Overall rating: 4/5
The MINI Coupé could be seen as nothing more than a silly roof and two less seats, but a drive in the pre-production John Cooper Works model reveals a new side to the driving experience that'll appeal to enthusiasts.
In the Metal:
This three-star rating is a provisional one until we see more examples of the MINI Coupé in daylight. Our test cars were wearing swirly camouflage and the one undisguised car was in a dark room. Despite all that, the Coupé is highly distinctive, thanks to its sharply sloping windows and the quirky 'helmet roof' design. Its stance is suitably sporting too.
Inside, it's all familiar MINI territory, though it's cosier thanks to the sloping windscreen and lower roof.
Our track-based drive was hardly conclusive, but it was a good introduction to the abilities of the MINI Coupé, and in particular its on the limit behaviour. In this environment it felt even keener to turn in than the regular MINI hatch - itself no stranger to the apex.
The experience is heavily influence by the setting of the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) systems. Left in default mode the power is cut quickly before the car can get out of shape. In the mid setting it allows a little more slip before doing that, though also employs an electronic 'differential' lock (EDL). This acts like a limited slip differential in that it prevents all of the power being wasted on a spinning wheel - by applying the brake to it.
In spite of that, it's all too easy to spin the inside front wheel on really tight corners - certainly with the level of torque available from the JCW's turbocharged engine. That's especially prevalent if you turn off the DTC system completely. In this guise the chassis is remarkably adjustable on the limit and the rear end moves about much more than it does in the hatchback. The uninitiated may find this unsettling, but keen drivers will love it.
What you get for your Money:
Although pricing and spec levels have yet to be confirmed, you can bank on the Coupé being about €2,500 more than the equivalent hatchback. It's logical that the MINI Coupé will include the same equipment as the hatchback for the most part. We're also expecting rear parking sensors to be standard, as over-the-shoulder visibility is not great.
When the Coupé hits the market in October there'll be Cooper, Cooper S, JCW and Cooper SD variants. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a six-speed automatic available on some models. There'll be a wide range of colour options inside and out, though MINI insists on a contrast colour for the roof. On top of all that, there are essentially three chassis set-ups on each model: standard, Sport and JCW - the latter fitted as an aftermarket kit.
One aspect of the MINI Coupé that is likely to surprise potential buyers is its practicality. The removal of the rear seats has freed up a lot of space for luggage. Hence the boot is 260 litres - a full 100 litres more than the hatchback's. Access to that from the rear is good, while there's also a through-load hatch to the cabin to accommodate longer items. There's actually a useful bit of space behind the seats for laptop bags and the like as well.
MINI could easily have left the driving experience alone and sold the Coupé solely on its distinctive appearance and image. First impressions, while admittedly only on a test track, suggest that it has endowed the two-seater with an engaging personality of its own. We can't wait to drive the finished article.