It's Hour 9 of our big driving day in the big Mini, the 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman, and daylight is fading. Weekend wine enthusiasts escaping to Paso Robles jam us up on California Highway 46, but this Mini Clubman has the optional automatic transmission, so we relax. Eventually we come to the turnoff for California Highway 41, and none of the civilians are going with us.
We've never driven the southernmost stretch of Highway 41 before. But with the Cooper S Clubman's responsive chassis and useful bi-xenons, it's point-and-shoot through the tight turns and we brim with confidence. Instead of holding us up, the six-speed Aisin-built automatic is playing along. It swaps gears as quickly as any dual-clutch gearbox and even matches revs when we call for a downshift. Sometimes we ask for a double and still it quickly obliges.
The 2008 Mini Cooper S Clubman doesn't feel any different than it did when the sun was out. Certainly, it's no