Is Mini stretching the iconic brand too far with its latest model – a two-seat Mini coupe?
“No. I don’t think so because Mini stands for everything that Mini is famous for – outstanding design, excellent driving dynamics, and typical go-kart feeling. So it fits perfectly into the Mini brand,” says Roderik von Ostrowski, Mini Product Management, before our test drive begins in Furstenfeldbruck, a former military base northwest of Munich.
Clearly, Mini is on a roll. Since its relaunch in 2001, it has introduced the Mini hatchback, Mini convertible, Mini Clubman and Mini Countryman. It has sold more than two million Minis in 90 markets worldwide. The two-seat Mini Coupe joins the family in October, followed by a Mini roadster next year.
The 2012 Mini Coupe comes in three trims – a Cooper, a Cooper S, and a John Cooper Works model. But the price is steep, especially for the JCW trim, which costs nearly 40 grand – $38,400 to be exact. The Cooper S is $31,150 and the base Cooper is $25,950.
The Mini coupe drives like its siblings. My tester is a fast and furious JCW with a 1.6-litre, turbocharged, inline-four that pumps out 208 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. If it’s too much Mini to handle, you can go for the Cooper S with the same engine and 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The base Cooper’s naturally aspirated, 1.6-litre, four-cylinder has 121 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque. Europeans get a diesel version, too, but North Americans won’t.
Mated to the JCW engine is a sporty six-speed manual transmission that is responsive with nice, short throws. The other two trims offer a choice between a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission. I’d take the stick in a heartbeat.
The JCW is quick and agile with Mini’s characteristic go-kart handling. It’s nimble and taut; the brake and clutch feel is progressive. The steering is precise, following the driver’s input instantly.
Racing around Bavaria, as well as on a makeshift slalom course at the airbase, the JCW coupe feels secure, agile and firmly planted to the road. It has a low centre of gravity, a long wheelbase measuring 2,467 mm and a front and rear track width of 1,459 and 1,467 mm respectively. When pushed, you do get wind and engine noise seeping into the cabin.
The Mini is an eco-friendly and fuel-efficient ride. Carbon dioxide emissions are 154 g/km so Mother Nature will approve of this ride. Your pocketbook will love the savings every time you fill up; the Mini JCW averages 6.7 litres/100 km. Unfortunately, all models take premium fuel – even the base Cooper.
In design, the Mini coupe stands out from its siblings thanks to its funky lid, which Mini dubs a “helmet roof,” even though it looks more like a baseball cap worn backward. Jarring at first, the roof grows on you after a while; it’s certainly an attention-getter on the road. The roof also comes in several colours and contrasting racing stripes are available, but cost extra.
Below the beltline, it’s a traditional Mini with minimal overhangs and with the wheels set sharply at the corners. Overall, the length, width and wheelbase are almost identical to the measurements of the Mini hatchback, but the coupe sits 29 millimetres lower than the hatch. Thankfully, oval recesses in the roof liner give you extra headroom so drivers six feet or taller can sit inside comfortably.
The JCW beefs up its presence with a black honeycomb radiator grille, an aerodynamic kit, large cross-spoke, challenge 17-inch performance run-flat tires and a centre stainless steel exhaust tailpipe.
I love the rear spoiler. Painted in the same colour as the roof, it extends automatically when you hit speeds of more than 80 km/h. You can also raise it yourself with the touch of a button in the cabin.
Inside, familiar design elements are everywhere, including the infamous gigantic centre speedometer and retro dash-mounted toggle switches. Good luck getting out of a speeding ticket – with that giant speedo, police will never buy the excuse you didn’t know how fast you were driving. No sunroof is available – if you want to go topless, you’ll have to wait for the roadster next summer.
The two sport seats are supportive. There is no rear seat; in its place is a parcel shelf, which is handy for storing your purse or gym bag. The trunk space is large – 280 litres of space, which is larger than a Mini Clubman’s trunk. A high-opening tailgate and a through-loading system are useful for lugging sports gear like skis and golf clubs.
The 2012 Mini Coupe is distinct and unlike any other car on the road. But I still wonder, is there enough of a market for a two-seater?
Personally, I’d prefer a Mini hatch or a more practical and spacious Mini Countryman. For roughly the same price ($27,850-$32,650), it’s just as fun to drive, but offers more bang for your buck. It has four seats, four doors and four-wheel-drive so it’s more practical. But then again, I’d probably miss the funky roof.
2012 Mini Coupe John Cooper Works
Type: Two-passenger, two-door coupe
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged and intercooled, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 208 hp/184 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.7 city/5.6 highway/6.7 combined; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi TT Coupe, Porsche Cayman, Volvo C30, Civic Si, Scion tC