We all know what happened in March 2020, and quite frankly the less said about that the better. But it did leave me in a quandary. My BMW 420d Gran Coupé was no longer covering the miles it once did, (just 2000 miles in 13 months) and I was bored of diesel barge life. This along with mutterings of cities considering a ban on diesel cars in the near future, I decided it was time to get out.

But what should I buy? The eternal question of the car enthusiast. I knew I wanted something smaller, but I didn’t want to sacrifice any comfort (being 6”4 does tend to limit options). It needed to be fun, preferably manual and certainly petrol. Those criteria pointed me to the tried and tested formula that is the hot hatch, the perfect blend of practicality and fun. Shuffling the VAG MQB deck didn’t result in anything inspiring and an FK8 Civic Type R would blow the budget twice over. I flirted with the idea of an RS265 Megane, but having already owned a Clio 197 of that vintage, I knew I couldn’t live with the flimsy interior. Eliminating those options left me with slim pickings, until I stumbled upon the Mini Clubman Cooper S which ticked every box. A little left field, but who doesn’t love barn doors?

Trying to buy a car in the spring of 2021 was interesting, to say the least. It seemed like every man, woman and child wanted a Clubman. I tried to buy 3 separate cars, all of which had the perfect spec but sold within minutes of the listings going live. I had become a slave to the classifieds, and a daily routine of checking Autotrader at 8,12 and 4 o’clock was becoming testing. I was truly down the rabbit hole of Mini Clubmans and could recite the inventory of dealers across the nation. Clubmans with a high spec were few and far between but base model yellow ones were everywhere. During one of my regular morning searches, I came across a car that was coming up for sale with the right spec, good history and at a decent price. The small matter of no pictures of the car was trivial, but the dealer was offering a refundable deposit... We all know how this goes. Money was sent, forms were filled out, and details were left, all before even seeing a picture of the car. Oh, and did I mention the car was in the north of Scotland, some 300 miles from me. Ah...

The following weeks consisted of pestering the dealer for more pictures, arranging a part ex on the BMW and getting a date for delivery. The car arrived on a warm summer day and looked spectacular in the sun. I was feeling good about my purchase and left the dealer. My mood soon changed when just 5 minutes down the road a TPMS error appeared along with a complement of lights on the dash. It was nice to know it's still a BMW product even under the Mini badge. Thankfully, the car was under warranty and a replacement TPMS module was fitted free of charge a few days later.

Apart from the minor TPMS issue, initial impressions were good but a proper judgement had to wait until the car had seen a loop of my favourite local roads. Following an hour of zig-zagging across Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, I had formed an opinion of the car, and it was positive but not perfect. Those extra doors and inflated size have cost the car some of the Mini magic but have also added some composure. It’s less Jack Russel puppy and more 6-year-old Retriever - it will still play, but not as enthusiastically as its smaller counterpart. It's more at home on a fast-flowing A road than a tight and twisty B road, but most importantly it still has that pugnacious character we associate with Mini, a growly engine, silly exhaust note and retro feel.

I really fell for the car when we took a trip up to the North Coast 500 and the Scottish Highlands. As I’m sure you know, the roads up there are incredible and will uncover any faults in a car’s chassis. Scotland's best roads confirmed my initial thoughts. It’s clear that weight is the biggest issue in a Clubman, robbing it of agility but helping it feel more planted than the little scamp that is the 3-door hatch. Turn-in is slow, but it’s more settled mid-corner, the rear is very stable but you can get a smidge of understeer on corner exit. However, that extra weight gives the car a more relaxed ride, and despite the 19” wheels adding a hard edge over cracks and potholes, its dampers are very well judged and body control is good. Where it beats the 3-door is in practicality, which isn't sexy, but having a car that offers 90% of the driving experience and with usable back seats and a big boot doesn’t half make life easier, especially when you are amassing a war chest of Whisky from each distillery you pass.

I’ve now covered over 10,000 miles in the Clubman and I'm still very much enjoying it. In the last ten months, it’s taken us to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, carried 5 suitcases and 4 adults to the airport (just), travelled the snaking roads of Cheddar Gorge and been used as a van countless times. Barn doors are the best thing ever. I know it’s not perfect, but right now it’s doing everything I ask of it whilst also being enjoyable to drive and easy to live with. What’s next? Well, I fancy a little more power and I'm fighting the urge to drop down to 18s and introduce a little more sidewall. I’ve bought something to cure the former and we’ll have to see about the latter.

Alex Dunlop