Ever since Mini returned to the marketplace in 2001 under BMW's guidance, the brand's been getting bigger, both in offerings and vehicle size. It started with the second-generation Mini, which was bigger in almost every dimension than the first. Larger still was the Mini Clubman, and then came the Mini Countryman, a four-door, all-wheel drive crossover. The 2012 Mini Coupe isn't exactly reversing that trend, as it's roughly the same size as the present Mini Cooper, but it sure looks Mini-er.
The Mini Coupe (first previewed in concept form at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show) is the first modern two-seat Mini and the first to use a three-box design -- engine compartment, passenger compartment and trunk. The design effectively is carried through and lends the Coupe a handsome look. The Mini Coupe features what Mini calls a Helmet Roof, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a roof that looks like a helmet. Mini was able to achieve the helmet through the use of wraparound glass, which not only looks good, but gives you the impression the vehicle would be just as aerodynamic backwards as it would forwards, like Porsche 928s of yore.
Helping the Mini Coupe achieve that look are unique A-pillars and a windshield that's raked more than the standard Mini's. In back, the Helmet Roof opens up with an "extremely high-opening tailgate," according to Mini, which allows access to the cargo area. The Helmet Roof also features an integrated rear spoiler, which at low speeds directs the air down the wraparound glass. At 50 mph and up, an active rear spoiler automatically rises out of the trunk lid and works with the roof-mounted spoiler to reduce lift and further improve aerodynamics and grip. Enhancing the aggressive look and sportiness of the new Mini Coupe are a pair of center exit exhausts (they're polished stainless steel on the John Cooper Works model) and a lowered suspension that allows the Coupe to sit an inch lower than the standard Mini Cooper hardtop. The Coupe is also one inch longer than the hardtop, which helps its handling and will probably soften ride quality over rough roads.
When the 2012 Mini Coupe goes on sale, it'll come in the brand's familiar trim levels: base Cooper, S, and the hotted-up John Cooper Works. The bottom-rung Coupe features the same 1.6-liter I-4 as its hardtop sibling. Producing 121 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque, the six-speed manual-transmission-equipped Cooper Coupe will hit 60 mph in 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 127 mph, says Mini.
The S Coupe features the same turbocharged 181-hp 1.6-liter I-4 as the Mini Cooper S. Just like the Cooper S Hardtop, the Cooper S Coupe puts out 177 lb-ft of torque and a max of 192 lb-ft of torque with Mini's Overboost function. According to Mini, when equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission, the sprint to 60 mph should come in 6.5 seconds and the Cooper S Coupe will be able to keep accelerating all the way up to 142 mph.
The firecracker of the trio is of course the John Cooper Works Coupe. It features the same 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 as its siblings, but in this application the engine makes 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. With the overboost feature, torque can reach 207 lb-ft for short periods. Only available with the six-speed Getrag-supplied manual transmission, the JCW Coupe will make the run from 0-60 in a Mini-reported 6.1 seconds and continue on to a top speed of 149 mph-the highest top speed of any Mini.
There are two transmission options available on the new Mini Cooper and Cooper S Coupe. The six-speed manual is the standard transmission on all three trim levels, while the six-speed automatic transmission is available (with paddle-shifters as an additional option) on the Cooper and Cooper S Coupe. Both optimal acceleration and fuel economy should be achievable with the six-speed manual transmission. While the EPA has yet to test the Mini Coupe's fuel economy, Mini is expecting high marks due to its incorporation of BMW's Valvetronic Variable-Valve-Timing into the Cooper and Cooper S Coupes. Mini is also expecting the Coupe's low weight to play in its favor to potentially crack the 40-mpg-highway barrier.
The weight savings on the Mini Coupe come into play in under the skin. While the suspension is a traditional MacPherson strut up front and multi-link in the rear, the longitudinal control arms are made out of aluminum to keep weight down. Mini has also shaved weight off in the manual transmission, which weighs roughly 98.7 pounds. The JCW Coupe goes through even more extreme levels to save weight. Its engine block and bearing mounts are made from aluminum, and Mini has also saved weight with its crankshafts. And while the Cooper and Cooper S Coupes wear 15-inch and 16-inch allow wheels respectively, the JCW Coupe goes even further with weight savings by equipping its 17-inch weight-optimized alloy wheels with run-flat tires to save the weight of a spare.
So while much of the Coupe's underpinnings are the same as the Cooper lineup as a whole, the Mini Coupe's unique design -- and that funky helmet - take the brand in yet another direction. We're also eager to see if those changes help elevate the brand's vaunted "go-kart" handling to another level as well.