The Washington Post

Nuts & Bolts: 2012 Mini Cooper Clubman S

Bottom line: Small cars, increasingly in demand because of scarily fluctuating fuel costs worldwide, make up one of the most competitive segments of the global and North American automobile markets. Don’t be trapped by catchy slogans and outmoded ideas about “prestige.” Look for quality, safety, performance and fuel economy. Shop around.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent marks for all. But you can get the same performance for less in the Mazda3, Ford Focus, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Veloster.

Head-turning quotient: It definitely is one of the cutest small cars available today.

Body style/layout: The Clubman is a five-door (four side doors, rear hatch) version of the three-door (two side doors, rear hatch) Cooper coupe. It is a front-engine car with front-wheel drive and is available in three trim levels — base, S and the John Cooper Works high-performance version.

Engine/transmission: A 1.6-liter, 16-valve gasoline-direct-injection in-line four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing is standard (181 horsepower, 177 foot-pounds of torque). The engine is linked to a standard six-speed manual transmission.

Capacities: Seats five people, with tight fit for rear passengers. Cargo capacity with rear seats up is 9.2 cubic feet. More usable space is available with rear seats folded. The fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons of gasoline — premium is required.

Mileage: It varies with road and load. Keep in mind that you are running with premium. Our real-world mileage was 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); emergency braking assistance; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; and front and rear head air bags.

Price: It starts at $24,900, with a dealer’s invoice price of $22,410. Commonly selected options — onboard navigation with backup camera, Bluetooth and other infotainment hookups, sports package — can raise that price to $28,900 for the buyer and $26,010 for the dealer. Add a $700 destination charge for the buyer.

Hint: I intend to seriously shop around for the best deal on a small car. I humbly advise that you do the same.

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