2020 Mazda CX-30 with Premium Package AWD vs. (sort of) the Mini Cooper S Clubman: Is the fancy one really worth another 10 grand?

This week: 2020 Mini Cooper S Clubman.

Price: $40,600 as tested. Driver Assistance Package added active cruise control and parking assistant for $850; Iconic Trim added a lot for $8,000 and I’ll note the highlights throughout.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “rewarding performance, one-of-a-kind styling, high-quality cabin,” but not that it “trails the pack in cargo space, no Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring isn't offered.”

Marketer’s pitch: “First three payments on us.” Strange times, indeed.

Reality: If you can pay for the extra fun, do it.

What’s new: The Clubman received some tweaks in late 2019, and all the adjectives on the media site don’t reveal much beyond new LED headlights and upgraded interior.

Up to speed: The S Clubman is the low end of the Clubman spectrum (next is the All4 and then the hot-rodding John Cooper Works). Its 2.0 four-cylinder turbo creates 189 horsepower and gets to 60 in 6.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver (though its version had an 8-speed automatic no longer available). It’s more than a full second faster than the CX-30.

The Clubman offers all the sportiness of a Mini Cooper with some added space. It naturally aims toward 60 or 70 mph when you’re not even trying, and handles itself with great ease moving far faster than lesser vehicles. So, while not much is new, why mess with success?

Shifty: The 7-speed dual-clutch shiftable automatic transmission features controls that come straight from the BMW playbook. Shifting is easy and smooth, and the paddle shifters work just as well. Automatic mode works smoothly.

On the road: Sport mode, surprisingly, is too much for the S Clubman. With front-wheel drive, the drive wheels like to lock into a turn and get away from the operator if he’s not paying close attention. (Not that Mr. Driver’s Seat is ever not paying atten- squirrel!). Shop for an All4 model.

Otherwise, switch the Sport mode off and the Clubman becomes a much nicer companion. Turns are smooth and fun, and acceleration is more controlled and even. The Clubman also handles bumps and road seams surprisingly well. We’re not in the Mazda anymore.

The interior of the 2020 Mini Cooper Clubman S also keeps its Mininess, and that's a good thing.
Mini
The interior of the 2020 Mini Cooper Clubman S also keeps its Mininess, and that's a good thing.

Driver’s Seat: As a sports-car fan, I’m happy as a clam down here near the road, where I think drivers belong. Your mileage may vary.

Mini continues to offer a delightful interface for drivers, with cool toggles for most of the controls, a big round display for map and infotainment, and adorable dials and buttons around the rest of the cockpit.

The seats are also beautiful and comfortable, and they were powered and heated thanks to the Iconic Trim. Plenty of support in the seats but not at all firm.

Friends and stuff: The rear-seat passengers will suffer a bit. Though bigger than a Mini Cooper, the Clubman is smaller than a Kia Soul. The looks and feel of the seating accommodations in back are almost as delightful as the front. If you need a big Mini, aim for the Countryman.

Cargo space is telling: 17.5 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 47.9 with the seat folded, so it’s fairly small.

Barn doors: The rear hatch offers a pair of swing-out doors, which are a love-em-or-hate-em prospect.

One drawback for the driver comes in visibility — the center frames make the rearview mirror pretty useless for seeing what’s going on to the rear, and the small windows don’t help with this vision either.

Tiny wipers for each window are a nice bonus. But they don’t clear up the real visibility problem.

Play some tunes: The Clubman gets the Mini version of the BMW stereo interface, with a dial and buttons leading you through the infotainment screen tucked inside the largest dashboard circle ever created.

A volume knob on the dashboard is the only other feature outside the dial that controls the menus.

The Harman Kardon premium sound system (part of the Iconic Trim) provided nice sound but not all the way into the quiet zones — it had to be cranked up to be enjoyed fully. I’d call it a B+ or A-.

Keeping warm and cool: Attractive dials with incomprehensible squiggles control the HVAC system, but at least the graphic readout makes it easier to figure out what you’re doing.

Night shift: The LED headlights sit seriously low, almost in danger territory. But the interior lights are subtle and pretty, of course, so the interior will look spiffy when that deer creams you.

Fuel economy: I averaged 29 mpg in a series of country road tests. Feed the Clubman premium.

Where it’s built: Oxford, England.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the Clubman a reliability rating of 4 out of 5.

In the end: The Mazda CX-30 was a nice little vehicle, but the Mini Cooper Clubman S just makes the daily commute — if we ever have one again — a dream.