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2011-11-09 09:22
It was 52 years ago when Alec Issigonis received a brief for the Mini concept car – "create an affordable, extremely compact vehicle for the working man". It’s hard to believe a vehicle first sketched on a table napkin has survived and evolved into one of the world's most-loved small cars.

Evolution has been vital to the Mini’s success and it’s taken another evolutionary step with the launch of its Coupé in South Africa.

The new Mini 1.6 Coupé has been launched in two models (Cooper and Cooper S) with either a six-speed manual or auto transmission. The manual starts at R264 000, the auto 280 100. The Cooper S costs R319 000, the auto version R335 100.

There’s no denying the Coupé is a stunning car. It has all the sporty appeal of a roadster while maintaining the disarmingly cute design of a typical Mini. The striking stepped rear, modelled in the classic Gran Turismo-style, is an elegant touch and its  chassis, 29mm lower than the standard Mini, that gives the new car an assertive road presence.

The standard and Cooper versions can be distinguished by their noses - the former has a chromed strip through the bottom grille, the latter sports a pronounced black cube-like fog light on either side of the grille.

The Coupé is the British automaker’s first two-seater and is aimed at the extrovert in all of us, those who dare to be different, and being different is what the new Coupé does best. The rear looks decidedly aggressive with the helmet-esque roof giving it a distinctive appearance from every angle. The new Coupé also has a rear spoiler that engages at more than 80km/h to reduce lift at the rear and improve aerodynamic balance and road grip.

One peeve about that spoiler: it limits visibility (think Honda Civic hatch) when viewed through the driving mirror, which is already limited considering the minute rear window.
The standard Cooper produces 90kW at 6000rpm and maximum torque of 160Nm at 4250rpm and will take nine seconds to reach 100km/h; general fuel consumption is listed as 5.8 litres/100km.

Anyone familiar with the standard Mini will feel right at home behind the wheel of the Coupé as it presents driving characteristics typical of the British automaker, albeit much more refined. The chassis is more rigid and this translates to excellent handling and road-hugging ability. To be fair, the Cooper model is rather humdrum in terms of driving; capable, but nothing too special.

Mini Coupe

STUNNING DESIGN: The Mini Coupé has assertive presence on the road even if its suspension is rather harsh.

The auto is competent enough at regular driving speeds but becomes temperamental when the throttle is floored. It has a need to constantly shift down, as if it can’t make up its mind which gear to settle on. This is mitigated somewhat by the manual mode but  paddle shits are not standard. The auto understandably uses more fuel; consumption is listed as 6.7 litres/100km for each model.


And then there’s the Cooper S...

The standard Coupé’s powerhouse sibling gains 45kW to 135kW at 5500rpm with a torque peak figure of 240Nm from 1600 to 5000rpm. Like the standard model, the engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or auto, with a quoted fuel consumption figure of 5.5 litres/100km. For a little more oomph, with the Sport button engaged, you have access to an overboost function that bumps peak torque to 260Nm from 1730 to 4500 rpm.

Put your foot down and you’re treated to grin-inducing kart-like performance as the Cooper S variant rockets to 100km/h in 6.9sec.

The engine sounds incredibly revvy and the car is let down by a terrible amount of road noise at high speed. The suspension effortlessly translates the power of the Coupé’s engine into a fun-filled driving experience while delivering the sharp handling typical of Minis. Despite the power increase, the S sees only a marginal increase in fuel consumption with a claimed figure of 6.3 litres/100km.

In terms of handling, the Coupé hugs the road effortlessly and the Cooper S is nigh unflappable, especially through the twisties. The suspension is rather harsh and you’re sure to notice every bump along your journey, which is fine if you’re in need of a sporty experience but not so much for a daily runabout. Overall, the Cooper S Coupé will make even the most mundane of journeys feel like you’re at a race track and it begs to be pushed to the limit.


Typical Mini styling shines through in a cabin that borrows elements from the Cabriolet and Cooper. I'’ve always been amazed how, despite growing in size when compared to the classic model, the British automaker’ stays decidedly mini in terms of cabin space. The large, retro, central speedometer is always a welcome sight along with Mini’s trademark dials and quirky centre console flick-switches.

Kudos to Mini on maximising space in the boot. In fact the Coupé sports more luggage space than the Clubman. And there is plenty of headroom courtesy of the elliptical roof; legroom is limited (what do you expect in a Mini?) but the interior styling and matt black finishes are great touches.

Mini Coupe

LOADS OF SPACE:The boot volume is sufficient for most drivers' needs as the image above shows.

If you’re keen on Facebooking your trip or tweeting about your journey Mini Connect allows access, even allowing drivers to use Google search. A great touch, especially considering how important social networking has become.

Mini is all about customisation and buyers of the Coupé will have access to the Mini Yours styling options available on all models.

I can’t help but pose the same question anyone who’s ever considered buying one would ask: Why buy a Mini over other (read - larger) cars on the market? Well, a Mini is fun to drive and the Coupé adds some much-needed dynamism to an ever-expanding model range.

The standard Cooper will have to contend with the likes of the Audi A1 or BMW 1 Series while the Cooper S enters VW Scirocco and Opel Corsa OPC country. The common factor among most of its competitors is spaciousness and the ability to purchase a lot more car for your money. Still, with 20 Coupés already on pre-order, Mini is hoping its new model will take off in SA.


Mini is planning to launch its JCW Coupé variant in SA early in 2012. The 1.6 engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or auto transmission and is good for 155kW at 6000rpm with a torque peak of 260Nm from 1850-5600rpm. Much like its Cooper S sibling, the JCW has an overboost that allows brief access to 280Nm from 2000-5100 rpm.

If you’d like to obtain this ballistic Coupé expect to splash out R369 000. If the Coupé doesn’t tickle your fancy, look out for the Mini Roadster heading for SA in 2012.

The term “still just a Mini” may have carried some weight pre-2001 but, since its relaunch, the Mini remains an iconic brand intent on expanding its tyreprint. Overall, the Coupé is a great vehicle and, despite the quirks of the auto, an excellent choice for those who want to be different.

Watch the Mini JCW Coupe compete in the 24-hour Nürburgring race:


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