‘Baby Boomers’ say they’ve seen the Mini Coupe before. Yes, true - way back when Mini was truly British there was a limited edition, two-seat, lightweight ‘Fastback’ version – in fact motorsport legend Brian Foley raced one at Sydney’s Warwick Farm, taking on the likes of ‘Pete’ Geoghegan in his Ford Mustang.
Roll the tape forward 45 years or so and Mini is again extending its range with the launch of a two-seat coupe model. But now Mini is owned by Germany’s BMW and, with a price tag starting above $40,000, the Mini Coupe targets buyers with expectations significantly different from those in the “Swingin’ Sixties”.
Mini Coupe Overview
Car Showroom tested the Mini Cooper in entry-level ‘Cooper S’ grade ($42,990 for the manual and $46,045 for the auto – both six-speeds). Amongst its extras, $52,600 range-topping ‘John Cooper Works’ (JCW) version adds an extra 20kW/40Nm under the bonnet (its engine from the Mini Challenge racers), unique 17-inch alloys, exclusive ‘Chilli Red’ roof (with optional matching red trim strips), Bi-Xenon headlights, firmer sports suspension, Harman Kardon audio, Dynamic Traction Control, Electronic Differential Lock Control, and aerodynamic external add-ons.
What you get with the Mini Coupe is a driving experience even more racy than the regular Mini Cooper. The Coupe is lighter and the suspension is tighter.
What you don’t get is a back seat (d’oh! obvious).
Mini Coupe Engine
Mini’s turbocharged 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine is now familiar. With direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger this is cleanliness and efficiency in the best of German engineering traditions.
Maximum power is 135kW at 5500rpm and peak torque of 240Nm is delivered from 1730-4500rpm. Fuel consumption (combined cycle) is rated as low as 6.3l/100kms.
Propelling the 1165kgs Mini Coupe via that handy six-speed transmission, we loved the instantaneous response of the turbo 1.6-litre and the purposeful growl from the exhaust even when you first fire it up. The sort of sound you expect from a high-performance two-seater!
Mini Coupe The Interior
There’s a familiarity inside too – a Mini without a rear seat to be precise. But of course beautifully designed, trimmed and put-together as you’d expect from Mini-BMW.
We still love the modern take on retro Mini – the large central speedo and the toggle switches – as well as the sporty BMW-ish driving position achieved via the rake/reach adjustable steering wheel and perfectly-positioned pedal and gear lever.
Open the boot (it opens high for easy access) and you’ll be surprised at the reasonable 280-litres of space (enough for ‘weekend-away’ luggage if not the three-month European vacation), clever two-piece cover and fold-through access for golf clubs and skis.
Mini Coupe Exterior & Styling
This is the first Mini with a ‘three-box’ exterior look. ‘Three-Box’ yes but this is a Mini Coupe so there’s a low, road-hugging silhouette despite the so-called ’helmet’ roof (always painted a colour to contrast the body).
Mini enthusiasts will notice a steeper rake for the windscreen and – a first for Mini – an active rear spoiler which pops-up when the speed reaches 80km/h.
The Coupe version measures 3,734mm in length, is 1,683mm wide and stands just 1,385mm high. Wheelbase is 2,467mm.
Mini Coupe On The Road
Every time we get a Mini to test, there’s a noticeable rise in anticipation within the Car Showroom office which these days we expect. The sporty driving dynamics and standout interior style still make Mini – any Mini – a Car Showroom favourite.
What we didn’t expect were the sensational looks of the Mini Coupe. Sure we’d noticed photographs, but seeing the gloriously-styled two-seater in the metal for the first time brought a smile to our dials.
Once settled inside there was only one thing for it then – depart the car park of BMW Australia’s head office and head straight to our mountain roads test route. Nothing beats getting right into it straight away.
Gee this thing hung on. Even more so than say the Mini Cooper S, the Coupe version is sports car-like in its grip, steering directness and razor-like handling precision.
Its firm too – the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear calibrated for sporty dynamics – so firm just small bumps were noticed and even some rattles from the parcel shelf of our test car when we thumped into some crevasses left after overnight rain. But that’s the whole point of the two-seat Mini Coupe – it’s the ultimate Mini sports car and all two-seat sports cars are firm and precise in their feedback.
Punctuating all of that is BMW’s marvelous 1.6-litre turbo-four. Mated to the Mini chassis this is a perfect match with nice response as the 135kW/240Nm is delivered when asked-for and accompanied by a sporty exhaust note.
The rest of the week in our city commute, the Mini Coupe certainly helped the chiropractic economy with passers-by cranking their necks to check-out our ride. And to the bloke in Russell Street, Melbourne who spilt his coffee after bumping a road sign while checking-out our Mini Coupe we say: “Hope you didn’t scald you had too badly sir.”
It’s that kind of car!
Yes you do notice extra noise intrusion especially from the 18-wheelers grumbling by at more than 100km/h on Melbourne’s Monash Freeway and yes anything more than a long weekend will challenge the luggage capacity (we did take the Mini Coupe to golf, but with only the driver and his clubs on-board).
But all things considered, accepting that the looks and the driving dynamics are why we’ve always been fans of the Mini range…well the new Coupe maxes-out on both scores. That’s why we loved the Mini Coupe.
Mini Coupe Challenges
Driving the Mini Coupe you/’re close to lots of noisy things like the rear wheels and suspension. As a by-product of the two-seater’s sharpness and firm ride, a lot of that noise is transmitted inside the cabin (especially noticeable on poor secondary roads).
And the combination of swoopy roofline/curved rear glass/thick pillars, while looking absolutely sensational, does deliver a reverse parking experience which gets your heart-beat racing until you become accustomed to the (restricted) view.
Mini Coupe Verdict
Use your back seat much? That’s the issue with the Mini Coupe.
For us, if you don’t really need a rear seat, this is the Mini to buy. We love the looks inside and out and there’s no doubt the pin-sharp driving dynamics – Mini’s hallmark – are enhanced by the Coupe’s lighter weight and lowered suspension.
On top of all that you get a handy 280-litres luggage capacity and the through-loading means many activities are still on the “Can Do” list (not a claim many two-seaters can make)
Mini Coupe The Competition
Alfa Romeo’s Mito QV virtually matches the Mini Coupe for performance (125kW/250Nm from Alfa’s 1.4-litre turbo) and the Italian is $8,000 cheaper at $34,990. Sure the Mito is a four-seater but, like the Mini, we’ll file it under ‘Euro-Trendy’…or you could buy a Mito and Mini Coupe and re-create the movie classic The Italian Job!
Audi A1 Sport should be in your thinking. Priced at $42,500, the A1’s range-topper gets a superb 136kW/250Nm super/turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and Audi’s seven-speed sequential transmission.
Fiat’s 500 C Abarth Esseesse is priced at $38,990 but is seriously out-muscled by the Mini Coupe (118kW/230Nm for Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4-litre) and is out-classed in the interior by the British/German quality/style of the Mini.
Renault’s rip-snorting Megane (RS 250 Cup at $41,990 and Cup Trophee at $46,990) are pretty well unanimously regarded as the high performance kings in this league – the 184kW/340Nm turbo 2.0-litre and motorsport-tuned chassis guarantee that. Absolutely one of our favourite cars, the Renault Megane hot hatch is more than just fast, it looks good outside and in - although some Mini aspirants might find the Renault just too sporty for their tastes.
In our minds sharing top billing with the Renault Megane is Volkswagen’s Scirocco R. The German’s starting price is $4,500 north of the Mini Coupe but it does provide a (small) back seat and 188kW/330Nm from Volkswagen’s turbo 2.0-litre.