Test Driven: Mini Cooper Coupe

Since my grandpa got his first Mini Cooper in 2002, I’ve always looked at them with an air of respect.  Mini has been trying to expand the brand out since 2008 when the Clubman came out, and now, the new Coupe is said to be the most hardcore chassis they put on the market.  With all that in mind, I went to a local dealer and tried one out.  This new black car was an interesting mix of things, but I stepped out of it at the end of the drive with a lot to think about.

My test car was a base Cooper Coupe with the naturally aspirated engine, a silver roof, and upgraded leather seats.  With the various other options installed on it, the retail price was up and very much over $30,000–a massive price for a Mini Cooper.  Options included sport seats, a Harmon/Kardon audio system, very attractive 17″ alloy wheels, leather upholstery, Comfort Access, a six-speed automatic transmission, sport suspension, and chrome all over the interior and exterior.  Even the paint was a $500 option (Midnight Black).  A set of silver racing stripes completed the package, which changed to black stripes on the roof of the little car.  This new model seats two people, as oposed to four in the original, and has a small trunk with enough for a weekend and maybe one more day on vacation.  It’s not an especially big car inside, with less headroom than the regular Cooper and a more sedanlike rear window.  The shape reminds me of a 1940s era business coupe, which only sat three people on a bench seat and had a large trunk for carrying sales items.  So, it’s a clear step away from the standard Mini philosophy of a small car with big practicality.

The Coupe’s tiny footprint makes it extremely easy to place on the road, and visibility is a good plus.  That said, the silly interior tires me quickly–I”m no fan of taking my eyes off the road to see my speed, and the Mini’s speedo, being in the middle of the dashboard, is a throwback I can do without.  The fact that the gas gauge is mounted inside the huge speedo doesn’t help its case much, either.  The seats are very comfortable, a testament to what BMW’s done with the Mini brand.  The Aisin-sourced six-speed auto isn’t so bad around town, and behaves itself better than the one in the Beetle.  But, this little thing is far more in its element on backroads, so I took an opportunity and found a few to see how it really drove.

Once I started flying through the backroads in Northern NJ, I got a better feel for the little coupe.  The steering is pinpoint-accurate, and the little FWD chassis is much more nimble than the GTI I drove this past summer.  It feels lighter, more lively, and a lot more planted around corners.  The brakes are good too, with little fade.  While the engine isn’t so great (it’s not underpowered, but could always use more–thankfully the turbo engine is available in the Coupe) it never feels slow or lacking in low end torque.  The Coupe is supposed to be the most hardcore Mini model on the market right now, and in its element, it doesn’t disappoint.  But, zooming out to the big picture, the Coupe falls down a bit.  It’s not a practical car (only seats two, not a lot of trunk space), looks a bit awkward (the roof is really not attractive), and costs a sizeable amount more than its hatchback siblings.  I don’t hate the Coupe, but I don’t love it from a practical standpoint.  It’s a blast to drive, but the Cooper shares its chassis and is better as a daily driver, so I’d probably go for the standard hatchback over this one.

-Albert Davis

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