New Mini Coupe takes the spotlight
By ANDY MIKONIS For Sun-Times Media June 25, 2012 3:49PM
2012 MINI JCW COOPER COUPE
ENGINE: 208-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual
DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 25 city/33 highway
BASE PRICE: $31,200 plus $700 destination
AS TESTED: $38,450 including destination
Celebrating10 years in America, Mini has launched a brand-new model for 2012, the Mini Coupe. Having subsisted solely on the Mini Hardtop and then Convertible for the first few years, more recently the Mini lineup has expanded considerably.
The Mini Coupe is a two-door two-seater compact sporty car available in three variations. My tester was the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works Coupe. Certain cues, like the shape of the grille and the head and taillights, make the Coupe recognizable as part of the Mini family.
While the Mini Coupe is a small car, it carries unusual proportions; low and squat, its not-so-gently rounded roofline is most distinctive. The JCW treatment adds some aggressive 17-inch wheels and ground effects, including aerodynamic sills, an active rear spoiler in the rear deck and a visor at the rear window. Finished in Midnight Black metallic with black wheels, the tester had the catchy touches of a red roof and racing stripes as well as red Brembo brake calipers.
Freed from the constraints of requiring a back seat, the Mini Coupe offered plenty of room for this 6-foot 4-inch reviewer, as well as a surprising amount of cargo space. There is a division, with a pass-through for longer items, separating occupants from items in the rear. It’s a great configuration for two to tour.
Speaking of touring, my loan included a 150-mile trip into Wisconsin during which I was able to try out its highway manners. As night fell, the optional Xenon headlights really cut through the dark and lit up signs from incredible distances. The seats and other appointments were quite nice for a trip. Like other Minis, the interior design has a cartoony quality but controls are well placed.
Like other Minis, the central speedometer suggests the car can be easily built for right-hand driving. The speedometer itself is useless: A digital speed display on the racing-style tachometer is what you’ll be looking at. It does make a nice bezel for the high-quality screen controlling audio, navigation and other functions. That interface is intuitively controlled though a small joystick on the console.
The only real downside of the tester emerged on the road. I have frequently commented in other reviews on the balance between a smooth ride and tight handling, particularly with cars that are inclined toward sportier driving. This Mini Coupe was not only the high-performance variant, but it also had the optional sport suspension. On this run, a considerable section of Interstate 43 and Highway 57 were, shall we say, maintenance deferred. The resultant lengthy segments of washboard road were downright punishing in this Mini Coupe. To be fair, some other drivers were avoiding the right lane (the left wasn’t much better), and I did not have another car to drive for a baseline of exactly how bad the road was. I took a different way home.
The JCW Coupe’s inline four-cylinder engine produces a stunning 208-horsepower out of a mere 1.6 liters of displacement, accomplished via turbocharging, direct fuel injection and four valves per cylinder. An automatic transmission is available on the lower trim levels, but a six-speed manual is the choice for the JCW Coupe. This combo turns this little car into a real pocket rocket. What’s even more amazing is how well it transfers this power to the pavement.
The dynamic traction control works hard on full throttle acceleration, judging by the light on the dash. You’d never know it from the steering wheel. Delivering this kind of power through the wheels that steer used to mean the danger of the car heading in unintended directions. An electronic differential lock undoubtedly helps, too, in keeping the Mini Coupe accelerating in a perfectly linear fashion.
When it is time to turn, electric power-assisted steering reacts instantly, and that firm suspension keeps things traveling on a true track. Though I noted its harshness, I would hesitate to recommend trying a tamer version of the Mini Coupe. Since its inception, Mini has been lauded for excellent handling characteristics.
The JCW Coupe is a pure expression of the brand’s performance potential. Practicality isn’t exactly going to be high on the shopping list for this car’s customer; the Mini JCW Coupe is a bold statement visually and should fittingly have the mechanicals to match.
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