Before the MINI Clubman ceases production early next year, we wanted to travel the world to get re-aquatinted with the car that we’ve called MINI’s best four door ever. For our first trip we headed to Munich where we had the limited Clubman S Final Edition at our disposal. The plan was simple – head to Salzburg and the hills of Austria in our favorite MINI for roadtrips. What we hadn’t accounted for was being hit by the biggest snow storm in recent memory.
The wagon-like MINI Clubman is (and soon to be was) the perfect blend of utility and performance. With as much room as a Countryman but with less weight, we assumed it would be just as at home on the mountain roads as it is on the Autobahn. What we didn’t account for was 17” of snow being dumped on us over the course of two days.
Oh and there was one other wrinkle. The press car MINI had for us wasn’t the All4 version but instead the front wheel drive Clubman S. Luckily MINI knows how to equip cars for winter and thus they had a brand-new set of Pirelli Sottozero winter tires mounted on 17” wheels. So with places to go and snow to play in we grabbed the keys from an undisclosed BMW garage near Munich and headed towards Salzburg via the Autobahn.
Physics matter. And that’s where the Clubman has one up over the Countryman. With more of weight lower to the ground it’s inherently more stable and eager to change direction. On the highway doing around 140 mph that shows up as stability and ultimately confidence.
As we turned into an underground garage that night ready to sample some of Salzburg’s finest pilsners, we wondered what tomorrow would bring and more specifically what shape the mountain roads would be in? Or more pointedly could a front wheel drive Clubman cope with it all?
We found out within the first minute of driving out of the city. With a virtual shrug of the shoulders our Clubman S powered through snow covered streets (some of them unplowed) and onto the main roads. We’ve extolled the virtues of winter tires for years on MotoringFile but they never cease to amaze us.
Climbing into the mountains we found the 190 hp Clubman S was more than up to the task. While many roads increasingly snow covered, some were not giving us a chance to play a bit. This wasn’t a JCW and thus didn’t have the all wheel drive, more aggressive sport suspension or the bigger brakes. And in German spec with the engine detuned for emissions there’s only 175 hp on tap. But as a package it all felt great. Gentle body roll coupled with the taller sidewalls of our 17” wheels gave the car a very comfortable, predictable feel.
At this point we were deep in the snow storm and loving every second. The scenery, the roads and the car all made for an incredibly engaging experience. And then there were the small villages each with their own idyllic Christkindlmarkts. The foothills of the Alps, the snow, the Christmas scenario everywhere, it was like a Disney movie had come to life. And then we drove through Hallstatt.
If you’ve ever wanted to see where the concept of fairytales came from, visit Hallstatt Austria. Perched on the side of a mountain with an alpine lake on the other, it is the stuff of dreams. Yet it’s very real and with the snow flying and Christmas everywhere, probably the most charming village I’ve ever seen.
Sometimes the mark of a great car in moments like this isn’t necessarily to dominate the experience but to seamlessly blend in. The Clubman never put a foot wrong despite the snow, the roads or the fact that I was relying on GPS and intuition to get us around. The Clubman simply became just another part of a perfect day.
Nothing is perfect of course. Our particular Clubman was equipped with what I would call “comfort spec”. That meant small 17” wheels and no sport suspension. It was great for a relaxed trip on snowy roads but I’d definitely go with 18” or 19” wheels along with the more aggressive suspension option.
According to MINI Clubman Final Edition is now out of production and officially sold out. The final Clubman will roll-off the assembly line in Oxford this February but the highly sought after JCW is almost entirely sold out with only a fraction of its final production still available. In other words if you are considering ordering a MINI Clubman, stop reading this sentence and call your local MINI dealer.
After an epic series of drives through the mountain roads of Austria, we made it back safe to Salzburg and ultimately to Munich where the Clubman’s relatively small footprint helped tremendously in tight parking quarters.
Eventually we headed back to that undisclosed garage outside of Munich to reluctantly hand-back our Clubman’s keys to a nice lady with a BMW badge. Luckily this is only one of three drives we have planned with the outgoing model. Next up, we’ll be behind the wheel of a Clubman JCW on the mountain roads of South Carolina. However we’re told not to expect snow. Given our experience in Austria, that makes us sad.