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Small, quirky, well-made, and fun-to-drive: the MINI formula has held together even through its transfer from its original owners to BMW's stewardship. This year, we get the mini-est MINI of the new breed yet: the Cooper Coupe. Available in all three standard MINI flavors, the Coupe aims to pack in more style and performance per cubic inch than anything else in the range. And it succeeds.
Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit the roofline of the new MINI Coupe is a head-turner. From the heavily raked windshield to the large rear spoiler, the swooping shape is called the "helmet" by MINI, and it's an apt descriptor. Below the helmet, the Coupe is basically standard MINI, though it does have some unique traits under the skin.
In contrast to its hatchback and Clubman siblings, the Coupe has a more rearward weight bias, which makes it handle more neutrally, and gives it a somewhat greater willingness to enter the realm of steady-state oversteer than the others, or than most front-drive car for that matter. This makes it a ready companion in fast switchbacks, rotating almost as well and as easily as a rear-wheel-drive car. Combined with its punchy array of 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines, the MINI Coupe range is one of the most fun-to-drive cars in its class.
Those engines come packaged in the three usual MINI trim levels: standard MINI Cooper Coupe, MINI Cooper S Coupe, and MINI John Cooper Works Coupe. The base MINI Coupe gets a naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four that generates 121 horsepower, while the Cooper S Coupe adds a turbocharger to increase power by 50 percent to 181 horsepower. The John Cooper Works model ups the output to 208 horsepower. Each model also gets progressively sportier suspension tuning, interior appearance options, and exterior cues.
Speaking of the interior, it's more spacious and comfortable than you might guess given its small exterior dimensions. Six-foot-plus adults can sit comfortably with ample headroom, though somewhat less so than in the hatchback MINI Cooper, due to the lower roofline. Shoulder and hip room is very good as well. Our only beef with the MINI is that some of the materials on the dash and some of the switchgear doesn't look as nice as its $22,000-$32,000-plus price tag might indicate.
Despite their small size, the MINI Coupes aren't lacking in technology: the MINI Connected infotainment system with optional navigation includes smartphone and Bluetooth integration, iPod connectivity, voice commands, and the ability to use some apps. It's controlled through a small joystick in the lower center console that's a bit cumbersome, and there's no touchscreen, but one the whole it's a serious upgrade for the tech junkie with a MINI streak.
Safety of the Coupe hasn't been independently evaluated yet as it's a brand-new model, but it comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and a well-engineered crash structure--2010 MINI Coopers rated four stars in front and side collisions under the old rating system.
- Great handling
- Good gas mileage, even in sportier models
- More practicality than you'd expect
- Eye-catching looks
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- Ultimately still a front-drive sports car
- Can be pricey when well-equipped
- Some of the interior materials are sub-par