By Jim MacPherson
It might be hard to believe, but there are people who think the Mini hardtop is too big. Think about that. A car named Mini isn’t small enough.
Never one to ignore a potential new market, Mini has responded with the Mini Cooper Coupe, the first two-seat Mini. This newest Mini – there is also a two-seat Roadster version – is based on the four-seat hardtop, with which it shares drivetrains, design elements and trim level names and equipment.
The base version is the Mini Cooper Coupe, which is powered by a 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The Cooper S Coupe uses a 181-horsepower turbocharged version of this motor, while the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works version pushes this engine’s output to 208-horsepower. Cooper and Cooper S buyers can take the six-speed manual transmission or select the optional six-speed automatic. John Cooper Works buyers must make do with the manual gearbox.
Up to this point, the Mini Cooper Coupe has marched in lockstep with its larger cousin, the hardtop. In matters of styling, however, these two Minis follow separate paths from the windshield to the rear bumper. Where the Mini Cooper has a practical, squared-off body with room for four passengers – though there may be provisions in the Geneva Conventions dealing with assigning adults to the back seat – the Coupe has a much shorter passenger compartment. Its greenhouse (the part of a car with the windows and roof) looks like a large upside down bowl with a trunk pasted on the rear end. Several onlookers have compared the look to placing a baseball cap backwards on the car. That’s about as accurate a description as you’re likely to find.
Forget the looks. The important question is, how does it drive? In a word, the Mini Cooper Coupe is a blast. The car may be small, but the quantity of fun it delivers is massive. We’re talking maxi fun in this Mini package.
And it turns out that the two-passenger limit may add to the enjoyment of each trip. “This is a great car for parents,” says Rick Miller, a.k.a. “The Mayor of Mini,” at New Country Mini in Hartford. “With it, they don’t have to take the kids.” Actually, they can’t take them. The line for interested parents forms at the right.
What makes the Coupe fun is what makes the hardtop fun. Mini has combined an eager engine, nimble handling, accurate and responsive steering and a chassis that feels connected to the road in a way few cars can match, much less exceed. Add steering that reads the driver’s mind as well as following what the hands dictate, and you have a quintessential driver’s car.
Consistent with this role, Miller says most buyers go for the Cooper S. “They like the extra zip. But, we’ve sold a lot of Coopers, too, to people who don’t care that much about zip.”
For those who like zip, and lots of it, a John Cooper Works model reached 60 miles per hour in six seconds, which should be fast enough for anyone. The only downside was a little torque steer coming out of turns under full power.
The razor-sharp handling comes with a price: The ride is stiff. It’s not a Nissan GT-R stiff, but it’s firm enough to jostle riders with abrupt ride motions over Hartford’s broken streets. It won’t loosen your molars, but it could rattle your fillings.
“This is not a mass production car,” Miller says. No two-seater is. “People who are buying it are trading much older cars; cars with over 100,000 miles. They’ve been waiting for the right car, and this is it.”
Starts at: $22,000
Engines: Cooper Cooper S John Cooper Works
HP: 121 181 208
Torque: 114 177 192
EPA Automatic: 28/36 26/44 Not Offered
EPA Manual: 29/37 27/35 25/33
Next week: Acura RDX