MINI Cooper S Coupe 2012

In its quest to create as many versions of the Mini as possible, parent company BMW has created a coupe version of the ever popular premium hatch. Could this just be what the new Mini should’ve been all along? Pieter Kotze slides into the driver’s seat.

Cooper S Coupe


Whenever Mini designers become bored they come up with all sorts of weird and wonderful variations of the original Mini concept. From a more practical version with a suicide door to the Golf-sized version with raised suspension, the guys from BMW never cease to surprise us. When spy shots of the first Coupe test mules hit the web you could hear petrolheads gnashing their teeth. Things got even worse when the designer admitted that he based the roof design on his son’s baseball cap, which was turned around 50 Cent style…

Well, there is good news. The Coupe looks better in the metal than in pictures. I won’t say it’s a design success, and many Mini-groupies will still cringe, but somehow it works as a cute, sporty car. There are many opposing elements all tied up in one design, and to some it may look like an elephant parked on the rear of a Mini hatch, but it will definitely turn heads. In traffic there were people who were barely awake giving their necks a workout as the Coupe drove by. You can even change the look of the car by either driving faster than 50mph or pushing a button to raise the rear spoiler. This does give it a sportier look, but you wouldn’t call it aggressive. Think of it as Dennis the Menace – a naughty little bugger, but you can’t help smiling. A thing of beauty? Perhaps not. Divisive? For sure.
On the inside there is almost no clue that you’re in the Coupe, except for the lower roof and lack of rear seats. The interior is snug and drivers who buy their clothes at ‘Big & Tall’ will feel like they are sitting in a postbox. Talking about a postbox, the rear view will challenge a keyhole for visibility, and that is without the raised rear spoiler. The dash layout is carried over from the hatch and maintains its quirky design and multitude of buttons and toggles to get used to. The enormous centre speedometer is still unpractical with its orange on orange display and is more useful for the passenger than the driver, while the plastics around the speedometer and rev counter don’t feel as premium as the other dash plastics. Overall the buttons and stalks have a premium feel, but the busy-looking layout can be improved. The Sport and traction control buttons are out of view behind the gear lever, while the centre console is too small to store anything bigger than a mobile phone. The Mini does however have a ‘hidden’ storage area above the glovebox, the bootsize is quite decent (280 litres) and there is a hatch which gives you access to the boot from within the car – quite useful to transport things like swords, fold-up dance poles and young trees. As always you can ‘customise’ your Mini to your heart’s content. Our test model was equipped with heated leather seats, cruise control, satellite controls on the steering wheel, a high resolution display built into the speedometer, climate control, USB and Bluetooth connectivity as well as auto lights and wipers. Just keep in mind that these options can empty your wallet quite quickly.

So, the Mini Coupe might be unpractical (as with all other coupes), but you’ll buy it`s for the kicks. The punchy 1.6 litre turbo charged engine gives the Coupe enough grunt to make it go like the proverbial clappers. With 184bhp and 240Nm (260Nm in Sport mode) to play with the Mini shoots to 62mph in a speedy 6.9 seconds. With maximum torque available between 1 600-5 000rpm turbo lag is minimal, but there is an extra kick above 4000rpm which can be quite addictive. There is always enough power to play with and it invites you to toy with it. The clutch action is quite heavy and gear changes of the six speed manual aren’t as smooth as expected, but it makes the car more involving to drive and adds to the pleasure of the experience. Every roundabout becomes a little playground, and if you keep the traction control on it will pull the Coupe straight even when pushed hard out of tighter corners.

Switch it into Sport mode and the steering and suspension goes stiffer, torque increases to 260Nm, while the exhaust starts burping on downshifts. As always the steering is very direct (perhaps a bit too direct), but as with most other electric power steering systems feedback can be improved at the limit. Many punters (and Mini brochures) talk about the Mini’s go-kart-like handling, but the only similarity I could find is the direct steering. Those ‘experts’ should perhaps be reminded that a go-kart is rear-wheel drive and enjoys getting its tail out, while the Mini is front-wheel drive, so its nose will push wide if you get on the power too early. But you’ll have to know your stuff to unsettle the Mini. It goes all torque-steery when you step on it from standstill, but it’s just enough to keep you honest. There is hardly any bodyroll and as you sit nice and low in the body-hugging seats (this part may be an apt comparison)you really feel at one with the Mini. On the flipside of the great handling is an ultra-harsh ride. Even when you’re not driving in Sport mode it gives your kidneys and spine a workout. On a traditional bumpy B-road it feels nervous and is prone to tram-lining when the surface gets rough.

The Mini Coupe is a toy, and you’ll have to part with just under 20 000 of your hard earned pounds to buy the Cooper S version. Apart from the Smart FourTwo this is the smallest two-seater around, but it’s a bundle of fun and will make you search for interesting roads to play on. The interior is not to everyone’s taste, the engine sounds like a blender when the aircon is running, and the ride will turn your intestines upside down, but you won’t get enough of the frisky engine and dynamic handling. With the Mini hatch not being the most practical car around, and being so popular that you can’t find your own one in a car park, the Coupe is a great alternative. It’s perhaps not as refined or grownup as an Audi TT or Peugeot RCZ, but for the young at heart this little Coupe can’t be beaten for smiles-per-mile.