2011 MINI Coupe Review – “Eager to Please”

The MINI Coupe is the latest edition to the new MINI family. I say new but, the ‘new’ MINI has been around for ten years; amazing how time flies! It’s certainly been a success too. Recently the two millionth example rolled off the production line in Oxford, UK. Certainly a modern day British success story albeit with financial help from the Germans.

Unique looks

I am not going to do the usual cliché of saying how the new MINIs are nothing like the original classic Minis; such comments have been done to death, times have moved on and so has the name.

I say that comparisons with the classic Mini are no longer valid but aside from the name, the other factor they do indeed share is the ‘I have to have it’ factor. MINI has been an expert on producing cars that people want rather than perhaps need and it was the same when the original appeared in the 60’s, it was ‘want, want, want’ from the beginning.

This is the fifth model to join the MINI family after the Hatch, Convertible, Clubman (estate model), Countryman (the four door model that looks like an obese MINI on stilts) and finally, the Coupe. And, to keep you all up to date, a Roadster (convertible version of the Coupe) will join the line up next spring.

The Coupe range starts at £16,640 for the Cooper version (1.6 litre engine) and encompasses the Cooper S (1.6 litre engine with two turbochargers – the one tested here), the Cooper SD (2.0 litre single turbocharged BMW diesel engine) and the flagship, John Cooper Works edition (same engine as Cooper S but with different electronic programming and tweaks to produce more power). All models come with a six speed manual gearbox, although an automatic is available for all of the range bar the John Cooper Works edition.

The Coupe is the first 2 seat MINI to be produced and aims to be the best driving model of the range. Have they succeeded?  Read on to find out.

Design

Smart from the front….

Very different from the back….

 

Unique profile view.

This is the subject that has most puzzled me. On first seeing the press shots I thought ‘What have they done?’ but on seeing this particular Coupe in the flesh, my opinion has changed to ‘It’s certainly different’. That’s not to say I don’t like it and yes it takes a while to get used to but, in a world of modern dreary cars, it’s nice when something comes along that is genuinely different.

That said, the roof line is awkward to say the least. Giving the impression that an elephant has sat on the Hatch version for too long and then a baseball cap placed backwards over what remained. Although it looks a lot lower than the standard Hatch model, the roof line has only been cut by over an inch. But do not fear tall drivers, MINI have thought ahead and created two oval cut-outs for you in the roof lining. Ingenious or cheap fix? You decide!

To provide stability at higher speeds, a spoiler at the rear of the car extends at speeds above 50 miles per hour. Although for the poseurs out there and to potentially excuse yourself from Mr Policeman, MINI helpfully provides you with a button to raise it whenever takes your fancy. But it’s not just there to look good. The spoiler does have the serious function of harnessing the airflow of the car to push the rear of the car down improving stability at speed.

A first for the BMW Group,a retractable spoiler

Given the unusual looks, the Coupe is very specification-sensitive and looks best in
bright colours with bigger wheels, especially the black alloys of the model shown in these pictures:

Smart wheels.

Make sure you try a model wearing the larger wheels first to ensure you are comfortable with the ride quality. Generally, the bigger the wheel, the harder the ride. This is especially true with MINI.

Interior

Typical MINI interior, smart & funky

Fantastic steering wheel to hold.

Inside, it is familiar MINI. The dashboard, being dominated by the dinner plate speedo, now encompasses the satellite navigation (where fitted) and internet connectivity so you can listen to your favourite online radio station and even access Facebook and Google maps.

MINI interiors have always been special places to sit and the Coupe is no exception helped by the high quality of the switchgear and the red painted plastic highlights in this car. The steering wheel also feels as good as it looks.

Being a 2 seater you may wrongly assume that the car will be cramped but, without any rear seats, it’s actually quite spacious inside. Yet it never quite feels that way because MINI does not offer a glass panoramic roof option which, when combined with the black roof headlining of this car, makes it feel quite enclosed.

I feel MINI have missed a trick here, although I do acknowledge that if they had put one in, it would have restricted headroom further still. But to have the option still would have been nice for the not- so-tall drivers of this world.

The seats are beautifully supportive. Once you’re in, you’re firmly in given how tightly they wrap around you, emphasising further the sportiness of the Coupe.

Excellent, supportive seats.

Quality

MINI were one of the first brands to bring big car build quality to small cars and the build of the Coupe feels resolutely strong and expensive. If you swapped your Porsche for one of these, you would not feel short-changed build quality wise.

The doors shut with a satisfying clunk and all the controls inside are nicely weighted and feel like they will last the lifetime of the car.

Drive

So, is this really the best driving MINI of the range?  In short, yes.

Being the Cooper S model, it benefits from the petrol twin-turbocharged engine and provides real thrust in each of its six gears. This engine is THE definition of a punchy power-plant and one of the best sporting four-cylinder engines out there in the market; its sporting emphasis highlighted by the fact that it only runs out of power when you hit the rev limiter (safety device that stops the engine from being damaged by spinning too quickly). This means, as a driver, you keep your foot planted on the accelerator and only change up a gear just before the rev limiter to eek out every ounce of available power just for the sheer thrill of it. It makes a nice noise too! A throaty powerful roar that gets louder as the revs build which further encourages you to change gear late just so you can hear the roar that little bit longer.

Not that changing a gear is a hardship; it’s a very precise change meaning rapid gear changes are easy to slot in each and every time.

You don’t have to drive the Coupe with a lead foot every time to fully appreciate it. On the contrary given the fact that the engine is turbocharged; there is always ample power available whatever gear you find yourself in. In the Industry, we call this a wide spread of torque. So, if you’re in the mood to be slow & steady the Coupe will respond by providing a relaxing stream of power without ever needing to change gear.

