Mini Cooper Coupe / Roadster – 2012

MINI (BMW Motors) recently announced they will be bringing the Mini Cooper Coupe to SA. They claim it the ultimate in go-kart feeling. Now if you have never driven a Mini Cooper S, I don’t know how much more go-kart like they can go without actually strapping your ass into one. Distinctively it sets itself apart from the rest of the range by being 29millimeters lower than a standard MINI and features a “helmet roof” with a noticeably snug cabin and a serious departure from the “boxy” nature, now featuring a very sleek swooping roofline.

The new shape allows for a very sleek and hunkering stance to the traditional but still recognizable Mini shape. Why another model you ask, and how is this different? Well this one is exactly what it says… a Coupe. There’s only 2 seats, and Mini has squarely positioned this as the ultimate in drivers enjoyment and ultimate performance. This said, with MINI adding the Countryman not just a year back, this new model will hopefully further grow sales of the MINI brand.

MINI says; “Engines will range from the standard  90 kW of the MINI Cooper Coupé to the MINI Cooper S Coupé (135 kW) all the way up to the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé – a thoroughbred athlete producing 155 kW” Performance figures 0-100km/h for the Works (6.4Seconds) Cooper S Coupe (6.9Seconds) and Cooper Coupe (9seconds) featuring the well known BMW Valvetronic system optimising both emissions and engine responsiveness. The new Coupe will also feature an active rear spoiler which optimises airflow at higher speeds.  These active rear spoilers seem to be all the rage these days, I sometimes wonder if they are more aesthetic than anything else.

The chassis, set up squarely for driver enjoyment features standard DSC+T fitment, and optional EDL (Electronic Differential Lock) which should help with keeping those front wheels pointing where you’re grinning to go. I suspect this will be a hard ride, but will no doubt provide an incredibly rewarding experience, as the chassis has even been modified to keep the weight balance slightly forward, optimising traction. MacPherson struts have been used up front, and the multi-link rear suspension at the rear, helping to maintain optimal road grip at all times. MINI notes that ” The suspension components have been meticulously adapted to the sporty personality and specific weight balance of the MINI Coupé and the body calibration on all model versions emphasises their sparkling handling characteristics. ” Sounds jovial. Remove your fillings now ladies and gents.

All cars come standard with a 6-speed manual, but a six-speed automatic gearbox with Steptronic function can be ordered for the MINI Cooper Coupé and MINI Cooper S Coupé as an option. ” With its exceptionally short shift times and direct “target gear” finding capability on downshifts, the automatic likewise showcases the sporting character of the MINI Coupé.”

All in all it sounds like a very focused 2-seater MINI, and in all honesty, I spent last week in the back of a Cooper S and can say that most of them in my mind, are 2-seater anyway (unless you’re tall like me, and want to lose a limb). That said, with a lower stance, a focused chassis, lower drag coefficient and those great MINI turbocharged engines, this should be an incredibly entertaining car to drive.

The MINI Coupé goes on sale in South Africa in the last quarter of 2011.

Mini Cooper S Cabriolet – 2010

I’m not going to hark back to the age old mini, it mobilised a nation, and stood head and shoulders above its much larger rivals at many a rally. I’m not going to tell you how the closest thing they compare to are go-karts in an old underground parking lot, or tell you it’s exactly like you saw in the movie, The Italian Job.

Unfortunately, you’re more likely to receive a blow-job from an unsuspecting passer by in Sea-point in the Mini Cooper Cabrio, than represent anything as cool as any Italian job movie scene. (Especially not with Charlize Theron breathing heavily next to you) See, unfortunately, the Mini Cooper range is a largely emancipating range of vehicles for any man.

It’s a knife’s edge.

The car is a handling dream. Endless grip (go-cart like) and the engine screams louder than a bat outta hell. They really are the most entertaining little cars to drive. Incredibly engaging, fun … and will have a smile on your face no matter what Malema headline you pass.

The other side of that knife, however, is a little flamboyant, and feathery. See, unfortunately, you either go the full tilt, and purchase the Mini JCW (John Cooper Works) or you just don’t go Mini at all. Especially not a cabriolet. It’s the fastest way to the front seat of a Cher concert this side of the YMCA.

Speaking of things that shimmy and shake, there is the Mini’s interior. Unfortunately, and this is a general convertible problem, the structure loses its rigidity due to the fact that they’ve lobbed off the big steel part that is the roof and the C pillar. This causes one hell of a lot a body flex, and thus rattle and shake in the interior. I really noticed this over Johannesburg’s poorly tarred roads. What of course, doesn’t help, is the amazing compliment of rims on offer from Mini. The one I drove had a stellar pair of 17″ rims with some low profile rubber. Looks good, feels…well…like you’re shaking everything in the car to find an ounce of gold somewhere. Seriously, not comfortable.

This comfort however, is the sacrifice you make for superb handling. It must be one of the few cars I’ve driven that you can easily get the ESP to come on from 1st to 2nd, and then even on into 3rd. Flying down one very badly blacktopped road in the suburbia of Morningside, I found the Mini struggling to keep contact with the road, skipping over into the next lane as I made my way over into oncoming traffic. There is really so much power driven to the front wheels that you have to pay more attention than you ever did at Varsity lectures, because that steering wheel demands 1-on-1 focus from you at all times. But damn that makes it fun!

Overall, it’s an amazing car, incredibly entertaining and fun to drive, albeit a little uncomfortable…most of the time. The looks are a debatable topic, with the recent refresh, and many customization options available, you really can make it your own to stand out of the crowd. I have, and will never be a huge fan of convertibles because of the serious drawback to handling. It’s no different in this Mini, however I think for the sheer enjoyment of an open top drive, and if I lived in Cape Town, and had a small deli in Franschoek, and enjoyed wearing long scarves that draped in the wind behind me as I cruised along, then yes, I would buy one. However I do neither of those things….so I’d have to opt for the John Cooper Works…with the roof on thanks.