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First Drive: MINI Clubvan

By / 8 years ago / Road Tests / No Comments

SECTOR: Car-derived van PRICE (March 2013): £11,832.50–£14,161.67 (ex-VAT) FUEL: 43.5–72.4mpg CO2: 103–152g/km

MINI will tell you its new Clubvan is a commercial vehicle for companies moving up in the world. So while it’s not going to be the all-conquering replacement for a full-size van, it’s also not difficult to see why the carmaker has seized the opportunity to dip into the light commercial sector with a slightly different proposition on its hands.

But for now, it’s a bit of an unknown. This is basically a converted Clubman, and with limited bespoke parts it’s easy for MINI to vary production based on demand. The anticipation is that it’ll be a car mainly targeting small fleets, but it’s already finding favour with larger ones too.

Separating this from the Clubman is a flat, plastic-lined load floor which stretches from the twin rear doors to a cage-type bulkhead with an aluminium reinforcing bar behind the front seats. MINI has also fitted two power sockets at the back and an extra light for the load area, but as yet doesn’t offer approved racking conversions. The latter is unlikely to remain a gap in the market for long, though.

Where the original Morris Mini Van was a compact and affordable urban workhorse, the Clubvan is a much more style-led purchase. Like the rest of the range, it’s easy to push the price up to large car territory with a few option boxes ticked. MINI doesn’t have any illusions that this will become a high-volume model for bricklayers and the like, instead seeing it primarily finding favour with delivery companies, electricians and possibly florists.

So UK orders are proving to be top heavy. Some 70% are in the top Cooper D spec, followed by the petrol One at 28% and the US-focused petrol Cooper at 2% – a high petrol share for a car-derived van. Outstanding trim levels from the Clubman range won’t be offered, unless there’s high enough demand to make them worthwhile. MINI doesn’t expect that there will be.

Stranger still, the Clubvan is the only MINI that isn’t available with steel wheels.

The One D features bespoke alloy wheels instead, while Coopers get sporty 17-inch versions. Good for style, but prone to kerbing for those mounting kerbs for deliveries.

MINI had only the Cooper D available to test at the launch. It uses broadly the same 1.6-litre diesel found in Ford and PSA’s small vans, and that’s a good thing. This is a tough, reliable unit with effortless efficiency and lively low-rev performance, which works well with the MINI’s excellent on-road dynamics. It’s a bit gruff under load, and the large wheels hurt the ride quality a little, but the Clubvan is good fun to drive.

Its Clubman roots present a few issues though. The Clubdoor, which was always on the wrong side for right-hand drive markets anyway, is completely redundant on the Clubvan. There’s just enough of a gap to fit a briefcase between this and the bulkhead, and it’s the cause of a frustrating high-speed whistle that blunts otherwise impressive high-speed refinement.

Rear visibility is also problematic. MINI hasn’t fitted larger mirrors to the Clubvan, which results in a large blind spot on the passenger side and some slightly unnerving advances from acutely angled junctions. Our test van didn’t even have a convex mirror on the passenger side, which would have been a cheap fix.

But it’s unlikely most potential buyers will care. There’s enough rational appeal in the Clubvan to make it a realistic addition to an LCV fleet, and those who love the styling will overlook its flaws for the retro kudos it also brings.

Verdict

The Clubvan could easily have been a dismissible style-over-substance purchase, but high efficiency, strong residual values and a usable if not enormous load area mean it has the rational appeal to sway fleets who have fallen for its looks. Not a volume seller, but those with an eye for style will love it.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.