2017 Mini Clubman S All4 Update 5: The Great American Road Trip
You can learn a lot about a car from a road trip, especially one that spans two weeks and covers more than 2,500 miles. From braving a summer storm in the eastern Sierras to surviving the hottest place on Earth, the 2017 Mini Clubman S All4 did all I asked of it dutifully and without complaint.
I had always wanted to do a long road trip but never had the time or a vehicle reliable enough to attempt one. My family reunion takes place every two years in Reno, Nevada, and this year’s gathering seemed like the perfect excuse to check some things off my bucket list. Not to mention, I happen to be chaperoning a pretty cool long-term car this year. With my time off approved, I zoomed waaaay out from Los Angeles on Google Maps until the entire state of California (plus a few of its neighbors) was visible. “How much of this could I see in two weeks?” I asked myself. The answer: quite a lot. My route would take me from my home in Long Beach up California’s central coast to San Francisco, on to Reno by way of Lake Tahoe, back down U.S. Route 395, east through Death Valley and onward to Las Vegas, then south again to meet up with Route 66, where I would cruise east to my final destination, the Grand Canyon. But great road trips are best enjoyed with a co-pilot, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one than my wife, Courtney. She likes road trips and can also tolerate (maybe just barely?) two weeks on the road with me.
Perhaps more experienced and efficient road trippers could fit two weeks’ worth of luggage behind the rear seats, but our overstuffed large roller bags weren’t making it into the cargo area without first flipping down those 60/40 benches. This was fine for just two people, but a family of four might have to rethink their packing strategy or take a larger vehicle. There was still plenty of space atop the folded seats and in the rear footwells for a backpack, a cooler full of drinks and snacks, and other odds and ends. We also had the cargo area’s underfloor storage for any valuables we wanted to keep out of sight. Our first big stop was San Francisco, a city that’s notoriously car-unfriendly. Although it’s not as small as its Mini Hardtop stablemate, the Clubman was well suited for SF’s crowded downtown streets. Parking, when we could find it, was relatively easy, thanks to the Clubman’s C-segment dimensions. Parallel parking facing downhill on a near 45-degree incline will never be easy for anyone but a native San Franciscan, but the Clubman’s rearview camera and parking sensors definitely helped make it less of an ordeal.
No matter the season, the Bay Area never seems to get much warmer than 65 degrees. But everywhere else we went on our trip, it was very clear we were in the height of summer—no place more so than Death Valley. The highest temperature on Earth was recorded at Furnace Creek, California, now the headquarters of Death Valley National Park, back in 1913 when the Mercury reached a sweltering 134 degrees. We haven’t seen that kind of heat since, but Death Valley routinely gets above 120 in the summer. Everyone warned me about driving through Death Valley this time of year, and I have to admit this was the one leg of the trip I was most apprehensive about. But the Mini did just fine. The temperature only got up to 117 that day, but that was plenty hot for us. We kept the automatic climate control set at a comfortable 70 degrees almost the whole way, only turning it off when going uphill (just in case). The AC was off for a minute at most, but a minute felt like an eternity as the heat was radiating through the greenhouse. We’ll never know if that minute of suffering helped us (given that automakers frequently torture test their cars in Death Valley, probably not), but we made it through without a single warning light or any sign that the car was even struggling. Its operators, however, were exhausted from only brief exposure to the extreme heat. The Mini encountered all kinds of road surfaces on this trip, from rocky dirt roads to potholed, unmaintained asphalt, and thankfully its Bridgestone Potenza S001 run-flat summer tires held up and didn’t leave us stranded on the side of the road in triple-digit heat. It was also reassuring to know I had all-wheel drive during a sudden downpour on highway 395 and when I was hugging the side of a mountain on the 3-mile dirt road to Bodie, a California ghost town at the base of the Eastern Sierras. You expect a dirt road to be bumpy, but some of the roughest roads I traveled were paved. There are stretches of Route 66 in San Bernardino County, California, that have been completely neglected. But because I was on a mission to drive as much of the old Mother Road as I could, I subjected the Mini to dozens of miles of cratered, sometimes washboarded blacktop. The payoff was the more interesting desert scenery and endless whoop-de-doos that you don’t get on the interstate. Although it can’t beat the incomparable beauty (and tourist-driven commercialism) of Historic Route 66 in Arizona, California’s section of the Mother Road is worth seeing. But you might be more comfortable seeing it in a car with more ground clearance and more dirt-friendly tires than the Mini because there are portions that are unpaved.
In total, we covered 2,515 miles over 16 days. We spent more than 60 hours in the Mini, and we hardly had any complaints by the end of the trip. Besides the rough patches we hit, the ride was comfortable, and the sport bucket seats were easy on the posterior, though frequent stops to get out and stretch probably helped. The chrome interior trim can catch glare at certain times of day, but sun-defeating measures such as dual driver-side visors help keep the most blinding of light distractions out of your eyes. According to the onboard computer, the Clubman averaged 25.9 mpg, which by no means makes it a fuel sipper, but that number is nearly 1 mpg better than its EPA combined estimate. The Clubman turned out to be a fine choice for our long road trip. If we had more people and luggage, two weeks on the road might not have been possible (at least not comfortably). But if you’re only traveling as a duo, just get out a map and start playing connect the dots. The country is your oyster.
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September 28, 2017 at 06:13PM