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Mini calls the two newest additions to its line-up – the Mini Coupe and Mini Roadster – its wayward twins.
Although unmistakeably Mini, the fifth and sixth models in the range are unlike the previous four. While the Mini Cooper hatch, Cabrio, Clubman and Countryman all include lower-performance entry-level models, Mini Australia has launched the Coupe and Roadster in just two flavours: the sizzling Cooper S and the red hot John Cooper Works (JCW).
The Mini Coupe and Roadster are also the only two-seat models in the range, and – in a first for the BMW-owned, British brand – adopt a three-box layout with a distinct protruding boot.
While the ‘helmet-head’ styling of the Mini Coupe is definitely one of those ‘eye of the beholder’ cases, the Mini Roadster is delightfully proportioned, whether the canvas roof is up or down.
Those that like Mini’s quirky interior styling will warm to the Coupe and Roadster too. All the characteristic features are there, from the oversized analogue speedo on the centre console to the aircraft-style toggle switches, while some of the less desirable elements have disappeared.
There’s no cramped rear seat (obviously), headroom is adequate thanks to a cleverly scalloped headliner in the Coupe and a high (and potentially non-existent) ceiling in the Roadster, and cargo space is impressive for small sports cars. The Coupe’s 280-litre boot is 20 litres larger than the practicality focused Mini Clubman, while at 240 litres, the Roadster’s boot is on par with the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet (250 litres), and miles ahead of the Mazda MX-5 (150 litres) and Mini’s four-seat Cabrio (125 litres).
All that’s well and good, but few shoppers are going to hit the dealer circuit looking for a practical car and drive home in a Coupe or Roadster. These cars are about putting smiles on faces, and from behind the wheel, neither fails to deliver.
The JCW models are serious little racers, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. The 155kW/260Nm 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbocharged petrol engine launches the Coupe from 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds – making it the quickest Mini ever – and nudges the Roadster to triple figures just one tenth slower. The engine emits an intoxicating growl each time you tap the accelerator, and pulls hard thanks to a tremendously broad peak torque band (1850-5600rpm). An overboost function provides an additional 20Nm between 2000-5100rpm with the throttle floored.
The stiff suspension setup means the JCW Coupe and Roadster sit flat through corners and deal with bumps and ruts instantaneously. Ride comfort suffers however, as each jolt and vibration is channelled into the cabin. The steering is direct and nicely weighted but can also become unsettled when the going gets rough.
The JCW variants also score additional electric systems – dynamic traction control and electronic differential lock control – to aid traction on slippery surfaces and enhance cornering performance.
The Cooper S versions feel subdued in comparison, but are a good compromise for the customers who want a two-seater without the violence, which Mini Australia predicts to be around 90 per cent of buyers. The softer suspension means there’s more bounce over bumps and roll through corners, but it makes for a much more comfortable ride in everyday driving.
The 135kW/240Nm tune of the same engine delivers peak torque across a similarly generous but lower band (1600-5000rpm), meaning it too is eager and responsive regardless of what gear you’re in. The engine has a playful whistle, and like the JCW, the Cooper S lets of a cheeky exhaust parp when you lift off the throttle. The standard Sport button tightens the steering and enhances accelerator response of both cars when depressed, and shortens shift times of the automatic transmission.
The six-speed auto – available only on Cooper S variants – teams smoothly with the lesser powerplant. It intuitively drops back to give you plenty of revs when called upon, and is also responsive to your inputs through the steering wheel-mounted paddles. The six-speed manual provides maximum grins, however, with a short, crisp feel from the palm-filling shifter.
The manual is also the top choice for the fuel conscious. The manual Cooper S Coupe uses 6.3 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle, compared with 6.7L/100km for the auto. The Roadster returns similar figures of 6.4L/100km and 6.8L/100km respectively. The JCW Coupe averages 7.1L/100km while the Roadster comes in at 7.3L/100km.
While the unique aero package, black headlights and sport stripes (the latter two are both no-cost options) make the JCWs obvious enough from the outside, there’s little to tell them apart from the Cooper S variants from inside the cabin. The upgraded Harmon Kardon audio system is the main differentiator, with unique surfaces and textures among the more subtle changes.
The interior gets soft-touch plastics across the dashboard and doors. The Coupe’s low-profile roof can make you feel a little claustrophobic, and as expected, rear visibility is in short supply in both body styles – with the exception of the Mini Roadster with its top dropped, of course. Another niggle in the Mini Coupe is the rear parcel shelf, which tends to rattle about, especially in the firmer JCW.
The Mini Roadster misses out on an electric roof, but the manual rag folds away simply with the turn of a handle and leaves boot space unaffected by tucking in behind the seats. A wind deflector behind the seats reduces top-down turbulence.
Standard features across the Mini Coupe and Roadster line-ups include 17-inch alloy wheels (with sealant and compressor in place of a spare tyre), front and rear fog lights, automatic bi-xenon headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control buttons, climate control, AUX/USB/Bluetooth connectivity, and an active spoiler that deploys at 80km/h and drops back down at 60km/h.
The extensive personalisation program includes nine exterior paint colours, six alloy wheel patterns, five interior accent colours, five interior surfaces and three roof colours for the Coupe (Roadster roof comes only in black), ensuring few two-seaters will be perfectly alike.
Full leather Recaro sports seats ($2700), satellite navigation ($1150) and metallic paint ($800) are among the major options.
ANCAP is yet to give either model an official rating, although both come equipped with four airbags (dual front and sides), electronic stability control, and reverse parking sensors.
And so we come to the price. Starting at $42,990 before on-road costs, the manual Cooper S Coupe is $2490 more expensive than the equivalent hatch. That makes it a whopping $15,200 more than the similarly powered Volkswagen Polo GTI three-door.
Likewise, the JCW Coupe – at $52,600 – is difficult to justify compared with the 155kW/280Nm Volkswagen Golf GTI ($40,490) and the 184kW/340Nm Renault Megane RS 250 ($41,990).
The Mini Roadsters are a closer match for their key competitor – the less powerful Mazda MX-5 – although $45,500 for the Cooper S and $55,100 for the JCW is still a lot of money for what is essentially a light car.
It may be easy to fall in love with the cute styling and the enthusiastic, sonorous and fuel-efficient engines, but the high asking prices are likely to see Mini’s wayward twins join the brand’s growing family as ultra-niche members only.
2012 Mini Coupe and Roadster manufacturer’s list prices (excluding government and dealer charges):
- Cooper S Coupe six-speed manual – $42,990
- Cooper S Coupe six-speed auto – $45,340
- Cooper S Roadster six-speed manual – $45,500
- Cooper S Roadster six-speed auto – $47,850
- JCW Coupe six-speed manual – $52,600
- JCW Roadster six-speed manual – $55,100