(Pocket-lint) - Since the move from nostalgic little British runaround, to baby-BMW, there have been innumerate inceptions of the Mini. The best selling has been the regular Mini Hatch and the weirdest, perhaps, the Clubman.
The Clubman is an oddity, most keenly defined by the van style rear doors, but in its previous guise, a rear suicide half door on the right-hand side. It was designed to give better access to the backseat, without disturbing the driver, and was most certainly a quirk of retro design.
But before you get too drawn into the debate over character versus practicality, the newest form of the Mini Clubman scraps that, rolling out on a new platform and a more conventional four-door arrangement.
BMW Cooper D Clubman: Design refined
Companies like BMW are in a pickle. Charged with preserving icons, yet still producing a car that's relevant, BMW finds itself facing the same sort of challenge that VW have with the Beetle, or Fiat with the 500.
There's a fine line between riding the retro wave and being just too weird and the previous Clubman perhaps typified that. Back to this new Cooper D Clubman, things are all for the better.
The Clubman is a big Mini, but it's big without going Tonka, unlike the Countryman or Paceman. It's sitting on the new platform that's also under the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, with BMW saying that this pushes the Clubman to be a rival to cars like the VW Golf.
At the same time, Mini is clinging on to the rollerskate go-kart like experience that Minis are known for, pushing driving as fun. The exterior design of the Clubman loses some of the cuteness of the Hatch due to its increased length, but in other ways the increased size fits some of the bolder lines for a more mature look.
The length is really felt as you pass the front doors, with rear doors that are now entirely conventional, opening to give access to reasonably-sized rear seats. It's not huge, but then this is a compact four-door hatch and it's large enough to stuff adults in the back. We suspect that children will be the main occupants of these seats however.
There remains a degree of quirkiness with the barn style rear doors. These pop open satisfyingly, revealing the 360 litre boot, a practical size, only slightly smaller than you'll find on a VW Golf. Fold down the seats and you're rewarded with 1250 litres, again, pretty much the same as the Golf.
The twin rear doors are a design talking point, perhaps a welcome relief from the ubiquitous hatch rear that's so common. Those who struggle to reach up and pull down a traditional boot door it may find it a practical adaption. It also houses a couple of huge pockets, perfect for stuffing your Bag(s) for Life into. Weird it may be, but we like it. It's refreshing and novel rather than typically boring.
So the Clubman is now a much more conventionally designed car on the outside. It's good looking, retaining those new Mini cues, but at the same time fitting its size nicely. There's enough that's unique to separate it from the Golf, Focus or other hatchbacks, but in this new form that is matched with practicality it previously lacked.
Mini Cooper D Clubman: Interior charms
Slip into the comfortable sports front seats - part of the Chili pack that Mini thinks many will opt for - and you'll find that the Clubman retains all that retro Mini charm. The huge central display still dominates proceedings, built into that round design encircled with coloured illumination.
This central display gives access to the navigation system, here the XL version, part of the media pack, a £1010 optional upgrade, but also including enhanced Bluetooth, USB audio and Mini Connected XL, which mirrors many of the functions you'll find in BMW's equivalent system. That means route planning from an app, remote car status, traffic, weather and so on.
The display is sharp and vibrant and looks great. It's also easy to use, with a system that's basically the same as BMW's, offering a logical hierarchical navigation system. There's no shortage to technology treats for your comfort, entertainment and safety.
The bold interior design gives character where others are perhaps a little bland. The interior uses more plastics than you'll find on BMW brothers, but where it might be easy to accuse BMW, Audi or VW of having safely designed executive exteriors, the Mini is designed to appeal to the young at heart. There's retro switches, fused with colour and texture.
Moving away from the almost ubiquitous start button, there's a large start switch, like you're flipping the power on an old amplifier. Then there's the simplification of the driver's dial, flanked with crescent rev counter on the left and fuel gauge to the right. Things have been considered, given character, and placed into a refreshing cockpit.
Mini Cooper D Clubman: On the road
None of these changes mean anything if they don't work, however. There's pretty much auto everything available on the current family on Minis, leaving you to focus on the driving and let the wipers and lights take care of themselves.
What you might not want is an auto gearbox, because the manual is a huge amount of fun. We tested the Cooper D as it's likely to be the most popular option thanks to its better mileage and lower tax band.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that the Cooper D is a slouch, as it isn't, especially if it's just you driving the car. Sure, it takes 8.6 seconds to hit 62mph from the 150bhp diesel engine, but that's about the same as a Ford Focus with a similar engine. If you want faster, the Cooper SD boost the same 2-litre engine to 190bhp, racing you off to 62 in 7.4 seconds to better match the spritely petrol Cooper S.
But we'd pick the manual because the feel of the gear change on that 6-speed box is so precise, clicking into gear, allowing rapid changes. That makes it a lot of fun, living up to that go-kart feeling that Mini wants to offer. It's topped off by the lovely feel of the leather finish to the gearshift. If it fails to put a smile on your face as you race through country lanes, you should perhaps consider taking the bus instead.
There are driving modes too, neatly selected with a slide of the ring around the base of the gear lever. You can flip across to "sport" or "green" driving modes, with corresponding colour changes around your central dash dial, probably of greater appeal to those opting for automatic. The gear shift indicator in the speedo is a little nagging, suggestion you change up and spoil the fun a little too early, as the Cooper D Clubman is at its most enjoyable when you give it the chance to open up a bit.
The Mini Cooper D Clubman fuses essential practicality with the fun you expect from a Mini, smoothing away some of the painful quirks of the previous incarnation.
The result is a car that's definitely different from those in its segment. It's a car with a fun interior, offering a fun drive, making the driver's seat a great place to be. Those in the back might find things a little small and there are larger rivals out there, but if you dare to be different, the Mini Clubman is well worth a look.
The Mini Cooper D Clubman starts at £22,245 on the road, and there are a huge array of customisation options. The £30,160 version pictured here notably includes £815 of indigo blue leather and the £2,785 Chili pack amongst the additions.