First Drive: 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works

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The pre-production cars we drove at the Wachauring were very close to the final production specification, but Mini does not want the world to see exactly what the Coupe will look like until later this month, so the cars were camouflaged. Aaltonen jumps into the passenger's seat of my tester as we prepare to go out on the track, a reasonably challenging, compact course with a variety of corners and quick elevation changes set into the rolling Austrian countryside. I immediately notice the electric power steering, which in typical Mini fashion is precise and provides good feel. As I pitch the Coupe into some of the bigger, wider corners, I initially am surprised that it is itching to oversteer; the rear end is twitchier than I expected. Aaltonen advises me that I have to "give it far more steering input than you would in a rear-wheel-drive car" in order to avoid drifting too far to the outside edge, and of course he is right. "You'd have to be very, very aggressive to make it spin," Krusche says later.

As I become more familiar with the track and the car, Aaltonen decreases the role of the electronic nannies. Before long I'm rotating through the sweepers smoothly, following Aaltonen's advice to keep the revs way up on the turbo 1.6-liter four and to accelerate sooner rather than later out of corners. Throttle and brake pedal response are impressive, and JCW's beefed-up brakes stand up to repeated flogging. The Mini Cooper Coupe's traction and stability control program has three settings: 1) everything is on in normal mode; 2) DTC, or dynamic traction control, which you choose with a quick press of the DTC button; 3) DTC/DSC-OFF, where everything is turned off. The latter requires a prolonged press of the DTC button. There is also a sport button that increases steering effort and quickens throttle response. (Mini will offer a dealer-installed sport package, with much stiffer springs and dampers, that also lowers the ride height by 10 mm.)

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