After a day spent at the autocross with the new MINI Coupe, we're having dinner at Immogine+Willy, a boutique Jeans store in Nashville, Tennessee. Once a gas station, it's retained much of that old charm but now features some seriously retro looking equipment for making custom fitted jeans right on site. There's a scoreboard over the door, a motorcycle in the front window and a manikin wearing a tweed vest and a bowtie. In short, it's an urban hipster's paradise.
|1. Sharing the same engines as the hard-top model range, the base Coupe models make 121-hp, Cooper S Coupes 181-hp and JCW models 208-hp.
2. The John Cooper Works model is the quickest and fastest MINI ever with a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph.
3. Pricing for the model range starts at $21,300 for the base Cooper, $24,600 for the Cooper S and $31,200 for the JCW, an increase over the hard-top of $1,800, $1,500 and $1,300 respectively.
But what does all this have to do with the new Mini coupe? Everything of course!
If there's a word in the English language that can summarize what being an urban hipster is all about, it's irony. And while MINI is already a kitschy brand that appeals to this crowd (‘kitschy’ is a runner up by the way), the Coupe takes it a step further. Why you ask? Because it's also ironic. How else do you describe a car that's perhaps more hatchback, than the hatchback model already offered?
True, the rear seats don’t fold down like in a conventional hatchback, but there also aren’t any rear seats. Instead, there’s a fixed wall behind the driver and passenger seats (with a small pass-through). Using a close architecture to the conventional hart-top hatchback MINI Cooper model, the rear seat area has instead been sculpted out to create a larger 9.8 cubic feet of cargo room, significantly more than the 5.7 cu-ft available in the hatch – though still hardly expansive. And to make matters more confusing, the rear of the little car opens just like a hatchback, although with quite a bit of effort – the hatch is heavy.
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So with more cargo space the obvious trade off is passenger room, with just two seats in the Coupe. But that’s hardly a difference-maker either as the rear seats of the hatch are all but useless anyway.
Behind the wheel you won’t notice much else either. Sure there are some new leather options and some changes to the materials, but the general design is still very much the same, complete with frustrating toggle switches.
What is different is the sculpted out ceiling, which is reflected with two bumps on the outside of the car, as well as a ledge behind and between the two seats with space to store purses, etc. Otherwise the most notable update is to the MINI Connected telematics system, which gains the MOG music service. It may seem trivial, but infotainment is hugely important in a segment filled with young urban buyers. Plus, the update shows how versatile the MINI Connected system is, with new apps a simple download away.
While all Coupes will come standard with HD Radio and a one-year free subscription to Sirius satellite radio, for $9.99 a month MOG gives subscribers access to 12 million songs. It even lets you create custom playlists. If you’re an audiophile or even if you think you’ll download more than 10 songs a month of iTunes, then this is a unique and valuable feature.
Something that’s hard not to notice while driving the coupe is reduced outward visibility. The view directly out the front window is fine, but if you’re scooting around downtown like any MINI owner is want to do, then you’ll discover the overhang from the roof impacts visibility of stop lights, so you’re always crouching down to look up. This is a direct result of the fact the car was also designed (perhaps primarily so) to be a roadster as well.
Rearward visibility is worse still out of the tiny glass window. And while the retractable rear spoiler (which pops up at speeds of 50 mph) is undeniably cool, it almost blocks out the view entirely. Thankfully it drops back down at 37 mph and with the car’s small size maneuvering into small spaces is never difficult. And as a bonus, there’s a small switch on the roof so you can operate the spoiler manually.
Matching the spoiler, the rest of the car is inherently cool – if you can get over the design of the roof. While nearly identical to the hatch up front, the changes then begin with a windscreen that’s been angled downward by 13 degrees, helping the car sit 1.3 inches lower overall. Again, the roof takes some getting used to, but as a package it’s undeniably a more testosterone filled machine.
Sitting though a design presentation the style becomes more obvious, taking traits from classic British GT cars. Plus, that strange overhang at the back, which gives the backwards baseball hat look, helps keep the rear window clean and avoid the need for a rear wiper.
With so many similarities to the hatchback, why stop now. Under the hood are three engine options, all of which are identical to the rest of the MINI lineup. A bit disappointing perhaps, but if Volkswagen can use its 2.0T motor in everything, then who’s to fault MINI for making full use of its 1.6?
In the base Copper model look for 121-hp and 114 lb-ft of torque delivering a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds. Turbocharged Cooper S models make 181-hp and 177 lb-ft (192 with an overboost function) to deliver a 6.5 second time. And finally, the top-dog John Cooper Works model ups the power further to 208-hp and 192 lb-ft (207 in overboost), making it the fastest accelerating MINI ever with a 6.1 second 0-60 time. When compared to the hatch, these times are roughly a tenth or two quicker, adding a smidge more performance to back up the xy-chromosome styling.
MINI cleverly kept us away from the base Cooper model with what is sure to be underwhelming performance, although MINIs do have a tendency to feel faster than they are and even a base hard top model can deliver its share of thrills. Instead we tested both the Cooper S and JCW models – the latter looking particularly impressive with its custom 17-inch wheels and aero kit.
The auto-x course proved the perfect venue to showcase the Coupe and test out the Sport mode. Activated by pressing a little button near the shift knob, it delivers the full torque thrust as well as edgier throttle response and tighter steering. Better yet, switch off both traction and stability control and with no restraints its possible to see just how raw this little front-driver is, and what an impressive package MINI has developed.
At first we were mystified as the JCW seemed not to deliver the sort of grip advantage we expected, but a closer inspection revealed that MINI had equipped the Cooper S testers with upgraded 17-inch wheels and the same sticky high-performance summer tires.
With a more civilized overall ride, also in keeping with MINI’s premium brand identity, the Cooper S delivers an incredibly connected feel. Those looking for maximum performance won’t be disappointed by the JCW. While the increased power doesn’t seem that significant on paper, torque feels exponentially higher with incredible throttle response. Better yet, however, are the JCW brakes, which had us wishing for a real track. An auto-x is no match for this car’s performance potential.
Another major advantage to the fully-defeatable systems (standard on the JCW) is that once off, the car’s electronic limited slip differential is engaged. Drop the throttle coming out of a corner and it’s incredible how well the system sorts out power to pull you confidently through. The downside, however, is that for every day driving a conventional limited slip would be preferable.
Considering it’s billed as the brand’s new halo model, with MINI’s European credentials and its premium aspirations, you might expect the car to be priced at a significant premium. Thankfully, this is another area where the Coupe differs little from the hard top, starting at $21,300 for the base Cooper model, $24,600 for the Cooper S and $31,200 for the John Cooper Works. That’s an increase of $1,800, $1,500 and $1,300 respectively; a hint at the spread of models MINI expects will be most popular.
While chances are most hard-top owners don’t use the rear seats of their car, they still want them. For that reason, while the new Coupe will attract some long-time MINI drivers, the real purpose of the car is to bring in new buyers to the brand.
As mentioned, the Coupe should prove to be a cash cow. While not the volume model, most buyers are predicted to purchase pricier Cooper S models – and chances are they’ll toss on a solid list of options too. Top performance JCW models are also certain to be more popular as the car’s style and performance now approaches true sports car territory.
Sure it’s not all that unique a model from the hard top but it is different where it counts, namely, in the design. The purpose of the Coupe, MINI tells us, is to better shape the brand as a whole, increase the emotion associated with it and to project a more manly image. Check, check and check. And we’re not being ironic… we swear.