The 2016 Mini Clubman is a very different kind of Mini, and that goes beyond just the way it looks.
Mini invited me to a trendy space in Downtown Los Angeles during last month's LA Auto Show. As is the case with many of these places, what looks like T-shirt factory is really a swanky event hall with a courtyard full of artisan whatever.
While I waited for the Mini officials to get to talking about the car, they nudged us closer and closer to the chocolate and the whiskey and the handmade furniture all on show here. This isn't the venue Mini would have chosen even five years ago to show its cars to the press or potential buyers. Minis didn't scream "luxury," so much as, "Have fun, who cares about the car seats?" And I liked that.
I should've been prepared for how grown-up Mini has made the Clubman. After all, the main man running Mini USA made it clear to me earlier this year that the brand might make small cars, but it does not make stepping stones in the BMW brand.
The Clubman is firmly pitched at someone who was the original Mini buyer a decade ago. In your 20s, you were carefree and spontaneous, but all of that has gone away in your late 30s as you try to fit a folding stroller in the back of a hatchback. The Clubman was designed with nieces and nephews in mind, if not actual sons and daughters. It is a very different kind of Mini than the two and four-door hatchbacks, which are made for doing things on a whim.
And it's a welcome step up, frankly. Yes, those seats with the diamond-stitched blue leather are as beautiful in person as they are in their fancy photos. Sure, it has an electronic parking brake. But now this means your shirt cuff won't annoyingly catch on a handbrake when searching for second and fourth gears. Remember, this is a premium compact car that actually has a six-speed manual as standard. Let's not be to dismissive. Growing up means learning not all quirks are endearing.
While much of the criticism toward the vehicle is that there’s nothing very “mini” about it, it’s actually still smaller than what many people would consider a small car to be, such as a Volkswagen Golf. Yet at the event, we were surrounded by images of the original car. And the black-and-white shots hanging in frames on wood slats somehow made the Clubman look even more enormous and aspirational.
Even since the final days of the classic Mini, the car has reached higher than small cars when it comes to prestige. But with this new car, it's like suddenly waking up one day and realizing you're a grown-up. You shop at Whole Foods and not in an ironic way. Your Google Calendar actually makes sense. You decide spending the night on your friend's floor and brushing your teeth on the way to work the next morning is not a viable option. As much as you might want to sneer at a Mini presented at a refined venue sitting in an industrial part of a large city, you can't help but ask to someone, "Oh, this is really good chocolate, where can I get more?"
For the record, I no longer find sleeping on the floor exciting.