So the engine is good but what about the handling I hear you say. Well, let’s be fair, this is what MINIs are known for, their infamous go-kart handling. This is where every MINI stakes its reputation and has to succeed. Thankfully, it is here that the Coupe plays its ace card. Given its lower height in comparison to the Hatch, along with its stiffened chassis, the Coupe is more eager to turn into corners than even the Hatch which is, itself, a great entertainer on back roads. It’s like a puppy dog, full of enthusiasm and desperate to attack your favourite back road. An easy task given that the steering is super sharp and yet precise. This means that when you turn the wheel the car’s front instantly turns and the nose loyally follows where you aim it, meaning you don’t have to adjust the amount of steering-lock applied mid-corner. Unsurprisingly with the lower ride height, body roll is minimal. All in all it means you quickly build up the confidence to really stick the car into bends and enjoy yourself and again, like a puppy dog, the Coupe is eager to please its owner.

But to drive the Coupe hard you need to stay alert as thanks to the UK’s less than cared for roads the steering will twitch in your hands and the car will follow uneven cambers, so to plot a straight course you need to stay focused. If you want a car that you can drive fast and yet remain utterly relaxed, look elsewhere. This is all about encouraging driver-involvement.

The brakes are strong too and maintain this standard despite repeated hard use which, again, adds to your confidence as a driver.

The ride quality is true to the MINI tradition of being on the firm side but if you are in the market for a car like this, a magic carpet ride will not feature in your priorities.

If you want a car for a weekend blast – tick. But, this is not just a car for that. The Coupe
covers ground just as well when you want to simply flow with the traffic with the engine providing ample power without the need to constantly stir the precise gearbox.

Oh, and do remember that this is the Cooper S model and so I’ve been spoilt somewhat. The Cooper I’m sure will do a fine driving job but perhaps won’t be as eager as this little pocket-rocket.

Safety

Like any MINI, the Coupe comes with the backing of BMW so it’s safe. As you’d expect, it comes with a myriad of safety equipment namely, DSC (Dynamic Stability Control – improves traction and prevents skids), ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System – prevents the wheels from locking under heavy braking improving stopping distance) and EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution – ensures all brakes receive maximum braking power).

There’s also four airbags to keep you safe inside and pedestrian protection systems to keep those on the outside safe too.

Convenience

The Coupe, believe it or not, is a credible practical offering; the boot space is huge when compared to the Hatchback as can be seen below:

Huuuuuuge boot.

There is even a load-through area into the passenger area which MINI likes to think of as a ski-hatch for those winter blasts down to the Alps. But it does go to show that actually the Coupe can be made to carry a lot of kit if needs be. Whether this is enough to convince your cynical partner that the Coupe is actually a sensible car I don’t know…

Ownership

MINIs have always had strong residual values (the amount you can expect to sell your car for in the future) so as cars go, they are not a bad place to put your money. I have no doubt that the Coupe will continue this trait as demand is currently high. Just watch out for the options list as being MINI, there’s plenty to choose from. I would say purely from a “protecting your investment” point of view, upgrade to the 17 inch alloys & add the Chili pack (this is MINI speak for a bundle of pre-specified options, a lower specd Pepper pack is also available) and a couple of other items to suit yourself. But do not go mad with specifying your new Coupe, something that can be done ridiculously easily, as I always advise my clients, you will not make your money back on expensive options. So go easy with ticking the boxes!

MINI’s tlc servicing package represents fantastic value too. This is where you pay a fixed price (c. £250) for 5 years or 50,000 miles of MINI servicing excluding consumable goods like tyres and brakes etc. This means that, for a one off payment, you never need to worry about your servicing costs for the first 5 years or 50,000 miles of its life.

Fuel consumption is less than you may expect too with the Cooper S model being able to deliver 40 miles per gallon in mixed driving and the Cooper S Diesel being able to offer 60 miles per gallon plus.

For company car drivers the news is encouraging too as BMW are known for their engine technology which in turn they apply to MINI. Meaning that the engines offered are extremely advanced when it comes to emission levels, this being key as it affects how much tax you pay. The Cooper S manual BIK (Benefit-in-Kind) charge is 17% and the Diesel is amazingly low at 13%.

As a business proposition, it’s an easier sell than most to your accountant.

Conclusion

This is the best driving MINI of the range and given that all of the range is accredited with good driving entertainment that really is praise indeed.

Certainly, the looks are challenging but that will be an attraction to some and most won’t care what the outside looks like when they’re having so much fun on the inside driving. The Coupe is eager to please as a driver’s car and when the fashion of driving from A – B can become a bit tedious, anything to liven it up with a driving event is to be applauded. That’s what the Coupe does; it turns driving into an event.

It’s also a good ownership proposition with figures that help to align head with heart, just go steady on that options sheet.

The Competition

Citroen DS4

Citroen DS4 from £18,150 – £23,950

Pros:  Quirky looks, more family orientated than the MINI, great handling too.

Cons:  Access to the rear is tight thanks to the coupe styling and ride quality can be hard.

Audi TT

Audi TT from £24,070 – £45,840

Pros:  Much better to drive than first edition, beautifully built and offers fantastic engines.

Cons: Not as good looking as first edition, can be expensive as you go higher up the range.

Peugeot RCZ Coupe

Peugeot RCZ Coupe from £21,210 – £25,945

Pros: Gorgeous to look at, one of the best looking coupes money can buy right now, good to drive.

Cons: Although offers four seats they are next to useless for anything other than children and it suffers with an awkward offset driving position.

Notes

A big thank you to Wood MINI in particular, Mary Miah and Charlotte Hall who supplied the Coupe for me to review.

Please do contact me if you would like to discuss any of the above in greater detail or would like to enquire into purchasing options.  As ever, let me be your personal guide to choosing your next car.

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