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MINI Coupe review (2011 onwards)
What: MINI Coupé
Where: Austria - Germany
Date: September 2011
Price: £16,640 - £23,795
Available: On sale now
Key rivals: Volkswagen Scirocco, Peugeot RCZ, Renault Mégane Coupé, Audi TT and the Porsche Cayman (MINI's words, not ours). See also the MINI Hatch...
Summary: The first true two-seater MINI, the new Coupé might look mad, but with up to 211hp and 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds how can it possibly be bad?
We like: maximum MINI fun, usual MINI build quality, big boot, distinctive
We don't like: looks and concept won't be for everyone, the difference between Coupé and Hatch isn't as great as some might hope
What, then, are we to make of the new MINI Coupé? Cynical marketing exercise or small stroke of genius (no pun intended)? It is perhaps a close call, but MINI's own thinking here is twofold.
Firstly there's a need to expand into new market sectors; we can't see the brand building any bigger than the Countryman (a MINI MPV could yet prove us wrong), so now it needs to go either smaller, or sideways.
The Coupé - and it's forthcoming close relation, the MINI Roadster - are effectively sideways. Not in the lairy sense, but because they're based on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the existing Hatch and the Convertible.
This much is obvious as soon as you see the wee beastie, since everything up to the window line on the outside shows a striking similarity to the more conventional pairing. Underlining this point the wheelbase is identical, and the Coupé just 5mm longer than the Hatch.
This leaves the roof as the major visual difference - steeply raked windscreen, 3cm height reduction and spoilers included. For what it's worth we like the chopped hot rod look; others feel it's lazy. Cost effective, presumably, if nothing else.
On the inside the familiarity continues since, although you only get the two seats, the dashboard is MINI through and through - you already know whether you love it or hate it. The biggest difference is once again that lowered roofline.
This gives the Coupé a much greater sense of intimacy - even with the ovoid cutouts in the headlining that improve the hat (or helmet...) room - just as it also robs the car of quite a bit of visibility.
MINI's second train of thought? This car is intended to attract male buyers, something that the brand apparently currently lacks. An interesting insight, but the Coupé remains more metrosexual than outright masculine, no?
Having dodged any mention of baseball caps above (the roof is apparently modelled after a racing helmet now, not the previously quoted back-to-front hat; oh, wait, whoops) let's ignore the looks and get on with the performance.
Point of order number one: in range-topping John Cooper Works guise, the Coupé is the fastest 'series production' MINI ever. With 211hp it goes 0-62mph in just 6.4 seconds - a headline figure supported by sparkling responses right through the rev range.
Regular 122hp Cooper and 184hp Cooper S 1.6-litre petrol versions are also available, alongside the 143hp Cooper SD 2.0-litre turbodiesel. This last is an excellent all-rounder, bristling with meaty torque, and smooth with it.
As a daily driver tasked with motorway slogs as well as backroad blasting there's a lot to like - even if we'd miss the decisive top end snap of the JCW when executing overtakes. The SD is also £3,000 cheaper and far more fuel-efficient.
If only it sounded as good as the JCW's snorting petrol turbo, which glories in a fizzing muscularity that's supported in Sport mode by plenty of rorty popping and banging from the exhaust.
Sport also sharpens the throttle on all models, while a sweet shifting six-speed manual gearbox adds the finishing touch. Less impressive is the road and tyre noise, not to mention the squally aero sound as the air negotiates the window seals and roof spoiler.
Ride and handling
Strong though the engine lineup is, there's nothing that's actually new - you can get the exact same power units in the MINI Hatch, and you'll barely notice the Coupé's trivial straight-line advantage. So what about the way it feels to drive?
With the same basic platform and suspension set up as the Hatch you won't be surprised to learn the Coupé exhibits a very distinctively MINI soul. But given MINI already produces exceptionally fun cars don't take that as a bad thing.
Besides which - and this is point of order number two - there is actually a difference. MINI has stiffened the structure, the springs and the dampers, fitted bigger anti-roll bars, reduced the centre of gravity and shifted the weight balance forward, all of which gives the Coupé an attitude that's a touch more serious than with the Hatch.
So even when the conditions on launch turned treacherous, combining the Austrian Alps with sleet, rain and - in places - a cloud layer so low we actually had to drive through it, the Coupé remained steadfast, planted, eager to please.
The steering will still twitch when it encounters bumps - a level of involvement that is very MINI albeit also apparently a shock to some customers - but the most extreme JCW version is often less excitable than its hatchback equivalent.
What you do get, however, is an outstanding sense that this car is ready to do your bidding to the upmost of its abilities - the steering weighting is just so, the Coupé's reactions to your inputs faithful and alert and confidence inspiring.
All this is aided by a Dynamic Stability Control system and a fast-acting Electronic Differential Lock; the EDL is so effective and the MINI so transparent in its intentions that we were quite comfortable driving around with the other electronic assistants switched off.
Speaking of comfort, the ride quality is largely tolerable on European roads - though there are optional Sports and John Cooper Works suspension packages - but the abrupt reaction to the occasional pothole suggests the UK could prove a bigger challenge.
Not a great deal to report here; exactly how smart the familiar MINI interior looks will be down to exactly how you choose to spec it. The seating position is no lower than other MINIs - a shame - and the visibility is worse, particularly when the active rear spoiler is deployed.
The addition of the latter is a first for any BMW product, rising automatically at 50mph and retracting again when speeds drop below 37mph, with a roof-mounted toggle switch to raise it manually, as required. The lack of rear seats means a bigger boot, which at 280 litres is more than even the Clubman can offer.
Economy and safety
Every MINI Coupé gets the usual MINI 'MINImalism' efficiency aids, including start-stop, brake energy regeneration and a gearshift indicator. This gives it on paper economy and CO2 figures that will be tough for any prospective rival to beat.
The Cooper SD leads this charge, with 114g/km and a claimed 65.7mpg - but even the JCW offers 39.8mpg combined with 165g/km CO2. In theory. We saw nearly 30mpg, but that was amid all the bad weather.
Safety kit includes the standard suite of six airbags and a comprehensive package of electronic nannys - all of which bar the EDL can be switched off.
The MSN Cars verdict
Purists are going to be predictably narked here - though maybe less so than they were over the Countryman - while those looking for a true MINI sports car might feel short-changed. But the company has always protested that the Coupé would be a niche product.
This is, basically, a MINI Hatch with two fewer seats and a funny roof - but the independence of spirit such a car represents may well prove to be exactly what some people are looking for, and above all else it re-emphasises the fun-to-drive disposition that is the very essence of this brand.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.6, 1.6 turbo 184hp, 1.6 turbo 211hp|
|Power, hp||122 - 211|
|Torque, lb ft||118 - 225|
|0-62 mph, secs||6.4 - 9.0|
|Top speed, mph||127 - 149|
|Mpg combined||39.8 - 65.7|
|CO2, tax||114 - 165g/km, 13 - 23%|
|Ratings||Mini Coupé Cooper SD|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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