The original Morris Mini Van inspired the subsequent Morris Mini Traveller estate car. Here it was the other way round, with the modern first generation MINI Clubman passenger model on sale for six years before this Clubvan model was introduced early in 2013. Once the Clubvan arrived, it was quickly clear that there was nothing else quite like it. Yes, the LCV market had long targeted florists, couriers and electricians with very small vans. Yes, attempts had been made to make these a little more fashionable with models like Ford's Fiesta Sportvan and Vauxhall's Corsavan Sportive. Nothing though, with the retro fashionable appeal on offer here. This was probably the coolest small commercial vehicle to hit the market since the Nissan S-Cargo.
Unlike most LCVs, Clubvans tended to be bought by the people who'd be driving them. Trendy, upmarket urban operators who wanted such a vehicle to do its bit in promoting the image of their businesses. People with cute little companies selling things like cup cakes or chocolate boxes, flowers or frills. Folk who didn't care that the twin rear doors of this MINI opened to reveal a loading volume of just 860-litres because they were never likely to carry anything big enough to trouble the 500kg maximum payload. Mostly, owners didn't even care about the almost useless side door - you'd hesitate to call it a 'side loading door' because you can't actually load anything through it thanks to the way the interior mesh divider allows you to stretch an arm in but not a lot else.
But we're sounding all practical here and we don't mean to be because there's little point in approaching a Clubvan in that frame of mind. Not if you want to like it anyway. And like it you probably will once you get in, fiddle with the height adjustable driver's seat and take your place behind the height and reach-adjustable wheel. It is, as you might expect, exactly the same as any normal second generation modern era MINI here - which means that it's far nicer than any other comparable commercial vehicle we can think of, with decent build quality from the British Oxford factory.
There's that iconically-large central speedometer for a start, sadly abandoned by MK3 MINI models but present and correct here as a display not only for your velocity but also for everything from the optional sat nav to the onboard computer. So much stuff in fact that the actual speed you're travelling at is often visually crowded out in the clutter. Just as well then, that there's also an additional digital read-out on the sweet little circular rev counter that sprouts above the steering column. Other MINI eccentricities include the keyfob-slot starter and the small, neat toggle-style electric windows switches that you'll find on the dash rather than in their usual place on the doors. Cabin storage includes a deep lidded glovebox and (rather small) door pockets, plus you get a couple of cup holders and the bottom of the fascia.
The 1.6-litre petrol engines used in the Clubvan, these built in the UK at Hams Hall and shared with Peugeot, were some of the best in their class and proved to be a good deal sturdier than the 1.6-litre powerplants used in MK1 BMW MINI models. Likewise, interior quality moved on leaps and bounds in the second generation design used for this Clubvan. Customer reliability indices suggest that owners were happy too. Check for uneven tyre wear on the rare petrol Cooper model. Cheap servicing plans mean that the Clubvan should have been serviced on the button.
(prices for MINI Clubvan Cooper - ex VAT) A clutch assembly is around £130. Front brake pads are around £40, a full exhaust about £360, an alternator around £100 and a tyre around £40. A starter motor is about £120. A headlamp is about £165.
The MINI Clubvan was based on the same chassis as the brand's first generation Clubman estate, so it built upon a tried and tested formula. You can therefore expect it to drive with the same engaging characteristics. Changes were, though, been made to the spring and damper rates as well as the suspension bushes to help cope with its slightly different commercial remit. The car uses the three lowest powered 1.6-litre engines you'd get in any other second generation MINI, plus the same model designations to go with them. Which means you get a 98bhp unit in the Clubvan One, a 120bhp powerplant in the Clubvan Cooper and a 110bhp diesel in the Clubvan Cooper D.
And on the move? Well, this model is reckoned by some to offer more fun than any other MK2 MINI model derivative. That's because it carries less weight around than the Clubman it's based upon, meaning strong performance, especially in the torque-rich Cooper D diesel variant, the version to choose if you're thinking of loading the thing up on a regular basis. If, on the other hand you just want a cool-looking mobile hoarding for your business, you're probably best served by the basic Clubvan One. Here, the normally aspirated petrol 1.6 is still respectably rapid, 0-62mph taking around 10s, which is a tad faster than the diesel, though of course black pump motoring gives you more pulling power. Around 270Nm of torque in fact in the case of the Clubvan D model: compare that to what you'd get from a comparable Ford Fiestavan of this period - just 161Nm. It all explains the willingness of this near 1.7-tonne vehicle to haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 750kgs.
The chassis settings used here are identical to those of the MK1 Clubman estate, as is the posh multi-link rear suspension, so the whole MINI go kart ethos is carried over intact. Right down to standards of ride that take the brand's traditional firmness a stage further, something probably not helped by low profile tyres which add to the road noise already created by the near useless side door. Noise in fact is the main difference you'll notice if you come to a Clubvan after familiarity with an ordinary MINI car. It's all down to that undeadened acoustic space behind you of course. That and the woeful rear three-quarter vision you get thanks to the lack of rear side window glass. This would have been helped if MINI had taken the trouble to add the kind of convex sector to the door mirrors you'll find on many more conventional vans.
Still, compensation comes with solid brakes and the nicely weighted snickety-click manual gearshift you'll get unless you find an example fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. Plus there's reasonably feelsome electric power steering that's pointy and direct enough to encourage you to take the country route to the wholesalers and throw the thing about a bit. After you've unloaded of course.
Not every commercial vehicle must justify itself in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. Here's one you might buy for other reasons. Because you like what it'll say about your business. Because you like what it'll say about you. Many will see in this MINI Clubvan just the right blend of fun and practicality. Yes, of course there are more sensible choices you could make in buying a used vehicle in the small van segment, but none of them will get your brand noticed in quite the same way. And how do you put a value on that?
Which means that if your need for a van really is merely limited to light urban duties, then this one might be just about perfect. Imagine a chic florist or an artisan baker who needs a stylish way of delivering lightweight goods while advertising their business in a way sure to appeal to those with a bit of disposable income and a sense of style. Exactly. Yes it's a pity about the restricted side door access. Otherwise though, provided your assessment of this model is based on what it actually sets out to offer, there's not a lot to gripe about. You don't need to be a vanatic to drive one.
So it is that this Clubvan neatly sidesteps so many of the demanding measures most place upon used commercial vehicles. All it needs to be is cool, fun to drive and reliable, with a modicum of carrying capacity - a MINI for the working week. Self employed with a small business? Your adventure awaits.