First Drive: 2012 Mini Cooper S Coupe
Looking at the size of its lineup, Mini's portfolio is anything but mini. Currently, the automaker sells twelve different models based on four different body styles. By the end of the year, those figures will swell to fifteen and five, respectively. Come 2013, new additions like the Roadster, the Paceman, and the Goodwood will increase the model count to a Porsche 911-like twenty-two.
Is that overkill? It depends who you ask. Mini USA vice president Jim McDowell doesn't think that the firm is "slicing the salami too thin," but rather, launching new products catering to the unique wants and needs of different customer bases. In the case of the 2012 MINI Cooper Coupe, however, that base may be quite small.
All-New From The Waist Up
In some ways, the Coupe steps on the toes of other Mini models, particularly the standard four-passenger hatchback. From the beltline down, the two models -- in Cooper, Cooper S, or John Cooper Works (JCW) form -- are virtually identical, sharing powertrains, bodywork, and most chassis components with one another.
But when it comes to styling, the Coupe steps out from the hardtop's shadow. Much like the 2008 concept car of the same name, the Mini Coupe adopts a rakish, low-slung roofline, inspired in part by vintage tuner Minis like the Broadspeed GT. According to product planner Vinnie Keung, this not only is supposed to lend the car a more masculine feel, but also lure in buyers who long for the likes of an Audi TT or a Mercedes-Benz SLK but who may not have the means to acquire one.
To enhance that boy-racer feel, the Coupe's windshield rake is now thirteen degrees lower, while a rounded roof -- painted either black or silver -- breaks away from the two-box form traditionally associated with Minis. A spoiler is integrated into the trailing edge of the roof, and helps direct airflow towards another spoiler, which pops up from the stubby decklid at speeds above 50 mph.
Predictably, adopting such a rakish roof sacrifices some interior volume. Though the Coupe's cabin is largely identical to most other Mini models, the biggest departure lies with the back seats: there aren't any. Instead, Coupe models make do with a moderate-sized package shelf -- perfect for backpacks, purses, camera bags, or other small parcels. Behind that, the Mini Coupe offers 9.8 cubic feet of cargo space, roughly half that of the hardtop when the rear seats are folded. A lockable pass-through not only allows some provision for longer items, but also lets the driver and passenger to access things stored in a small cubby located just behind the bulkhead.
Mostly The Same Mechanicals
Though it restricts cargo space, that bulkhead serves a purpose. The transverse brace, along with reinforced rockers (borrowed from the Mini convertible) and a reinforcement in the cargo floor, make the Coupe's body stiffer than that of the hardtop. Apart from firmer dampers, stiffer springs, and some aluminum control arms at the rear, the Coupe's suspension arrangement -- MacPherson struts in front, a multi-link setup out back --- isn't any different from hardtop or convertible models. Unsurprisingly, suspension tuning is much like any other Mini. Cooper models are the most genteel, while JCW models exhibit a buckboard-stiff ride but would be perfect for tearing up a track.
Likewise, powertrain offerings are also identical. Base Cooper Coupes make do with a 121-hp, 1.6-liter DOHC I-4, which sends its power through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Stepping up to the Cooper S ushers in forced induction; a turbocharged 1.6-liter I-4 produces a healthy 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. For the ultimate in power, look no further than the John Cooper Works, where a revamped version of the same turbocharged 1.6-liter makes up to 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque.
Looks Like A Cooper S, Drives Like A Cooper S
Mini expects most Coupes will be sold in Cooper S form, so it wasn't too surprising we spent most of our time during a recent press drive in Nashville, Tennessee, behind the wheel of a bright red Cooper S.
What's it like? Very much like almost any other Cooper S. Despite its front-wheel-drive platform, the Mini is remarkably fun to toss around on tight roads thanks to quick, well-weighted steering, coupled with impressive grip and little body roll. In corners, the Mini exhibits a little understeer when pushed very hard into a corner, but lifting off the throttle helps bring the car's hind end around once again. Torque steer occasionally rears its head during hard acceleration runs, especially when attempting to launch the car on slick or broken surfaces.
The turbocharged 1.6-liter exhibits a little turbo lag right off the bat, although the four-banger provides a stout 177 lb-ft from 1500 rpm through 5000 rpm. Throttle response quickens when sport mode is activated. The six-speed manual offers short, smooth throws and a well-weighted clutch, but even the automatic is enjoyable. The transmission is smooth, quick to adjust to throttle input, and manual inputs -- by way of both the shift lever and two steering wheel-mounted shift paddles -- are delivered remarkably quickly.
Sacrifice for Style
We noticed a little more wind noise from the window glass than we've experienced in Mini hardtops, but the Coupe's biggest drawback is visibility. While the raked windshield doesn't eat hinder the driver's forward view all that much, rearward vision is compromised. Small quarter windows help reduce blind spots, but the mail-slot rear window provides a limited view of traffic behind you, and is further hindered when the decklid spoiler is deployed.
Though the Coupe offers the same agility, power, and sophistication we've come to expect from other Minis, it may puzzle bargain hunters. After all, Coupes - regardless of trim level -- command nearly $2000 more than a comparable hardtop, yet offer half the seating and cargo space. Those considerations may not matter to those who swoon over the racy looks and the quirky roofline, but we suspect that may indeed be a very thin slice of total Mini buyers.
2012 MINI Cooper S Coupe
Base Price: $25,300
Engine: Turbocharged 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve I-4
Power: 181 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 1600-5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 27/35 mpg (manual); 26/34 (automatic)
0-60 mph, manufacturer estimate: 6.5-6.7 seconds
Length: 147 in
Width: 66.2 in
Height: 54.2 in
Cargo capacity: 9.8 cu ft
Curb Weight: 2679 lb