It used to stretch credibility — but now Mini adds useful space, access and comforts to its family wagon variant.

There is love at the home of The Tick this week. It's very, very rare for any car to captivate the crew but the Mini Clubman has done it.

"Dad, I really like this car. It's fun," says the six-year-old.

"I'd have this car. I'd definitely have it," says his mum.

Even I am enjoying a car that's comfortable, enjoyable to drive and has the practicality that really succeeds for a modern family. The bigger new six-door body works in a way the previously compromised Clubman never could and even the three-cylinder turbo petrol engine is strong but not overdone.

We're spoiled a bit because this Clubman is loaded. The gear includes a sunroof and a projector in the wide mirrors that at night displays the Mini logo alongside the driver's door.

The basic price for the Cooper Clubman is still $34,900 and Mini has finally done the job right on a car that's more than just a caricature.

Mini is now making cars that don't feel as if they will shake loose on nasty Aussie roads.

In the past, it's been easy to dismiss any of the born-again Mini models as try-hards, big on style but short on substance.

More than one has promised go-kart handling but instead delivered overly rorty performance with lacklustre suspension and cabin finishing.

And then there was the Countryman, the bloated and ugly "puffer fish" of motoring.

The new Clubman is getting The Tick treatment just after I've enjoyed a similar but very different experience with the another new Mini, the latest Convertible, in the US. It's finally taut and responsive enough to become a realistic alternative to a Mazda MX-5 for people who want a back seat and a bit more boot.

Each car shows the basics of chassis and suspension and engine are right — Mini is now making cars that don't feel as if they will shake loose on nasty Aussie roads.

The Clubman arrives as a massive change from weeks of back-to-back SUVs on the school run and a patch of work-and-play ute time with the latest double-cab contenders.

I'm not sure what to expect and the first impression is not good. The Clubman's dashboard is overdone and over-complicated — the designers are still trying far too hard to continue ties to the original '60s Mini without enough inspiration — and rear vision through the pair of barn doors is plain awful.

When I feel and hear the syncopated beat of a three-cylinder engine in the nose, I wonder whether it will be like the underdone triples in various recent European models.

The Clubman also grips well in corners and is stable under braking.

But this one is smooth and compliant, helped by a six-speed automatic — no paddles needed — that is well tuned to use the best of its 100kW/220Nm.

There is still an old-school shift lever with "sports" setting. You push forward for a downshift and pull back to go up a gear, for the times when you're feeling like a bit of fun.

The 0-100km/h journey is less a sprint than a canter, taking 9.1 seconds, but the payback is fuel economy of 5.4L/100km. If you want to go quicker or harder, the Cooper S model (141kW/280Nm) takes 7.1 secs.

I'm enjoying the compliance and good travel of the Clubman's suspension, which means no crashing or banging over bumps and a firmish ride that's not compromised if the going gets rough. The Clubman also grips well in corners and is stable under braking.

The electric power steering can be a bit unresponsive at times but does a good job when parking. That's where the rear-view camera and rear radar are also essential to deal with that compromised vision.

Much bigger than before, the Clubman is a full 292mm longer, 117mm wider and has an extra 123mm in the wheelbase.

The stretch converts to a roomier feeling inside and a real boost in the back seat, although the boot — behind what Mini calls "barn" doors — is still only passable unless you drop the split-fold rear seat. There is good access to the second row of seats, too.

On the safety front, there are six airbags though the car got just a four-star rating in European NCAP testing last year. The usual electronic safety nets include forward-collision warning, although it can be "tricked" into a red warning by cars parked on corners.