CLUB CLASS COMMERCIALS
MINI dips a toe into the shark-infested waters of the commercial vehicle market but does so with a clever twist. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second Review
The MINI Clubvan hits on an idea that has only been tentatively explored in the past, namely that of the chic, boutique commercial vehicle. If you need a city van but don't want something that looks as if it's wallowed off a building site, the Clubvan could be just the job. It doesn't come cheap though.
With MINI seemingly expanding into every possible niche in the medium and small car sectors, it was surely only a matter of time before their beady gaze would settle on the potentially lucrative commercials sector. After all, this isn't virgin ground for MINI. Demand for maximising the load capacity of the classic Mini began as early as 1960, just a year after the car's birth, and so the Morris Mini Van was born. With its 10-centimetre-longer wheelbase, separate load compartment and split rear doors, it was perfectly equipped for commercial use. It also provided the basis for the fully glazed, four-seat Morris Mini Traveller, one of the precursors of today's successful MINI Clubman. And so, more than 50 years on, the MINI Clubvan is very much a case of history repeating itself.
The MINI Clubvan is based on the same chassis as the Clubman estate, so it's a tried and tested formula. Therefore you can expect it to drive with the same engaging characteristics. Changes have, however, been made to the Clubvan's spring and damper rates as well as its suspension bushes to help cope with its slightly different remit. The car uses much the same range of engines and model designations as the MINI, which means there's a 1.6-litre 120bhp engine in the Cooper, a 1.6-litre 110bhp diesel in the Cooper D and a 98bhp 1.6-litre unit in the One.
The Clubvan isn't going to be bought for its Europallet stacking abilities but if you're an owner/operator, it's good to know that you've suddenly got access to a small van that's a real hoot to drive. With less weight than a Clubman, performance is strong, especially in the torque-rich Cooper D, which is the one to choose if you're thinking of loading the thing up on a regular basis. If, on the other hand you just want a cool-looking mobile hoarding for your business, you're probably best served by the basic Clubvan One. The normally aspirated 1.6 in the Cooper is still respectably rapid on paper. 0-60mph takes around 10s, which is a tad faster than the diesel.
Design and Build
The market for stylish small vans is distinctly limited. Most are wholly utilitarian things that sell on cargo capacity and pence per mile figures and that's largely because the people buying these vans aren't driving them themselves. Therefore it doesn't matter if the thing is a pig to drive. It's somebody else's problem. The MINI Clubvan is different. Most buyers will operate the vehicle themselves and therefore they'll want something comfortable and stylish. And it is most certainly stylish. It's probably the coolest van to hit the market since the Nissan S-Cargo.
You can choose from four classic body colours: Pepper White, Ice Blue, British Racing Green and Midnight Black. All will set your MINI - and your business - apart from the rest. The colour you choose becomes the blank canvas for your company logo and artwork and extends to the roof, mirror and C-pillars, creating a seamless, professional look. The darkened Splitdoor windows ensure your business in the back stays strictly confidential. And, with 15" Delta Spoke wheels in silver, you've got a set of rims that set the look off to a tee.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over the £11,000 mark, plus VAT, for the Clubvan One, with the Cooper variant offered for a further £1,200 premium. Both of these petrol-engined models are available with an automatic gearbox which is certainly worth considering if you're going to be schlepping about town all day. Alternatively, there's the manual-only Cooper D, which without the VAT will cost you from just under £14,000.
Standard specification includes a DAB digital radio, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, electric front windows, an outside temperature gauge and roof rails. Twin front and side airbags are also included. Parking sensors and satellite navigation are options.
Practicalities & Costs
We have to address this issue because it's something that affected the Clubman and stands to affect a van version too. The doors. Or more accurately, the door. On the Clubman estate, you got two front doors and a rear side door that was, and there's no real way of sugar-coating this, on the wrong side of the car. In other words, the side door was on the right, opening into the street rather than onto the pavement. Apparently the cost of converting this for a right hand drive market was said to be prohibitive. The Clubvan still has the side door on the right, and while it would have been nice to have seen full length sliding side doors, it's likely that most goods are going to be posted into the back, where there are a couple of doors that give good access.
Reinforcing the Clubvan's working credentials are 12-volt charging sockets and tie-downs in back, as well as a stainless-steel mesh partition to keep goods and cargo from ending up clattering the driver in the back of the head. As you can probably imagine, this isn't the biggest van in its class and the 860-litre luggage capacity might be limiting for some. A 500kg payload might also be an issue. The load bay measures 1150mm in length, 1090mm in width and 840mm in height.
Is the MINI Clubvan a particularly practical proposition? In conventional commercial vehicle terms, no. But then you didn't expect it to be. If you need a van for light urban duties, it might just be perfect. Imagine a chic florist or an artisan baker who needs a stylish way of delivering lightweight goods while advertising the business in a way that will appeal to those with a bit of disposable income and a sense of style.
Therefore the Clubvan neatly sidesteps so many of the demanding measures most place upon commercial vehicles. All it needs to be is cool, fun to drive and reliable, with a modicum of carrying capacity and it answers that call with quite some elan. As a van it's no great shakes. As a marketing proposition, it's a bolted on winner.