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After starting in the middle with the Mini Cooper Hardtop the brand grew to add the Clubman and Countryman. The Mini Coupe sets its sights smaller with two seats. Although this is a new car we wouldn't go so far as to call it a new car: The mechanical hardware, front sheetmetal, majority of the body structure and much of the interior are shared with other Minis, this one merely has a different roof and an odd trunk. A Roadster version has been introduced, also.
The Mini Cooper Coupe is based on the Cooper Convertible underneath so any style of top could be fitted and headroom is maintained. Like many Minis, the Coupe is available in three flavors: the most economical Cooper, the quicker sporty Cooper S, and the fierce John Cooper Works.
The three engines, the 121-hp four-cylinder, the 181-hp turbocharged S version of the same engine, and the 208-hp Works engines are proven in Coopers. The primary advantage of the Coupe S over the standard Mini Coupe isn't so much the 60-hp bump as the additional torque and wider range.
We found both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatics work well with both of the standard engines (121-hp and 181-hp). The 208-hp JCW engine only comes with a manual.
Fuel economy for the standard Mini Coupe with manual gearbox is an EPA-rated 29/37 mpg City/Highway. Even the Works hot rod rates an impressive 25/35 mpg.
Agility has always been a Mini hallmark, one frequently equated with kart-like handling. Only a used Lotus Elise can match the Coupe's sharp reflexes for the money, and the brakes square up the package. Minis are all about motoring fun, and the Coupe excels at this. Plus, you instantly become a member of the Mini club and on the road you can wave at other Minis.
Any Mini driver will find the cabin familiar, with a few additions and revisions. Recurring styling themes with unusual controls and instruments highlight the space and it remains functional and surprisingly roomy. Electronic options ensure your Mini will be up to date and often feel merely an extension of your smart phone.
With multiple colors for paint, roof, stripes, upholstery and cabin contrasting panels, some unique to the Coupe, ordering one to choice could make it unique. Mini offers more than 16 factory wheel choices for the Mini Coupe. You can easily run the price up to the $35,000, however.
The Mini Coupe's performance will likely attract drivers shopping the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK, and Porsche Boxster and Cayman, but we'd surmise some 370Z and Hyundai Genesis Coupe buyers might find the dynamics enticing too.
The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe is offered in three versions.
The Cooper Coupe ($21,300) is the base model. It uses a 121-hp 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive. It includes leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, power mirrors, locks and auto-up/down windows, 175/65HR15 tires on alloy wheels, six-way manual front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, pushbutton start, adjustable-color ambient lighting, trip computer, floor mats and AM/FM/CD/HD/satellite radio with one-year subscription. A 6-speed manual is standard; a 6-speed automatic is optional ($1250).
The Cooper S Coupe ($24,600) uses a 181-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter and close-ratio 6-speed gearbox, and adds 195/55VR16 tires on alloy wheels, sport seats, fog lights, larger front brakes and a larger fuel tank. A 6-speed automatic is optional ($1250).
A John Cooper Works Coupe ($31,200) gets a 208-hp version of the S engine, larger brakes front and rear, the S fuel tank, 205/45WR17 tires, Works aero package, dynamic traction control and red cabin stitching. The JCW Coupe only comes with a strengthened 6-speed manual gearbox.
Laid end to end the 13 order pages for a Mini Coupe are longer than the car, and the assortment of body, roof and accessory colors, wheels, upholstery and trim combinations can be mind-boggling. The following gives glance at some of the choices.
Optional on all Coupes are leather upholstery; metallic paint; Cold Weather Package ($750) with headlight washers, heated seats, washer jets, and power-fold mirrors; Premium Package ($1,750) with alarm, comfort access, chrome line cabin trim, auto-dimming inside mirror, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, automatic climate control; Technology Package ($2,000) with center armrest, rear park sensors, harman-kardon audio; Mini Connected ($750) with navigation system; Sport Suspension ($500); Bluetooth and USB/iPod ($500); adaptive headlights ($100); rear fog lights ($100); black headlight housings. There are myriad choices in mirror caps ($250), instrument panel finishes, wheels, stripes and wallpaper, with a further set of custom parts through dealers.
