From the windows down, the MINI Coupe could be mistaken for a normal MINI Hardtop with a body kit. One glance at the polarizing greenhouse, however, reveals that this is an entirely different vehicle, one much less dictated by the constraints of practicality.
The Coupe represents the brand's foray into what it refers to as the super compact sports car class, an attempt to maintain the traditional MINI design ethos while creating a car optimized for spirited motoring.
With a "torsion wall" chassis reinforcement where the Hardtop's rear seats are, the Coupe is strictly a two-seater. Somewhat counter intuitively, it actually weighs about 50 lbs more than its four-seat counterpart because it's based on the meatier unibody of the Convertible, which has reinforced rocker sills for greater structural rigidity and improved handling.
The Coupe distinguishes itself visually with an unusual "helmet" roof (available in black, red and silver) supported by black pillars. There are oval-shaped recesses in the roof liner for increased headroom inside, while the rear section of the roof houses an active spoiler that extends automatically at 50 mph to optimize airflow. The steeply raked windshield is slanted an additional 13 degrees compared with a normal Cooper for a sportier look.
Inside, the Coupe utilizes the traditionally quirky MINI control and instrumentation layout, with an enormous speedometer in the center of the dash and a steering-column mounted tachometer. In keeping with the nature of the car, sport seats are fitted as standard. A pass-through feature links the trunk to the passenger compartment for extra cargo versatility to go along with the car's racy styling.
Three different Coupe models are available: the 121-horsepower Cooper, the 181-horsepower Cooper S and the 208-horsepower John Cooper Works.
Cooper and Cooper S
The entry-level Cooper is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-four cylinder that sports parent company BMW's flexible VALVETRONIC variable valve timing technology and produces 121 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 revs. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is available as an option. Fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway with the stick, while the automatic-equipped model returns 28/36 mpg.
In addition to a stiffer suspension, the mid-grade Cooper S packs a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter that pumps out 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque at 1,600-5,000 revs (192 lb-ft in overboost mode). Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway for the stick-shifted model, while the automatic-equipped variant returns 26/34 mpg.
John Cooper Works
After pioneering the superior-handling mid-engined layout and enjoying great success in the prestigious Formula One racing series, British racing driver and designer John Cooper turned his attention to transforming the original Mini into a performance machine. The resulting car, known as the Mini Cooper S, enjoyed a string of dominant performances at the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid-1960s, cementing Cooper's status as a racing legend.
Today MINI pays homage to Cooper with the MINI John Cooper Works models, which are the high-performance range-topping vehicles in the automaker's lineup. True to its heritage, the JCW Coupe is a pure-bred performance car. It features an aerodynamic body kit, upgraded Brembo brakes and a version of the Cooper S' turbocharged 1.6-liter four that's tuned for 208 horsepower. The twin-scroll turbocharger helps the 1.6-liter engine churn out 192 pound-feet of torque under normal driving. An overboost function allows the JCW to eke out an additional 16 lb-ft for a total of 207.
While a six-speed manual was once the only transmission option for the JCW, MINI recently added a six-speed automatic to the options lists to appeal to clutch-averse buyers.
MINI also recently reworked the JCW's engine to achieve improved fuel economy; the result is an impressive 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway for the stick-shifted model, while opting for the automatic dings highway by one mpg in both cycles.
Standard and Optional Features
Befitting the brand's quasi-premium intentions, the Cooper features a healthy list of standard equipment including speed-sensitive power steering, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, height-adjustable seats, leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, 15-inch alloy wheels and a six-speaker audio system with MP3-compatible CD player and AUX IN connection. Bluetooth connectivity is newly standard for the latest model year.
Aside from its more powerful engine and firmer suspension, the Cooper S adds sports seats, alloy pedals, foglamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. The John Cooper Works brings grey-face gauges, 17-inch wheels, a unique gearshift knob, a sport exhaust system and JCW badging in addition to its performance-enhancing components (detailed above).
Optional equipment includes Park Distance Control, black headlight housing, xenon headlights, Adaptive Headlights, Comfort Access, automatic climate control, automatically dimming rear-view mirror and exterior mirrors, a storage package and for the aesthetically challenged, a rear luggage carrier rack. Entertainment options include a Harman Kardon sound system, a USB audio interface and a navigation system with a 6.5 inch display in the center of the speedometer.
In case the standard options aren't enough for you, MINI has added something entirely new known as MINI Yours, which allows further customization. The options include: an instrument panel covered in a smooth two-tone, soft-touch leather with exposed stitching, a two-tone steering wheel, a new MINI Yours 17-inch wheel, special pattern "Soda" mirror caps with a three-dimensional effect and MINI Yours Soda pattern Lounge Leather with unique Soda pattern on the sides of the backrests and headrests, as well as a contrasting black leather stripe that runs down the middle of the seats and is offset with premium piping.
Active safety features include Dynamic Stability and Traction Control systems and, as an option, an Electronic Differential Lock Control that helps keep the inside front wheel from spinning excessively when exiting tight turns.
In the event of a collision, the Coupe comes equipped with dual front and head-thorax airbags, which are integrated into the sides of the seat backrests and protect the head, upper body and hip area from injury in the event of a side-on impact.
The Cooper version of the Coupe faces tough competition in the form of the Subaru BRZ/ Scion FR-S twins and the Fiat 500 Abarth.
The Cooper S and John Cooper Works variants can be cross-shopped against the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si.