A Premium Van For The Modern-Day Milkman

2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan - front three-quarter dynamic view

We first saw the Mini Clubvan at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2012, then in December again at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Based on a stock Mini Clubman, the Clubvan's dimensions are identical, while all side windows aft of the middle pillar are blocked out from the inside with handy polycarbonate liners (read: fancy plastic) and have body color skin on the outside, while the rear windows are tinted to boot. It looks like a van and works like a van, so it must be a van. A Mini-van, though.

Where is Mini going with this relatively low-cost (to the company) product line extension? The chief market for this nimble little hauler is cities in Great Britain where they were frequently in bygone days identified as milk delivery vans. These days, though, there are – even in the US now – lower cost smaller urban delivery vans from Ford, Ram and Nissan. Therefore, the spin is that the Mini Clubvan is designed to cater to smaller boutique firms in need of making a fashionable impression while delivering the goods to people living in penthouses and such. Think: Florists, caterers, and so on.

This'll be about as bare bones a Mini as Americans will be able to find. There will be no high-performance Cooper S version of the Clubvan, and certainly no higher-performing John Cooper Works edition to further squeeze life out of that sub-brand for short-term profits. The only engine available in the US will be the functional 121-horsepower Cooper trim, though the full sheaf of options available for the Clubman will likewise be available for dolling up your delivery day.

2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan side view2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan front view2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan rear view

The Clubvan reaches 125 mph, 0-60 in 9.6 seconds, and gets 35 mpg highway.

Pleasantly enough, all test units at our drive over on the Old Continent were supremely Euro in character: Just the highly efficient Mini Cooper D Clubvan was available for us with the six-speed manual gearbox. And they were all right-hand drivers as well, so it was the full-on UK experience, even though we were in France at the time. You can bet this darling setup costs a bit too much for the lion's share of buyers and small businesses in part due to the added light commercial vehicle tax. Stateside models are now available to order from $25,985. Despite all that, we enjoyed the Clubvan in this even-pricier Cooper D trim nonetheless.

The Cooper D ain't no rocket at 10.0 seconds to 60 miles per hour and a top speed of 122 mph, but these are more than acceptable numbers considering the model's aim. Under these circumstances, the brakes are entirely adequate as well... at least when the Clubvan is as empty as it was during our test, that is. The gas-propelled Cooper Clubvan we get is limited instead to 125 mph, gets to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, and achieves 35 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 mpg in the city.

2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan engine2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan shifter

Its limits are either 30.4 cubic feet or a 1,100-pound payload capacity, whichever comes first.

Wearing the largest optional 17-inch wheels was not ideal if indeed the Clubvan needs to drive in cities and work its Mini butt off, though they look very good. We'd go directly to a set of 15-inch standard steel units, as available in Europe, which also hearken back appropriately to the 1960 Morris Mini Van with 12-inch bare naked steelies. As on all Minis, the steering and handling are undoubtedly the very best among light commercial vehicles, with terrific turn-in and feel over the road.

Inside the Clubvan, the rear seats are ripped from the loins of the cabin and, in their place, is 30.4 cubic feet of space behind the standard aluminum cargo stop and steel cage. The limits are either that 30.4 cubic feet or the Clubvan's 1,100-pound payload capacity, whichever comes first. Neither are wildly impressive, but those capacities could provide plenty of room and weight depending on your line of business. The floor and sides are protected by synthetic coverings and there are six cargo-securing buckles on the floor, plus two 12-volt sockets where, among other things, you can plug in a small wifi router offering a world of connectivity. We tried the latter wifi with our smartphone and it worked like a charm.

2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan interior2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan seats2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan rear cargo area2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan rear cargo area

Loading things in the rear of the Cooper Clubvan is just plain easy.

The Cooper Clubvan is available already through US Mini dealers in three colors: Pepper White, Ice Blue and Midnight Black. Although the Cooper engine trim is the only one we get (other markets also get the Mini One base gas trim as well as the Cooper D we tested here), we are the only market where the $1,250 six-speed automatic supplied by Aisin can be ordered with this powertrain in place of the Getrag manual six. To each his own, but the lower-lying Minis without the Getrag manual gearbox just seem sort of silly to us; the action of the manual while working with the rev band of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder is one of the smoothest shift interfaces known to auto enthusiasts. That said, if you're doing the downtown schlep in heavy traffic all the time or buy it for small business use (and are unsure if everyone on staff can drive a manual), well, we understand.

Loading things in the rear of the Cooper Clubvan is just plain easy since the twin standing doors open up wide to the sides and create a completely uncluttered load level. We do wish they'd have welded shut the quirky right-side pup door since it is just about completely useless to this new configuration. Doing so would also have made the Clubvan relate more directly to the heritage of the original two-door Morris van. There is kinship anyways given that the blind spots on the Clubvan are vintage enormous and visibility outwards for maneuvers in general is highly compromised.

2014 Mini Cooper Clubvan rear 3/4 view

Though the rear seats are gone in this Clubman variation and the floor is flat, overall curb weight on the Clubvan is only 30 pounds less than the equivalent Mini Cooper Clubman. The chief difference between the Clubman and Clubvan drive experiences is sonic, in that the interior of the Clubvan is literally a gutted body that's guaranteed to be louder while motoring around. The other bit is that the steel cage and aluminum cargo security stopper will slightly clang at times over bumps, reminding you that it's a hardscrabble working vehicle at the end of the day.

The Clubvan is bound to be the most fun-to-drive delivery vehicle on public roads.

The question you might be asking is, who would take the Clubvan over the Ford Transit Connect, though? We can definitely see some of those aforementioned boutique joints wanting something with a bit more premium character bearing their logos as they make deliveries and pick-ups across New York City and other fashion-centric cities. Plus, the Clubvan is bound to be the most fun-to-drive delivery vehicle on public roads.

Though this eighth model variant in the Mini lineup is really just a doctored Mini Clubman, we really like the Clubman and hence can endorse its van offspring. It is a shame about the added tax pumping up the price, though, as well as the unfortunate fact that North America can't get the little 110-hp turbodiesel we tested here, as it's ideal.