and lights mentioned above, and release an Aurora Borealis Edition. And to make it even more exclusive – it would only be available at the lone MINI dealership in Alaska (Anchorage). Now you’ve got to say, that’s quirky.