First Drive: 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works

Wachauring, Melk, Austria

This is a Mini?
Yes, indeed. As we explained in our introduction to the car earlier this week, it's the first Mini with a traditional three-box design, and it goes on sale October 1, 2011, as the fifth model in the Mini range after the classic hardtop hatch; the convertible; the Clubman; and the Countryman. Early in 2012, this coupe will be followed to market by a roadster, bringing the total number of Mini models to six. Both the coupe and the roadster were previewed by a duo of concept cars at the September 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. Mini representatives claim that the Mini Cooper Coupe's only competitor in the United States is the Audi TT coupe, a far more expensive car.

Does it drive like a Mini?
Yes, indeed. It's based on the current Mini Cooper Cabriolet chassis and shares its powertrains with other Mini models. We drove only a top-of-the-line John Cooper Works version at the Wachauring racetrack in Melk, Austria, about an hour from Vienna. In late September, we will have the opportunity to drive the base Mini Cooper Coupe and the Mini Cooper Coupe S.

Our driving impressions were gained solely at the track, as there was no on-road driving in this early media drive program. The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe, like the classic hatch, is one of the better front-wheel-drive cars you might want to use for zooming around a handling course, but Mini officials corrected our preconception that the Coupe is intended to be the sportiest model in the Mini range. "Our goal was to reach the same level of agility as the hatch," confirms Heinz Krusche of the Mini Coupe development team. Note that he did not use the word "exceed."

"The word 'sportier' is a bad word," chimed in Finnish rally legend Rauno Aaltonen, who was on hand to help the media make the most of their Coupe track drive. "Going sideways slows you down," he joked. But their point was clear: the Mini Cooper Coupe is primarily a means of expanding the brand's model range and its design envelope. And far from being lighter than the hatchback, as we originally reported, the Coupe is 25 kilograms (55 lb) heavier, mainly due to changes made to the Cabriolet's body structure. Reinforced side sills and a structural "torsion wall" in place of the Cabriolet's rear seats comprise most of the additional weight, but the active rear spoiler, a first for any car in the BMW Group, itself weighs about 12 lb. The curb weight of the JCW Coupe is 1165 kg, or 2568 lb.

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