Following the doom and gloom that shrouded the commercial vehicle sector in 2012, the new year got off to an encouraging start with new van sales up by almost 12% in January.
The industry’s mood should be further brightened by the arrival of the charismatic Mini Clubvan, which promises to sprinkle a little stardust onto a segment of the automotive market not usually renowned for its glamour.
Mini claims the Clubvan is the first premium product to grace the small van sector and vows it will prove that style can be practical while practicality can also be stylish.
The original Morris Mini Van broke cover in 1961 – just as the sixties were beginning to swing – but since assembly ceased in 1983, no commercial vehicle bearing the legendary British badge has been produced.
The brand may no longer be British, but at least BMW’s version is still built in the UK – at the Mini plant in Oxford.
The new Clubvan is based closely on the Mini Clubman passenger car that launched in 2007 and is aimed mainly at fashionable, upmarket urban operators who will want the van to do its bit in promoting the image of the business.
“Trend-conscious commercial users can now make a stylish and sophisticated statement when carrying out deliveries to their equally discerning customers,”
says the brand.
It reckons potential customers will include the likes of caterers, event planners, small retailers and photographers. The brand is also confident the Clubvan will appeal to leisure and lifestyle consumers with an appetite for outdoor pursuits such as cycling or mountaineering. The obvious attraction to buyers using the vehicle for work, of course, is that its commercial categorisation enables them to claim back the VAT.
The Clubvan is up for grabs in three derivatives, all with four cylinder engines and front-wheel drive: the entry-level Mini One Clubvan costs £11,175, excluding VAT, and is powered by a 98hp 1.6-litre petrol engine, the Mini Cooper Clubvan comes in at £12,475 with power output from the 1.6 petrol unit upped to 122hp and the flagship Mini Cooper D Clubvan driven here is priced £13,600 and comes with a 112hp 1.6-litre diesel drivetrain.
Other features include electric power steering, Macpherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard but six-speed automatic transmission is available as an option.
The Clubvan was never likely to come with the cheapest starting price in the compact van sector but Mini is confident it will make up ground through its whole life costs. It should command enviable residual values too due to its exclusivity and the prestige of the brand.
Thanks to the manufacturer’s Minimalism efficiency package, which it claims cuts emissions by up to 28% through features like auto start/stop, shift point display, brake energy regeneration and on-demand operation of ancillary units, official fuel consumption and emission figures are impressive and will enable businesses to “keep a tight rein on fuel consumption”, according to the manufacturer, while holding down running costs.
The Cooper D manual Clubvan boasts CO2 emissions of 103g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption of 72.4mpg while the petrol models both deliver 129g/km and 51.4mpg respectively.
The Clubvan has two seats and five doors. The load bay is accessed through twin rear doors or a small side door on the off-side. It extends from the rear doors to a half solid, half mesh bulkhead behind the driver and passenger seats. The Clubvan’s dimensions are the same as those of the Clubman passenger car: length 3961mm, width 1683mm, height 1426mm and wheelbase 2547mm.
Blocked out, opaque, body-coloured rear side windows and tinted glass in the rear doors ensure that the contents of the cargo bay are concealed from prying eyes. The flat load floor and sidewalls have a carpet trim and an anthracite roof-liner runs the length of the interior. The load area also contains two 12-volt power sockets and six tie-down loops to secure goods.
Practicality and load functionality are not likely to be top of the Clubvan’s customers’ wish lists and the payload of 500kg and load volume of 0.9m3 are no better than par for the course for car-derived vans. The load length of 1015mm is shorter than that of the Vauxhall Corsavan or Ford Fiesta van too.
But while those two models are no sluggards on the road, the Clubvan’s driving characteristics and brand kudos are likely to set it apart from the competition.
Handling prowess is not usually a priority for van buyers but the Clubman has no desire to merge into the herd.
Mini says it will bring “an unprecedented level of driving enjoyment to delivery assignments”.
Likewise, the Clubvan takes specification levels to a new high in the small van segment. Items such as DAB radio, air-conditioning, electric windows, anti-theft alarm and side and head airbags may not be unheard of in the light commercial vehicle market but they rarely come as standard kit, as they do with the Clubvan.
