The Mini Coupe is the fifth new model in just over a decade, and at this rate the premium small-car range is in danger of reaching obesity levels.
And there’s already a sixth, when you include the Coupe’s Roadster twin also now on sale here.
Unlike the Mini Countryman that took the brand to its biggest vehicle dimensions yet, the Coupe goes in the reverse direction.
With the Mini Rocketman concept looking doomed for production reality, the Mini Coupe is the smallest model in the BMW-owned brand’s line-up. Kind of.
The Mini Coupe Cooper S we’re testing (there’s also a $52,600, 155kW John Cooper Works (JCW) variant) is 5mm longer than the hatchback but 23mm lower.
That reduced height comes from, shall we say, a distinctive-looking roof design.
The ‘helmet’-style roof – in a contrasting colour to the body, naturally - was first seen on the 2009 concept that previewed the Mini Coupe, though the design that creates the brand’s first ‘three box’ body still garners plenty of double-takes.
If you’re wondering about the limited headroom for rear-seat passengers, there isn’t any. This is Mini’s first two-seater.
That, of course, makes it instantly less practical than the already relatively impractical hatch, though Mini is positioning the Coupe as more of a driver’s car.
As the BMW Group continues to explore all possible vehicle variations, think of the Mini Coupe as a niche within a niche.
Mini says increased body rigidity and a weight distribution more balanced to the front gives the Coupe an advantage over the hatch in terms of overall agility and corner-exit traction.
Body strengthening adds 25 kilos to the Coupe’s weight (1165kg), though, and otherwise the Mini sports car shares its suspension and other critical hardware with the Mini hatch.
As to reflect the Coupe’s sportier nature, the base model is a Cooper S rather than a Cooper.
It’s priced from $42,990 for a six-speed manual version, $60 below the Mini Cooper S hatch.
The Cooper S badge means there’s that loveable 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from the BMW-PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) joint venture (in a nutshell designed by the former and financed for mass production by the latter).
There’s a rorty soundtrack that complements the urgency provided by this engine, with the great flexibility created by a 240Nm torque peak spread across the rev range from 1600 to 5000rpm. There’s also that same extra 20Nm of overboost when needed, such as overtaking.
We averaged a respectable 8.2 litres of fuel per 100km during our week with the Mini Coupe – comparing to official ratings of 6.7L/100km for the auto (6.3L/100km manual – both identical to Cooper S hatch).
Although the Mini Coupe weighs a bit more than the Cooper S hatch, the company claims the three-box two-door is a tenth quicker from standstill to 100km/h – 6.9 seconds with the manual, or 7.1 seconds with the $2350 optional auto fitted to our test car.
That kind of speed differential is going to be difficult to detect, and without a back-to-back test it’s also difficult to pick major differences in the way the Coupe and hatch drive.
There’s that familiarly brilliant direct steering that as soon it’s turned brings a razor-sharp response from the chassis beneath the driver. And there’s that trademark chuckability and body control, and progressive, feelsome brakes that make the Mini a blast to drive on scenic-route roads.
And, yes, there’s also that overly firm ride and intrusive tyre noise that will be unpalatable for some buyers. (It's worth noting that the Cooper S version of the Coupe comes with regular tyres and a mobility kit whereas the JCW Coupe is fitted with run-flat tyres.)
But there’s also that impressive restraint of torque steer – with only the mildest of tugs on the steering wheel under hard acceleration despite 135kW of power being fed through the front wheels.
Not even the driving position is lower. The rooflining is 10mm lower than the hatch but is scalloped to help accommodate taller drivers. Vision is certainly impaired front and rear compared with the hatch, however, and for either driver or passenger there’s a greater feeling of being encased in the car by the lower roof and more acutely angled windscreen.
There is yet another first for a Mini – an active rear spoiler that deploys automatically above 80km/h for improved aerodynamics claimed to aid the Coupe’s handling balance. It doesn’t generate notable downforce – 40kg pressing down on the rear – though until the Mini Cooper S Coupe is at its maximum speed of 230km/h (224km/h for the auto).
The six-speed automatic may be the more ideal choice for the daily drive, but the six-speed manual is the pick for keener drivers.
The auto does a fine job in general driving, but struggles once the road starts to twist and turn – leaving itself in a higher ratio than required even if the Sport button is pressed.
Drivers can choose their own ratio, but there are two issues here: one is that the Mini, in a very un-BMW-like way, keeps the auto in manual mode for only a limited time so you can’t hold a particular gear for too long; the second is the thumb buttons on the steering wheel that are, as with Porsches, counter-intuitive – instead of the more logical ‘left for a downshift, right for an upshift’ approach, the button on each side performs gearchanges in either direction depending on where you press it.
It’s just plain wrong and frustrating – and don’t let anyone, or any car maker, tell you otherwise.
Mini will tell you that the Coupe isn’t that impractical, and there’s more than a grain of truth to that.
Although there are only two seats, those customers who are singles or couples without kids will find the Coupe’s boot quite handy. It’s accessed by a high-opening tailgate, revealing a 280-litre boot that is 75 per cent bigger than the hatch’s.
(The hatch’s cargo space expands to 680 litres with the rear seats folded, though.)
A ‘load-through’ hatch panel can be opened from the cabin to accommodate skis or some of those purchases from Bunnings. And the door pockets are larger than in the hatch.
Otherwise the Mini Coupe cabin has all been seen before, meaning mostly good quality plastics (though the rooflining feels cheap) and a plethora of round features.
The biggest of which is again that oversized central speedo that in our test car includes the visuals for the optional sat-nav system.
The sat-nav accounted for $1150 of the $5835 our test car’s price accrued in options, which also included some items that perhaps should be standard, such as electronic front diff lock ($300) and metallic paint ($800).
Then there’s the not-so-small matter of choosing what you want to spend on customising your Mini Coupe from the typically broad selection of interior colours and finishes, upholstery, alloy wheels, and of course body additions including stripes.
For the $42,990 starting price, Mini throws in 17-inch alloy wheels (optional 'twin-blade' 17s, above, were fitted to our car), foglights, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, bi-xenon headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, electronic stability control.
That still makes it costlier than some models that might be considered competitors, such as the $38,990 RenaultSport Clio Trophee or $40,790 Honda CR-Z Luxury. You could even have a three-door VW Golf GTI or RenaultSport Megane for less.
So the Mini Coupe, as with most Minis, is not necessarily the most logical of choices in terms of value. But if you want a car that stands out from the crowd – as well as the throng of Mini hatches – and put a wide grin on your face when you drive it, then the minuscule coupe will have plenty of appeal.