► All-wheel-drive diesel Clubman costs £27k
► First All4 MINI built at Plant Oxford
► Is this a niche stretched too far?
If the comprehensive badging didn’t give it away, and to remove any doubt, this is the latest in the Mini Clubman range – the Cooper SD All4.
It’s a logical enough extension of BMW’s junior brand: take the 4.3m-long Clubman shell and install an all-wheel-drive system. It’s popular with the soon-to-be-departed – and Austrian-built – Countryman crossover, so why not the wee wagon from Oxford?
Well, in all honesty, you’re unlikely to need it.
So, why all-wheel drive?
German brands feverishly obsess over niches like Russian dolls. Once one’s established it’s opened up to target an ever-decreasing number of potential buyers within.
That’s not to say that a Matryoshka method of analysing business segments is wrong – after all, selling cars in Northern US states, those on the Eastern Seaboard, effectively the whole of Canada and various other snow-affected regions of the world, is going to be nigh-on impossible if there’s no all-wheel drive version available.
Simply, the majority of Britons don’t experience snow-bound difficulties severe enough to render their cars unusable. Even if the deluge of white stuff had been that chronic, you’d still need your rims shod with cold-weather tyres to gain any meaningful purchase, something you could easily install on your front-wheel drive Mini anyway.
Okay, but is there a performance advantage for going All4?
There is but in statistical terms we’re talking of a two-tenths of a second shaving from the 0-62mph time over the regular Cooper SD Clubman, down to 7.2 seconds, thanks to the extra adhesion off the line. Top speed? 138mph.
Like most efficiency-promoting all-wheel-drive systems, the Mini’s All4 package ordinarily sends power exclusively to the front wheels. When slip or spin are detected, power’s sent to the back instantly, via a dual-section prop shaft and an electrohydraulic clutch. Neatly, the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) software’s fully integrated into it, which permits the rear wheels to become powered when cornering vigorously on clean, dry asphalt, as well as when tackling looser, gravelly surfaces.
All4 aside, the Cooper SD is effectively unchanged, still featuring the 187bhp, 295lb ft 2.0-litre diesel engine mated to the familiar eight-speed automatic ’box. If you want a manual you’ll have to opt for the cheaper, petrol-fuelled Cooper S All4, which has the self-shifter as a cost-option.
It’s an impressively strong motor – maybe a tad nose-heavy in the Clubman’s hull – but it lacks the charming rortiness of the petrol equivalent. This one just sounds angry, like your neighbour after your son’s kicked his ball deep into their narcissus-rich borders.
Steering feel spoils the fun
Even the front-drive Clubmans offer a nimble chuckability that you simply won’t experience driving an Audi A3 Sportback or Mercedes A-Class, and while the All4 allows the Mini estate to corner that nth of a degree tighter, pushing with a smidgen more confidence as you do, you can’t help but think all-wheel drive’s not added that much to the joy factor. Having the rear wheels driven too adds 60kg of heft to the package, incidentally.
When the pace has been ramped up, the Clubman’s a taut little thing – despite the six doors puncturing gaping chasms in the Mini’s structure. The steering reinforces the Mini’s positive feel – it’s heavy at speed, preventing it from feeling overly twitchy. This is good.
Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll drive like a latter-day Paddy Hopkirk all of the time, and pedestrian-paced pootling reveals a less-pleasant quirk about the Mini’s steering set-up. There’s a curious lightness within a few degrees of the straight-ahead position at lower speeds.
Turn the wheel further and you discover weightier – and sudden – resistance, not unlike a snooker ball jarring in the jaws of a pocket. Even after a couple of hours driving around you still find yourself looking exasperatedly at the wheel awaiting an explanation for its odd behaviour.
Mini estate, maxi price
‘Minis are expensive’ is hardly a headline-grabbing shocker, although the Clubman Cooper SD All4’s £27,390 price tag is enough to cause lips to purse before air’s inevitably sucked in. That’s a £1200 premium for the privilege of all-wheel drive over a regular automatic version.
As was ever thus, choosing which Mini you want is only the start of the journey, for the number of extras available puts the Game of Thrones cast list to shame. Among the plethora of customisables for this and packages for that, you’ll be pleased to know that electric front seats, with memory on the driver’s side, are now available for just £1020.
You can easily spec one of these up to in excess of £40,000. You shouldn’t, but you can.
In unison you’ve morphed into Inspector Morse because you already knew we were going to say if you really want a Mini Clubman, go for the petrol-fuelled Cooper S instead. With front-wheel drive. Manual transmission for a bit more fun, autobox for a little more urgency and efficiency.
You could buy a well-loved Suzuki Jimny to tackle the bad weather with the money you’ve saved.
Read more Mini reviews here