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What I think: 2012 Mini Cooper S coupe

14 Nov

I love the Mini Cooper hatchback. From its great proportions and stellar handling to its compact size, useful interior and great fuel economy, it’s just about the perfect choice for anyone who wants an economical and truly entertaining small car, providing you can swallow its premium price tag.

But a car brand can rarely survive on one model alone. That’s why Mini added a convertible (2005), the wagon-like Clubman (2008), the Countryman crossover (2011) and most recently, this car, the Cooper coupe.

The coupe is based on the Cooper convertible platform; indeed, the design of the coupe’s helmet-looking roof caused at least half a dozen onlookers to ask what this car looked like with the top down. Imagine their disappointment when I told them it’s not a convertible. (That will come next year with the addition of a roadster version of this car that will apparently be sold alongside the current Mini cabrio.)

Despite admirers being crestfallen about the lack of convertibility, the Coupe got compliments ranging from “hot!” to “cute!” The look grew on me over the week I had with the car, but I never got past my own opinion that the car looks a little awkward, especially from the rear three-quarter viewpoint. The contrasting silver roof is an option; painting the top and bottom the same colour makes the design more cohesive.

I’ve never driven a Mini with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, and I don’t ever want to. The clutch takes some getting used to with its abrupt takeup, but once you’re there, it’s perfect. So is the shifter, with its positive gear engagements.

The Cooper S coupe uses the same 1.6-litre turbocharged engine as Mini’s other ‘S’ models. Its 181 horsepower isn’t a lot these days, but it’s all this car needs to turn a normally placid driver like myself into an absolute hooligan. Low-end torque is generous enough to give the motor some serious pull at just over 1,000 rpm. There’s more turbo lag than in other BMW-designed engines, but here it manages to be more endearing than annoying, part of the charm of an otherwise really nifty drivetrain.

My Cooper S coupe tester had the sport package, which brings upsized wheels and tires and a stiffer suspension, that proved jarring over my hometown’s poor roads. (I talked to a Mini salesman at my local dealer who says he actually tries to talk buyers out of the sport package, because of that detriment to ride quality.) Road noise is pretty serious too, and the upsized wheels and tires clomp and clunk over imperfect pavement.

The noisy, hard ride isn’t unique to the coupe, though; even the most basic Cooper has a notably firm ride. As much as I value ride comfort in most cars, I accept this car’s harshness over the road for the immediate cornering response it contributes to. A sport mode, toggled by a button next to the shifter, adds some weight to the tight steering and quickens throttle response. With sport mode on, downshifts are accompanied by pop-pop-pop backfiring from the exhaust that actually made me giggle every time it happened, which, in turn, made my wife roll her eyes, when she wasn’t bracing herself for the next swerve around a tire-killing pothole.

The car’s low windshield header is a giveaway of the car’s convertible roots, impeding the view up to traffic signals. The rear window isn’t that small, but it too cuts low; if you’re tall, you’ll have to duck down for the best view rearward. Wide C-pillars create big blind spots; the tiny rear side windows are there to mitigate that, but the one on the right (most important for driver visibility) side is easily blocked by the passenger seat headrest. The automatic spoiler that deploys at 80 km/h (it tucks back into the trunk lid once the car slows to 60 km/h) effectively blocks the bottom third of the back window. You can see what you need to in the rear view mirror, but the environment is claustrophobic. It stands in stark contrast to the Mini hatch, which is basically all glass and whose visibility is about as good as you could ask for in a subcompact. The coupe’s saving grace is that, like the Cooper hatch, its small size makes it easy to park and maneuver in tight situations. All the same, a backup camera would be a nice addition here. The Hyundai Veloster, another striking-looking new compact car, comes standard with one, and at a much lower price.

The Cooper coupe sacrifices the back seat included in every other Mini model; getting into the Cooper coupe requires a duck of the head to clear the low doorframe, but headroom inside is actually quite good owing to scooped-out sections in the headliner over each seat. Generous fore-and-aft seat adjustment means lots of legroom for all but the tallest people (my six-foot-five brother-in-law has tried unsuccessfully to fit behind the wheel of every Mini tester I’ve driven; he finds the Fiat 500 easier to get comfortable in). The seats are comfortable and supportive, but the bottom cushion is a little short, and bumping the height-adjustment up tips the seat too far forward for me to be comfortable.

If you haven’t been in a Mini Cooper recently, there are a few minor interior changes that will be news to you. The old rotary adjustments for the climate control’s fan speed and temperature have been replaced by rocker switches that are much easier to use. The litany of toggle switches remains, and generally I like them, but the design scatters the electric window controls on either side of the centre stack. The radio controls remain deeply esoteric, to the great annoyance of my wife.

The coupe’s hatchback tailgate is a heavy thing; the usual hydraulic struts do most of the work, but you have to pull it up the first foot or so. Watch for those struts to be too worn to hold the hatch up in cold weather by the car’s third winter; better start carrying a hockey stick around to prop it up.

The coupe’s cargo area is larger than what’s behind the rear seat in the original Cooper, with the obvious caveat that it’s all you get without a back seat to fold away. The passenger compartment and trunk are separated by a rigid divider with a pass-through for long items. There’s a decent amount of storage for small stuff behind the seats; a couple of small grocery bags will fit on a ledge at elbow height. If you’re short and don’t need the seat pushed all the way back, you’ll find a narrow slot for stuff there, too. A two-piece cargo cover – one part goes up with the tailgate, while the other stays put – provide some security; the cover in my tester rattled constantly over rough roads.

Mini Cooper S Coupe pricing starts at $31,150, a $2,200 bump up from the Cooper S hatchback. To the price, my tester added $490 for black metallic paint, $1,500 for black “punch” leather seats, a $1,000 “launch edition” package (including black headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic traction control and media connect), a $500 style package and the $1,640 sport package. All-in, the as-tested price came to $36,280.

The Mini Cooper coupe proved very good at what it was designed to do, which is to provide an arguably more stylish alternative to the Cooper hatch, without diluting that car’s entertaining driving traits. I don’t get the point of taking away interior space from a car that’s already among the smallest on the market, but that won’t matter to buyers in the market for a distinctive-looking little car; they’ll find plenty to like in this coupe, no matter its practical shortcomings.

This review was originally published at Autos.ca.

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2 responses to “What I think: 2012 Mini Cooper S coupe

  1. Drew

    January 15, 2012 at 11:15 PM

    I’m sorry but this thing doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s ugly as sin and loses functionality yet doesn’t perform any better than the equivalent hatch version. What’s the point? The other Mini variants in the line up make much more sense.

     
    • chrischasescars

      January 15, 2012 at 11:23 PM

      Don’t forget – its also more expensive! The hatch is the perfect small car, in my opinion. The coupe does nothing to advance the brand.

       

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