Mini Coupe and S models offer a Yours Soda pack of 17-inch wheels, mirror caps, Laguna green metallic paint, scuttles and tattoo. They also offer Sport packages that add stripes, white signal lenses, dynamic traction control, plus sport seats and fog lights on Coupe and xenon HID headlights on S. The John Cooper Works pack adds 17-inch wheels, aero kit, dynamic traction control, red-stitched shift and brake handles, and JCW door sills.
Safety features standard include six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control and brake hold.
The Mini Coupe looks like a Mini Hardtop that got whacked on top with a big hammer. The company calls it a helmet shape and we don't disagree, though it's more fire or military style than automotive crash helmet. The Coupe is actually longer than a standard two-door Cooper but more than an inch lower. Looks can be deceiving and the Coupe appears distinctly sportier.
From head-on the Coupe looks nearly the same as a Cooper hardtop. Hood, lights, grille and bumper are all the same; the changes include a fractionally longer front spoiler to maintain aerodynamic balance, and a windshield laid back 13 degrees further, yielding a roof that's 1.25 inches lower than that of the hardtop. All the examples we saw had daytime running lights using the headlight elements.
Up to the glass area the rear styling will look familiar, too, with similar vertical lamps and, on turbocharged cars, central dual exhaust. Atop the trunk is a wing that automatically pops up at 50 mph and retreats at 37 mph; it can be deployed at lower speeds or left that way for cleaning by pressing a button.
The side windows are frameless as in all other Minis except the Countryman, and the windows drop slightly at door open and rise at closing for a better seal. Aft of the doors is a small quarter window; no use for looking through but it preserves the styling. Beyond that the rear glass sweeps in and around to near the wing, like a clamshell. With black and glass concealed pillars, the roof is visually floating over the cabin.
At the back of the bubble top is another wing, this one fixed and slotted. It serves to aid high-speed stability both on its own and by funneling air to the rear wing, and to keep the rear window clean and avoid the expense and added drag of a wipe/wash system. Raindrops still hit the glass at slow speeds and while parked, but rear visibility isn't good enough to lament any missing wiper.
The Coupe models can be distinguished by badging, wheels, central exhaust, grille and brake duct openings and an S scuttle (the chrome trim ahead of the doors that also houses signal repeaters).
The Coupe's cabin is pure Mini, which means unusual relative most cars. Pick any adjective in the realm of unusual, strange, odd, or quirky and it could easily apply. And like every Mini the cabin is centralized so it's easy to build left- and right-hand drive versions of it.
With ellipses and circles in most styling elements it draws the eye, and a closer look reveals it's well put together and not a sea of uninspired plastic. Upholstery is cloth, leather (artificial or real, contrast piped or not) or a combination of cloth seat centers and leather bolsters, and the Coupe offers two exclusives: Toffee and Punch. Door panel inserts and armrests have some soft-touch surfaces and Mini proudly proclaims that floor mats (both of them) are standard.
The Coupe gives up a little headroom to its larger cousins but our combo of 6-foot, 3-inch and 6-foot, 5-inch frames didn't have any issues. The front seats are reasonably comfortable, and the sport seats are up to the car's capability. The cushions are adjustable for height but not angle, so longer legs may find thigh support minimal and tend to submarine, sliding down and forward over time. The passenger's floor is flat and open, good for comfort and bracing oneself, while the driver's side has a bit more legroom and a good dead pedal for holding themselves in the seat. Your passenger may find even a sport seat not enough for an exuberant driving style, and you'll both want to get out and stretch after a few hours.
