BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
MINI John Cooper Works Coupe review (2011 onwards)
What - MINI John Cooper Works Coupe
Where - Austria
Date - June 2011
Price - £tbc (£2,000 premium over Hatch?)
Available - October 2011
Key rivals -Peugeot RCZ, MINI Hatch JCW, Porsche Cayman, VW Scirocco R
Summary - MINI Coupe dials up the sport factor and adds a headturning look for two. It's fun and appealing to drive, with a pleasing retro hot hatch feel, but is it a bit too much like the Hatch in places for some?
We like - Livelier handling, enhanced sound effects, MINI 'feel' turned up, interesting new cabin design
We don't like - Similarities to hatch inside, some will find styling controversial, could the handling have been sportier still, expected price premium over Hatch
The MINI Coupe is, after five decades, the world's first production two-seater coupe Mini. Coachbuilders have built their own versions over the years - such as the famous Mini Marcos - but there has never before been an official factory version.
Why now, then? Because MINI is keen to continue broadening the brand's appeal, this time to men. It has sensed an opportunity to win sales from those who are keen on a Porsche Cayman, but haven't quite got the funds. Is it trying to be a surprise junior alternative to the brilliant Porsche?
First sightings are thus interesting. A line of MINI Coupe covered in BMW's famous swirly camouflage is makes a distinctive sight. There's clearly something different there, but what really stands out at first is the generic lower half.
That's because, below the shoulderline, the MINI Coupe is almost entirely MINI Hatch. This is not a bespoke coupe, but a coupe-ised version of an existing car: more BMW 1 Series Coupe than Audi TT. This hides the real impact of the car: we'll have to wait a little longer to see the top half outside in public.
Despite the disguise, though, it's clear this is a distinctive MINI. The lack of bodywork over the rear wheels makes it the first 'three box' since the original 1960s Riley and Wolseley saloons. Combined with the distinctive 'helmet top' roofline, it's sure to stand out.
The windscreen pillars are more angled, and it's 29mm lower overall, so it has a sporty appearance despite the hatchback lower half. Here, though, we're concentrating on the drive - MSN Cars got behind the wheel of the MINI John Cooper Works Coupe at a closed test track in Austria. How did the sportiest MINI ever stand up, then?
The range-topping MINI John Cooper Works Coupe uses the same 211hp 1.6-litre turbo engine as the MINI JCW Hatch. It's a firecracker of an engine that's even more exciting here thanks to sound effects that have had the volume turned up.
It sounds more gruff and rorty than the hatch, with lots of turbo whistle and whoosh. Even better is the rumbling exhaust that parps and bangs like a true sportscar. It even pops on the overrun when you lift off, for even more amusement.
Against the clock, it is quicker to 60mph than the already-rapid hatch. This is because MINI has altered the weight distribution, so more weight sits over the Coupe's front wheels. They thus stick to the road better and this enhanced traction shows in the acceleration time.
It is exceptionally torquey, even from 1,500rpm. Fortunately, MINI fits a three-stage stability control system that includes an electronic differential lock. The benefits of this are felt out of tight corners, where the full power of the engine can be deployed without traction control cutting power to the spinning outside wheel too aggressively.
Ride and handling
Here is where MINI hopes the Coupe will earn its stripes. Mechanically, it is very similar to the Hatch, but the tuning has been altered to make for sportier, more driver-pleasing sensations. The idea was to turn the intensity up and make it a bit (but not excessively) edgier and more exciting.
This is felt from the very first corner. Unlike many dumbed down front-drive cars, the MINI Coupe has an agile rear that you can feel shifting and shuffling as you turn in. It doesn't oversteer: far from it. Rather, the rear end works with you to steer the car and point you into a bend with more precision.
It is kept firmly in check by the DSC stability control, of course. For the first time on a car in this sector, though, it has a three-stage setting. Turn it onto DTC and this eases the electronic interference, allowing you a bit more slip and slide in bends but with an electronic safety net there if you need it.
In this setting, that electronic differential is activated too, making it the favoured setting for MINI Coupe fun. Here, the handling has the rear-led sensations of 1980s sporty front-drive hot hatch, but with none of the risks or dangers they posed. It is a lot of fun.
The safety net can be turned off entirely, but even here, the electronic diff lock will remain active. Keen drivers will relish this mode, as it enables the most to be made of the MINI's precise, involving chassis: it also proves the rear end remains firm and planted, with no dreaded lift-off oversteer even here. The standard Brembo brakes are also strong.
Adding to the array of electronic gadgety is a Sport mode, that weighs up the precise steering and sharpens the accelerator response. This pleases too, as does the feel from the steering that includes a confident but not overwhelming measure of torque steer in steering wheel squirm under power.
There is a rear spoiler, deploying above 50mph to add downforce at the back end and maintain stability at high speed. The MINI doesn't need this, nor the electronic aids, to keep it safe, though. It has been tuned to be neutral even without electronics.
This is why it's such a confident steer on the track. Differences over the (already sporty and direct) hatch are not huge, but are welcome. Chuckable, confident, racy and fun, the MINI Coupe is an easygoing everyday steer, with a decent ride, but with an added edge of sporting purity that satisfies without scaring.
Those expecting something radically different will be disappointed here. The dashboard is taken straight from the MINI Hatch, with only trim colours and materials ringing the changes. Even the height of the seats is the same, and there are no extra gauges, gadgets or gizmos.
The architecture is different though. A shallower, more steeply-angled windscreen and lower roofline makes it feel more cocooned, as does the black colourscheme throughout. But what's most different is what's behind: here is where the MINI Coupe differs.
Being a strict two-seater means there is a plunging roofline behind the passenger's heads, with a handy shelf behind the seats and a cubby slot through to the rear boot. At 280 litres, this is way bigger than the MINI hatch, and accessed through a practical and wide hatchback tailgate.
It adds up to a unique feel despite the similarities. Don't underestimate those trim changes, either: both sporting and classic colourschemes are being marketed, including a very Jaguar-like tan leather line, that's all part of MINI's plans to let owners make the Coupe totally bespoke.
Economy and safety
The MINI Coupe is actually based on the MINI Convertible. This means it gets the same reinforced side sills, to which is added a rear strengthening section. MINI has also fitted its latest design of front bumper, for enhanced pedestrian protection.
Economy is OK, considering the power, but seems not as exceptional as other MINIs. The average is just under 40mpg and CO2 emissions are 165g/km. Remember, though, it hits 60mph in 6.4 seconds. Pretty exceptional, after all, then?
The MSN Cars verdict
Our first drive of the MINI Coupe helped us better understand the logic behind it. It is a sporting-look MINI that builds on the driver involvement of the MINI Hatch, with a bit more focus and edge to the handling, without going to extremes.
It is fun and engaging, with a two-seater cockpit and distinctive design that will be much more love-or-hate than the Hatch it's derived from. Which is exactly what the brand is hoping for. Could it be your new cut-price Porsche?
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1,598cc four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Torque, lb ft||192@1,850-5,600rpm|
|0-62 mph, secs||6.4|
|Top speed, mph||149|
|Ratings||MINI John Cooper Works Coupe|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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