MINI Coupe cuts real dash
There's just no stopping the MINI Adventure and a new two-seat Coupe makes it even more fun, says Andy Russell.
As a young reporter, living away from home for the first time, I soon learned how with a little effort minced beef could be turned into various tasty dishes – spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne, chilli con carne, even a passable curry.
I could have written a book about 101 things to do with mince, and I've passed on those simple 'manfood' delicacies to my sons.
And creating tasty new dishes out of the same basic ingredients has been the recipe for success for MINI since the marque was reborn just over 10 years go as the adventure just keeps going.
The original three-door Hatch was followed by the Convertible, Clubman 'estate', Countryman crossover and now things have been spiced up and are even more mouthwatering with a new recipe in the guise of the Coupe – the brand's first two-seater sports car – and still to come is a soft-top Roadster version.
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It's clearly a MINI from the front but further back it has a more sporty character with a steeply-angled windscreen, a lower roof and a three-box body design – another first for a modern MINI – with engine compartment, cabin and a stepped boot at the back which is actually a large tailgate.
It all helps the keep the brand fresh, giving it new appeal.
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I wasn't a fan of the Coupe until I actually saw it up close for real – it looks much better in the metal than in pictures and it's a long time since I have driven a car that has turned so many heads.
In keeping with its sportier image, the Coupe is available as 122hp 1.6 petrol Cooper, 184hp 1.6 turbo petrol Cooper S and 143hp 2.0 Cooper SD turbo diesel but the icing on the cake is the 211hp 1.6 turbo petrol John Cooper Works (JCW).
The JCW flagship is also the fastest volume-produced MINI, capable of sprinting to 62mph from rest in 6.4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 149mph. But for all this top-end performance, it's remarkably easy to drive with huge low-down flexibility – peak torque in available all the way from 1,850 to 5,600rpm – so it happily pulls sixth gear at 40mph and picks up willingly with a wonderful rorty exhaust note when you wind it up, but it can make holding a conversation difficult.
And I loved the rear spoiler rising from the tailgate lip at 50mph and dropping again at 37mph.
Any MINI is good to drive, but the Coupe is the most fun I've had for a long time. The most powerful JCW version takes the acclaimed MINI 'go-kart' thrills to a new level bringing out the best from the precise steering, dynamic chassis and pinpoint handling.
The optional �150 sports suspension with beefier damper settings and anti-rolls bar works wonders for the roadholding but, with 17in wheels and low-profile tyres, the ride is firm and can become lively and fidgety on poorly-surfaced roads but still fantastic fun.
Inside it seats only two but doesn't feel cramped although that low roof isa problem if you're over six foot despite the contoured headlining.
Shapely sports seat tilt forward to reveal a storage shelf ideal for briefcases and handbags and the big 280-litre boot – 20 litres larger than the Clubman – makes this quite a versatile two-seater sports car.
The boot floor isn't completely even and the large tailgate is heavy, but it is spacious enough to take a large suitcase and still be able to squeeze in a couple of soft holdalls and a low load lip gives good access. A lockable load-through flap gives access to the boot from the cockpit.
The fascia will be familiar to MINI drivers with its big central speedo and rev counter mounted on the steering column. It's charismatic but there are lots of little button and toggle switches but you soon become familiar with the layout. There's also decent cabin storage with decent doorbins, glovebox and cubbyholes.
All models include stability control (JCW adds traction control with electronic differential lock control), 15in alloys on Cooper, 16in on S models, rear parking distance control, air-conditioning, electric/heated door mirrors, digital radio and twin front and side airbags. And big business for MINI is a wealth of options and customising accessories.
No one can accuse MINI of not making the most of the brand's model potential and the exciting Coupe and Roadster leave you wondering what's next on the mouth-watering MINI menu.