For a van that trades on its image as well as its performance and practicality, looks will be a prime consideration for customers.
Currently it is available in two exterior colours, pepper white and ice blue, but midnight black metallic will be added to the line-up on 1 April.
The roof, rear side window area, C-pillars and mirror caps are body-coloured on all models.
The standard 15-inch Delta spoke alloy wheels offer further evidence that the Clubvan is no humdrum light commercial – and these can be replaced by alternative 15-, 16- or 17-inch alloy designs if so desired.
Black seats with Cosmos fabric upholstery and a black colour scheme with white trimming is standard for the interior but options are available – these include black sports seats in Ray Cloth/Leather, Punch Leather or Lounge Leather.
Not all the Clubvan’s accessories are style-oriented however. More practical additions include rubber floor mats, a rubber load bay liner and a grill to protect the rear window.
Other options are set to tempt customers blend style, comfort and functionality. These include xenon headlights, black headlight shells, adaptive headlights, automatic climate control, park distance control, automatically dimming interior and exterior mirrors and a trailer hook.
The Mini navigation system is also optional.
The Mini Clubvan may be called a light commercial vehicle, but what’s in a name?
This is a premium class small car with a loadspace, and getting into one shortly after getting out of the strictly functional confines of your run-of-the-mill van is likely to induce culture shock.
The cabin is the same as that of the Mini Clubman passenger car – sophisticated, with gadgets galore, and very modern, albeit with impeccable retro styling. On the other hand, there’s not much by way of storage space.
We got behind the wheel of the Cooper D, which Mini says will take at least 70% of sales.
The 1.6 112hp diesel engine is lively and responsive with plenty of guts and we have little doubt it would cope comfortably even if carrying the full 500kg payload.
The six-speed manual gearbox is crisp, assured and complements the sharp agility of the steering, There is no skittishness from the rear of the vehicle, even when negotiating winding roads, and although the ride is firm, it is comfortable and quiet. This is likely to be a result of the build quality, which appears rock solid.
All in all the Clubvan’s driving characteristics are most un-van-like, which backs up Mini’s claim that it is breaking new ground in the LCV sector.
The brand will not expect to sell huge numbers of the Clubvan but it remains to be seen how many existing commercial vehicle customers it will attract.
The standard spec level is high, but so too is the price, and while a wealth of options are on offer, these bump up costs further. The model we drove came with extras that included, among others, a Leather Punch interior (£920), 17-inch conical spoke alloys (£1130), excellent, but also fairly essential, Park Distance Control (£245), and the Pepper Pack, encompassing air-conditioning, basic Bluetooth, chrome finishes on the exterior, velour floor mats, front fog lights, leather steering wheel, a height adjustable passenger seat, rain sensors, automatic lights and more (£975).
Our test vehicle was also endowed with the £1340 Media Pack. This comes with voice control, Bluetooth telephone audio connection and full preparation with USB radio and the Mini navigation system, which is easy to use and accurate.
Excluding VAT, our Clubvan, with all its bells and whistles, comes with a price tag of £18,592. This may seem like an indulgence too far for most operators but
the Clubvan’s many virtues also include practicality.
The twin rear doors open smoothly on hydraulic struts to 90 degrees and the small side door on the driver’s side provides handy access to both the load bay and the useful storage space behind the seats. The driver’s seat can be adjusted to find the best position for all shapes and sizes and the steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach and moves the rev counter/digital speedo with it so that it is never obscured from view. A larger speedometer sits in the centre of the dash encircling the easy-to-view sat nav screen.
The steering wheel-mounted cruise control is also easy to operate and a couple of other nice, and again un-van-like touches, are the extra sun visor on the window of the driver’s door and the lit vanity mirrors on the windscreen sun visors.
Mini is unashamedly pitching the Clubvan at exclusive, professional operators for whom the reputation of their business is a prime concern. If it can also tick the necessary boxes for practicality, there is currently nothing else in the commercial vehicle sector to rival its sophistication and brand kudos.
Maybe not for mainstream LCV operators but an excellent choice for exclusive buyers that want to make an impression