A tilt/telescoping steering wheel, shifter and handbrake properly placed ensure decent driver positioning and the pedals are nicely placed for fancy footwork if your shoes aren't too big. The optional center armrest, included with some packages and carrying audio inputs within, might present an obstacle to longer arms or elbow whether it's up or down. Laying the windshield back has a detrimental effect on forward visibility where undulating roads often required awkward neck twists to see the road around or under the rearview mirror, the quarter windows are of little benefit, and the marginal rear window is bisected by the wing most of the time.
Most switches and controls are black with white labeling, and the chrome rings on everything from shifter to tachometer are rarely flat so glare issues are minimal; we got blitzed only once from gauge glare bouncing off the outside mirror lens. Instruments and controls are bathed in deep amber at night, while door handles and ambient lighting get a rainbow of colors.
The tachometer is directly ahead of the driver and most of the scale can be seen through the wheel. It includes a digital speed display which is handy because the parallax error in the central speedo can be up to 5 mph and it's an awkward device to follow. The tach also has the display for miles, temperature, trip computer info and so on, and like the audio display in the bottom of the speedometer, polarized sunglasses sometimes affect legibility.
The huge speedometer has an orange flower-shape for fuel level that draws the eyes, and audio controls are the bottom. On cars with optional electronics the speedometer has a stubby needle on the outside ring, a TFT center display (not affected by polarized lenses) and the fuel gauge arcs across the bottom like so many pieces of candy corn.
Below that are the CD slot, ventilation controls, toggle switches for the auto-down windows, and door locks. The lock toggle does not correlate push-down with lock and lift-up for unlock, it just moves the locks to the other position whenever you move the switch. Further toggles are found overhead (mostly cabin lights and the rear spoiler) while stability and sport mode are pushbutton ears on the shifter base.
The navigation system is run via two buttons and a small rotary controller just behind the shifter, an arrangement that works better than it sounds. Menu logic and programming is much like BMW's latest iteration of iDrive, so all the bugs were worked out before Mini got it.
Mini's Connected system brings IOS 4.2 iPhone 3GS or 4, or Touch, or 6G nano, features into the car with a free iPhone app, and now works with Pandora and MOG as well. You can listen to web radio, have your Mini automatically tweet your approximate location and temperature while you're motoring and can have RSS or tweets read aloud to you. Since the iPhone et al have a stable platform with hardware and software by the same maker it is currently the only system for Connected.
No back seat implies a lot of cargo room, but a chunk of the area is covered structure. A lockable pass-through from the cockpit is big enough to get your laptop or compact backpack through but you may need long arms to retrieve it from the deep well without opening the hatch (which clears our tall testers). The only concealed cabin storage is in the glovebox and a small space within the armrest. We found a jack under the rear floor but no tire nor room for one.
The Mini Cooper has often been cited as handling like a go-kart. Of course this is only in relative terms as a kart's much smaller mass allows it to change directions, brake and potentially accelerate quicker than a real car. So, since it's only one seat more than a go-kart, consider the Coupe the most kart-like of the Cooper lineup.
Although it weighs a bit more than the four-seat Cooper Hardtop, the Coupe's better aero profile and calibrations let it accelerate ever-so-slightly better (by 0.1 seconds to 60 mph) and achieve top speeds higher by approximately 5 mph. At 149 mph for the Works version you'll need a good-size racetrack or deployment orders to Germany to explore it. Not quite able to reach that on U.S. soil but with experience in other Minis, we can surmise this one would be stable at that speed, and quite loud.
The standard Coupe has a 121-hp engine and runs with the Hardtop, as able to get in and out of traffic ahead of most 30-mpg cars but not fast. The gears in the 6-speed manual are widely spaced for all purpose use, neither too short for best acceleration, nor too tall for low-rpm cruising. And Mini will be happy to help you man up and learn to drive a manual if you never have.
