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2012 MINI Cooper S Coupé Review

2012 MINI Cooper S Coupé Review
Photo: Rob Rothwell
2012 MINI Cooper S Coupé
The most recent iteration of the MINI Cooper is also the most visually distinctive example of the retro-themed European.

Think of the MINI Coupé as the Audi TT of the MINI lineup but with significantly more headroom than the TT. While not looking as purpose-built, the MINI Coupé possesses many of the same attributes.

Despite its oddball looks, the MINI Coupé must be appreciated for its eye-catching lines and bold design, which grew on me over my week with this BMW derivative. While exterior styling is radical, it doesn’t cause confusion. The Coupé is clearly a MINI. The same holds true within the vehicle.

Two doors and two seats
The cabin of the Coupé is generously proportioned for a two-seat arrangement. I was surprised by the extent of both leg and headroom in the otherwise typical MINI interior. The absence of a rear seat creates a moderately sized cargo bay accessible beneath a liftback-style hatch. Although walled-off from the cabin, the cargo bay features a large pass-thru door to accommodate long items.

A panel behind the seats keeps items in the rear out of view through the rear glass.

Overall, the Coupé cabin exudes a sense of coolness that compensates for its awkwardness. While comfortable and generously apportioned, the cabin architecture, layout and switchgear are definitely less than ideal.

Small buttons low on the centre-stack and elsewhere aren’t particularly convenient or intuitive in their functionality. Yes, with sufficient use they become less of an issue but the quirkiness can be annoying in the early stages of exposure.

Other cabin shortcomings include the absence of centre-console armrests and a shortage of storage bins. More concerning though is the marginalized visibility imposed by the low roofline, and the annoying rattle of the cargo shelf and other sources of interior clunkiness that reveal themselves when the Coupé hits rough patches in the road.

Once these irritants are accounted for — or adequately tuned-out — the MINI Coupé’s spirited soul can be fully appreciated, and that experience begins beneath the right foot.

Highly responsive mill pleases immensely
At the heart of the exhilaration pumps a 1.6L twin-scroll turbocharged inline four-banger that’s as rev-happy and heroic as small engines come. This award-winning powerplant develops 181 hp @ 5,500 rpm while delivering its maximum torque between 1,600 and 5,000 rpm.

MINI assigns a 0-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds to the MINI Cooper S Coupé, and I have no reason for doubt; in fact, if there’s doubt it’s because the car feels faster. My tester was equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox that enabled the best of the engine’s sturdy output.

One of the more joyous aspects of this peculiar Coupé is making the little mill earn its recommended premium-grade fuel. The engine pulls effortlessly pretty much anywhere north of idle, and when fully tasked, delivers far more seat-suction than expected. And it does so with notable refinement and a most satisfying “fear me” snarl.

Engage the Sport Mode and both throttle and steering response are tightened with instant results. With Sport activated, the little Coupé pops through its twin exhaust tips when the throttle is released, sounding like something closer to an Italian exotic.

As with most performance-oriented front-wheel-drive rides, torque-steer can creep in when slamming hard on the accelerator, especially while dealing with rutted or uneven pavement. A firm hand on the steering wheel is required, and that grip is rewarded in others ways.

True sports car agility
Steering response is near startling. The MINI Coupé’s ability to respond instantly to steering inputs, big and small, bolster the passion found behind its wheel. Though my testing was limited to on-street driving, I was left with the impression that the MINI Coupé would be quite a performer on the track – especially with the turbocharged mill of the Cooper S doing the pulling.

The factors that underpin the Coupé’s extraordinary agility also contribute to its less than ideal ride quality, which I found harsh over potholes and deteriorating road surfaces. This isn’t unusual for a vehicle with the Coupé’s handling ability but some sports cars manage to blend ride and response more gracefully; granted though, they’re likely more expensive than the MINI Coupé, which starts at $25,950 for the base version with the non-turbocharged engine.

The MINI Cooper S Coupé with the turbo powerplant is tagged at $31,120 as tested. That’s considerably less than the Audi TT’s base price of $48,400.
 
MINI Cooper S Coupé – the wrap
In spite of its foibles and quirkiness, the MINI Cooper S Coupé proves to be a highly capable, exhilarating machine thanks in part to its powerful, turbocharged engine.

That delightful mill partners with the vehicle’s outstanding cornering prowess and true sports car agility to create a spirited driving experience that could cost many thousands more in other German-produced machinery.

While suffering somewhat in practical applications due to its limited seating and firm ride characteristics, the MINI Cooper S Coupé will undoubtedly appeal to those seeking a distinctive Euro two-seater that delivers performance and fun, combined with value and economy.

 

By Rob Rothwell,