Bimmer Lite - June 2008
I want a Clubman. Chili Red with a silver roof, please.
by Marc Biunno (aka Bimmer Lite)
Reprinted courtesy of Marc Biunno and Roundel Magazine
By the time you read this, the 2008 New York International Auto Show will be a distant memory, and its novelties will be mainstream. You have probably seen or test driven an M3 or the popular 1 series. The Nissan GT-R has probably severely whooped its competition in even more track tests. You've probably scratched your head as you ponder the decision Lexus made with the Star Wars-esque quad exhaust tips on the IS-F. Truth be told, the auto show is somewhat of a distant memory to me, too. I remember two things: the BMW concept CS (I just couldn't stop looking at it), and the Mini Cooper Clubman. I know I'll never have the former, and the latter is something I'm trying to make work even though it won't. Either way, they're both dreams.
The problem with the Clubman is that if I really tried, I could have it. And this is a big snag considering the fact that I had no intention of liking the car even a little bit. I expected it to be too big, disproportionate, and anything but “mini.” To my eye, though, it's the right size, proportioned perfectly for the newer design, and has to be one of the coolest looking cars on the road right now. As I move inexorably closer to the 30 year old plateau, I find myself becoming more and more aware of what will make me seem cool even if I'm not.
My opinion on the Clubman started to tip on the N.J. Turnpike. I was driving my nondescript yet hard-working E46 323i commuter when I saw something ahead that resembled a raccoon iteration of a Transformer. This car had a dark silver body and a black roof. The black from the roof spilled down around the boot, almost giving the back of the car framed eyes. My eyes were stuck on the design. As I got closer I realized this was the Clubman S I'd been reading about for so long and disliking in pictures. Ready to prove my subjectivity true, I was shocked to realize that something about the car hit me just right.
I expected the Clubman to be huge; it's not. The 1 series is about 14 feet long, while the Clubman is only around 13. I thought it would look and be too tall; it's not. The 1 series and the Clubman are identical in height. Everything pictures told me I'd love about the 1 series ended up not being actually true (it looks bigger than an E46 coupe in person), and everything I thought I'd hate about the Clubman were the exact opposite, too. Weird.
After my highway encounter with the dark silver Clubman S, I was excited to spend some time with and in the car at the auto show. It had already dawned on me that the Clubman could make a perfect commuter/stuff-hauler to go with my weekend/track R53. Grand schemes started swirling through my head about how I wouldn't need the S and how I'd opt for the gas mileage (many are reporting over 40 m.p.g. on the highway) and simplicity (not to mention the cheaper price) of the Cooper. I wondered about colors and options and which roof color looks best flowing down the back of the car and onto the rear bumper. I thought how awesome it would be to have a car (er, station wagon?) that looks like nothing else on the road today. Big plans, I had. Lavish dreams.
When I arrived at Mini's setup at the show and heard Skate's “Why'd you have to be so cute” lightly filling in the background noise, my attention went first to the Hot Chocolate/Silver Cooper Clubman surrounded by more than a few onlookers. It was attracting attention because it's surprising in person. If there ever were a car that has an altogether different presence than image, this is the one. Opening the boot hatches is a pleasure. Putting the seats down to see how much space you could have is enlightening. Taking a step back to see how the designers packed so much into such a small space is confusing and impressive. Just by the looks of it, this is a car I want.
So, like every dreamer with less wisdom than imagination, I've already specced out the Clubman I probably shouldn't buy.
Nightfire red is tempting because it's a “Cooper only” option that goes perfectly with the silver top. The drawback to it is that I don't believe in paying $500 for sparkly paint, and for some reason it negates my ability to choose the checkered cloth interior. Stupid computerized Mini USA configurator tyrants. So Chili red with a silver top it is. Yes, I already have a Chili red R53. But if some red is good, then it stands to reason that more is better. I'd choose the silver top because it doesn't stand out as much on the boot as it extends downward from the roof. White turning signals will bring the colors together and the cold weather package gives me heated seats. I know I've made fun of butt-warmers before, but if we can't learn, why are we even here?
Since I refuse to pay for leather and generally like cloth (you're welcome, cows), I'd go with the checkered cloth sport seats. Fog lights are on my spec. sheet because I can't stand unfilled spots on the fronts of cars. That compulsion will cost me an extra $250. The six-speed manual is a must, and the stock silver dash will go well with the roof. I would love the sunroof, but for $1,000, I'll just open the windows.
So there it is: a utilitarian R55 Clubman with minimal frills. All told, this will set me back $21,700 plus all of the other stuff you have to pay for when you buy a car. That's not too bad! Maybe I'll go test drive one after all. You know, just to see what it's like. Who said every dream from an auto show has to be utter absurdity?