That 121-hp manual Coupe is the most efficient at an EPA-rated 29/37/32 City/Highway/Combined. Subtract 1 mpg for an auto, 2 mpg for an S model. The JCW is 25/35/28 mpg. However, the turbocharged cars have larger fuel tanks and greater cruising range than the Coupe. Motoring at a fair clip we averaged better than 30 mpg in S and JCW versions.
The 6-speed automatic is less involving but among the best in small cars. With two modes you can leave it in Drive to sort things on its on, do that with more verve in Sport, or shift manually by paddles on the wheel (both paddles shift up/down by push/pull) or the lever. In Drive, using the paddles will make the shift you request then revert to auto mode after a few seconds of no shifting activity. In Sport mode, the paddles remain full manual, even refusing to downshift if you mat the gas pedal at moderate engine rpm. This can make you a smoother driver, especially in the turbocharged cars by using the progressive building of torque rather than a jerkier, more frenetic acceleration from a forced downshift.
The turbocharged Cooper S is rated at 181 hp at 5500 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque from 1600-5000 rpm, for generous urge at any speed. For short time periods, like the few seconds needed for a pass, it will deliver 192 lb-ft of torque from 1750-4500, making child's play of barely mobile homes or merging, often without needing a shift. The way an S gathers speed seems quite effortless, and an automatic S is easy to zip past 80 mph sooner than you think.
The Works engine is more highly strung, dumping 208 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, for 0-60 around 6 seconds. Manual gearboxes in the turbocharged S and JCW cars have more closely spaced gear ratios than the Cooper, and combined with the broad torque spread deliver eager performance.
All the engines are smooth and deliver an exhaust note that improves coincident with power. With the majority of our exuberant driving in S and JCW models we still averaged 30 mpg or better.
Despite losing rear seats and glass the Coupe, like the Convertible, is heavier than the Hardtop because of added structure below and behind the doors. That's because the roof is not a structural member, and the soft-top Roadster version is coming.
Suspension design parallels other Minis, with spring and shock rates matched to the Coupe's weight distribution, yielding a solid, stable ride that keeps the car planted like a larger German sedan. Large undulations are capably handled by suspension travel but small impacts are easily noticed, and along with potential wheel damage, a big reason we'd recommend 16-inch wheels or smaller unless your infrastructure is table-top smooth or you need 17s for brake clearance. Each version offers a sport suspension package, even the boogey-bomb JCW, and a further step-up to John Cooper Works aftermarket suspension is available through dealers. Some race series don't offer so many choices.
The Coupe also has a larger rear antiroll bar and feels like it rotates better off throttle. It's fairly balanced for a car that comes with more than 60 percent of its weight on the driving front wheels but it's also reasonably idiot-proof in how much it takes to go around completely. For most drivers on most roads it's simply a blast to point and go.
All Coupes come with a sport button that makes the engine respond to the throttle faster, though engine response is so good the only time we found this advantageous was for blipping the manual's throttle on downshifts. The automatic has its own sport setting.
That button also affects the effort needed to steer, but we found it made the steering unnecessarily heavy because it doesn't add any feel. The steering is a bit numb dead ahead, a characteristic shared by many cars with similar systems, but the Coupe turns in crisply and the directional stability is very good.
Brakes are up to the Coupe's dynamic standards too, and each progressively sportier Coupe gets faster, crisper response to pedal input. Hard stops in an S or JCW feel like a giant net was thrown over it with no drama or wiggling. Electronic stability control is standard too, though if you get too eager in the snow it's still possible to stuff it in a snowbank and have everyone admiring the snowman's hat with racing stripes.
The Countryman is a logical extension of the Mini Cooper line. It remains true to the character and style of Mini, and offers the same array of personalization avenues to ensure yours is as unique as a Rolls-Royce. And it delivers the performance and driving engagement you expect from Mini, while offering more space, practicality, and the option of all-wheel drive.
G.R. Whale filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test driver of the Mini Coupe near Nashville.