First Drive: Mini Coupe

2011 Mini CoupeIn the space of a decade, BMW has achieved something many thought impossible. Since 2001 its Mini range has clocked up two million sales and is available in 90 markets around the world. Not bad for something cynics thought would be a fashion flash in the pan.

Part of that success can be attributed to the regular introduction of new bodystyles. The original three-door hatch spawned a convertible, then a ‘mini’ estate and more recently a full four-seat compact SUV, the Countryman.

You can now add a two-seat coupe to the list, a variant Mini executives hope will attract buyers seeking a more focused and sporty experience. Its arrival also positions the Coupe alongside the likes of Peugeot’s popular RCZ coupe, a car that’s done wonder for its maker’s image.

The Mini Coupe performs its duties as a halo model for the rest of the range with aplomb. Its heavily raked windscreen and low-slung profile is the most dramatic look yet for a Mini. Although width and length dimensions are near identical to the hatch, the Coupe’s height is 29mm lower. And, thanks to its equally rakish rear screen, you’re left in no doubt that the Coupe is a strict two-seater.

2011 Mini Coupe 2Fear not on the practicality front, though. With a hatchback tailgate that opens to reveal a maximum volume of 280 litres plus a through-load slot into the cabin, it’s on par with the estate-like Clubman. Up front there’s the usual oddment spaces you’ll find in any Mini.

Along with its looks, the Mini Coupe has been designed to behave a little different on the road. With its firmer suspension set up, the Coupe has been designed to deliver a more focused experience for the keen driver. As such, there’s noticeably less roll through corners and there’s a greater willingness to change direction.

Thankfully such changes haven’t resulted in a reduction in the quality of the car’s ride. Yes, it’s a bit stiffer than a regular three-door hatch, but you get to keep your fillings at the end of a journey. The trade-off is a more chuckable and engaging drive, which is what you’d expect from a two-seat coupe.

Reinforcing the car’s sporty character is an engine line-up comprised of Mini’s more powerful diesel and petrol units. There’s no One or One D here, as the Coupe range starts with the familiar Cooper badge and its 122 horsepower offering. The Cooper S shares the Cooper’s 1.6 petrol unit but adds a turbo to produce 184 horsepower, while the John Cooper Works variant’s output from the same motor is a heady 211 horsepower.

Diesel fans can opt for the Cooper SD, which boasts a 2.0-litre turbo unit outputting 143 horsepower. It also offers the lowest emissions and economy performance – 114g/km and 65.7mpg respectively.

2011 Mini Coupe 3But which is the best in the real world? All the engines have proven themselves in other Mini variants, most recently the diesel in hatch, convertible and Countryman models. There’s no question that the combination of wallet-friendly economy, 143 horsepower and a substantial 225lb/ft torque make for relaxed yet brisk performance. Overtaking is quick and safe and there’s enough low down grunt to make the traffic light grand prix entertaining.

The diesel’s trademark growl when pushed hard is also appealing, but if you want the performance to match the Coupe’s looks then it has to be the full 211 horsepower, John Cooper Works experience. Rapid replaces brisk when describing its performance, while the diesel’s growl has been elbowed out of the way by a more impatient-sounding howl.

Like the diesel variant you need to exercise some restraint in the wet if you don’t want to light up the front tyres at every junction, but in the dry the car changes direction quickly and the urgency of its engine note encourages you to pedal a little faster on familiar roads. Factor in a surprisingly compliant ride despite its sporty character and a short, slick manual gearshift and the Coupe experience easily becomes a fun one.

Part of that fun comes before you’ve even signed the cheque. With a plethora of options to help customise your purchase, Mini offers everything from colour-coded cabin trim, sat-nav, sports seats and different wheel designs to suede-trimmed steering wheels and contrasting body stripes.

Back in 2001 few industry watchers had high hopes for the longevity of the Mini brand. From a single three-door hatchback the range has evolved into a family of cars complete with their own personalities. The Coupe is proof that there’s plenty of life left in the brand, and its own sporty personality is genuine and infectious.

Model: Mini John Cooper Works Coupe, from £23,795 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit developing 211bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 149mph, 0-62mph 6.4 seconds.
Economy: 39.8mpg.
CO2 Rating: 165g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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