Can a Mini be a mum car? I wasn't so sure, but recently the Auckland Mini Garage loaned me a Mini Clubman for a few days so I set about finding out.
When I think of Mini's I think Austin Powers and The Italian Job, something small and sporty, I don't think about a car that will fit all your gear while you drive your kids to swimming and soccer practice. And while you might struggle to pack the whole family into one of the smaller two-door models, I found that the Clubman suited my needs almost perfectly.
Usually I hardly talk about the way a car drives in my mummy car reviews, but with the Mini it's the first thing I want to mention. On the first day driving the car my thoughts were 'not sure about this, it's a bit smaller than what I'm used to', the second day I was thinking 'this is pretty easy to change lanes and fun to drive around corners', by the third day I was a convert, thinking 'I LOVE this car, I really don't want to give it back'. LOL.
So what is it about the Mini that's so desirable? I just found it so easy to maneuver, like when you're in stand-still traffic and you realise that you should be in the other lane, it's absolutely no problem to quickly change lanes, even if there isn't much space between your car and the one in front. The Mini accelerates quickly, so you can merge in the new lane easily, without slowing the other traffic down.
The Mini was fun to drive too, I don't know all the correct driving terms so it's hard to explain, but the way it cornered was so different to my SUV, that it actually made me question why I drive a big SUV.
My main concern about the Mini was that it wouldn't fit any car seats, but the team at the Mini Garage assured me that they do, so in the end I gave up all my preconceptions and got out a few car seats to try installing them.
There are ISOFIX points on the front passenger seat, and back passenger, and back driver side (three sets total). It's not really the done thing to install a child restraint in the front passenger seat in NZ, although in Europe it is reasonably common. It isn't illegal to install a child's car seat in the front, though you must switch off the air bags if it's a rear facing seat, which isn't always easy to do. In the Mini you can do it using the key (pictured below). If you do switch off the airbags it's really important to switch them back on again.
As far as car crash statistics go, the front passenger seat is the worst place to be sitting, so if there is space for children in the back seat, it is better for them to be there.
There are three, easy-to-access tether points behind the back seat.
As for fitting car seats, it was pretty easy, I could fit a BeSafe Izi Modular Car Seat rear facing, along with a BeSafe Izi Modular capsule across the back seat.
The best configuration for fitting three seats would be to put the oldest child in the front seat, with the seat all the way back. The youngest child in the rear passenger side, and the middle child behind the driver. But really, this probably isn't the car that you would be driving if you had three children!
The boot opens in two pieces, kind of like a fridge- freezer. There is a cool little sensor under the boot, and if you swing your foot under there the boot will open, hands free! Of course you need to have your keys in your pocket for it to work, random people can't just walk up to your car when it's parked at the mall and get the boot to open! It took me a couple of practices to get the hang of it (your foot has to swing at the right angle, and in the right place) once I had it sussed I thought that it would be pretty useful if you had hands full of shopping or children.
I could fit the Mutsy Igo stroller in the boot of the Mini Clubman on it's side. There is a tray on the floor of the boot, under which people might store bungee cords and jumper leads, I removed the tray so that there was a little more room. Does anyone keep jumper leads in their cars these days? I wouldn't know how to use them!
I want to preface this by saying this isn't a paid review, but I can't figure a way of writing this without it sounding like one, because the dashboard on the Mini Clubman is so cool. I loved the curved LED light around the screen, which changed colour with the touch of a button. I think I counted 12 colours? Of course this has no practicality in the world of driving, but it does add an element of fun.
Modern Mini's are made by BMW, so of course they're totally safe and solid. One feature that I liked was the Collision Control, basically an alarm that will sound if there is something in your way when you're driving, and if you don't slow down or stop in time the car will do it for you. I inadvertently tested it out when I was driving along Manukau Road in the left lane, and there was a parked car in the left lane, I was planning on changing lanes but the car must have thought I left my lane change a bit late and the alarm gave me a fright! It's pretty loud and different to all the other bells and whistles on the car, so you know it's serious, but that's what it's designed to do!
You'll get all the modern features that you'd expect with the Mini Clubman. Keyless entry and locking, and keyless start, just leave your keys in your handbag the whole time. Reversing camera, voice activated stereo and phone. A child could pair the car to your phone, using bluetooth, so you can talk on the phone or listen to your podcasts or music- of course voice automation works here too.
Green Mode comes as standard on all models, so the motor will switch off when the car is idle, like when you're at traffic lights or waiting at the school gate. Apparently not everyone likes this feature, so there is a switch on the dash so that you can switch it off. Sports mode is also standard on all models, and you can switch that on or off if you want to as well.
It seems to me that part of the appeal of a Mini is that it's so customisable. When you buy the car new you have the option of different coloured panels, stripes and finishes on the exterior, and different fabrics, leathers, and LED lights on the interior. Not to mention the variations in the steering wheel, wheels, tyres, seats.... These guys really are putting the fun into motoring.
If it weren't for the fact that I need a car with a huge boot for the business, I'd definitely be keen to get a Mini. It's fun to drive, easy to use, feels safe, and can fit children and all the stuff that comes along with them. I would say that for families with two children or less, and trendy grandma's, the Clubman is definitely worth a look.