2011 Mini Cooper Clubman: Roller, Coaster

I’ve been considering the Clubman since last summer — it’s a good blend of utility, fuel economy, and urban cachet — but wanted more than your 10-minute trip up the highway with the sales guy before pulling out the Diners Club card.

In the city: 10/10
It sips a teetotaler’s 7.4L/100km on the streets and just 5.5 on the highway. But the dimensions make it my perfect city drive.

There’s a surprising amount of room for stuff: over 900 litres with the back seats down. It’s under four metres long, just 1.683 wide but with an impressively long wheelbase of 2.547 and a tiny 11m turning circle.

Translation? 1) A stable ride, especially important for those sudden defensive turns you make in urban traffic. 2) Parking’s an afterthought.

In the country: 7.8/10
There’s not a ton of power (121 hp@6,000rpm from a DOHC I-4 16Vengine), so choose your passing moments wisely — or upgrade to the turbocharged S.

Still, it grips rolling roads like Velcro. You’ll love exploring new routes to old haunts and getting it dirty. (Invest in winter tires.)

Folks in pickups may marvel or treat you with contempt, but you will be conspicuous. A friendly small-town couple begged to press the key fob to pop open the splitdoors at the back. Boing!

In the cockpit: 9.5/10
I’ve often gushed about the unique design of Minis.

1) They break rules to maximize space. It seats four easily without making a meal of their knees — a clubdoor makes loading simple. My wife and I have two lanky teenagers, and the four of us are fine. (Two words for when we vacation: roof rack.)
2) A ubiquitous circularity promotes that toy-like feeling. Hence, the key fob looks like fat cookie, which you feed into the dash before pressing the start button. Now: play.

Each drive is a rollercoaster. This low to the ground, you don’t need sport customization for a bracing, tight ride. That said, warn passengers when a pothole’s coming!

2011 Mini Cooper Clubman
Base Price: $27,350
As Driven: $31,730

This is a test