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The MINI Coupe and Roadster represent the latest in a long-line of MINI spin-offs, bringing the total number to six… Both are fun to drive, although they're a challenging design.
While the new MINI has always been a long way from the original example it is based on, the central theme has always been the same. That is, a small city car that delivers zippy performance and a spirited driving experience. While these two new models will obviously deliver on that, they might not have quite the same universal appeal as the more generic models. That said, the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is a veritable powerhouse, and with pricing from $42,900 (for the Coupe) the new MINI Coupe is aimed squarely at the likes of VW's Scirocco R and Renault's Megane Sport.
While the convertible version you see here presents itself as a Cabrio, Mini refers to it as a Roadster. Nonetheless, the Roadster and the interestingly styled Coupe are the two new Mini kids on the block and bring the model count to no less than six.
Mini says the main message for these new models is threefold: style, performance and handling prowess. In short after our launch drive we can say this: Style is in the eye of the beholder so we won't wax lyrical about that too much, Performance, well, both cars are every bit as much fun as you'd expect and the handling prowess is bang-on, too. Off to a good start then.
The two new models share much of the architecture (under the skin) with the Cooper S hatch, but will cost $42,900 (Coupe) and $45,500 (Roadster), which means they will come in at $2500 and $5000 more, respectively, than the Cooper S. These vehicles are also slightly longer (body not wheelbase) than the hatch though, providing more interior and boot space, but they are also have a significantly lower silhouette than the hatch. That comes from a revised roofline, which certainly in the form of the Coupe contributes to the interesting side-on profile.
The extra interior space is a result of the longer body, and the fact there is no back seat, so, front seat passengers get more room, and there is a significantly larger boot. The Coupe, especially, is impressive when you open the large boot lid and find 240 litres of space staring back at you. The Roadster makes do with less bootspace, because of the manually folding roof.
Both body styles can be had with either the 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine from the Cooper S (135kW and 240Nm), or a more highly-tuned John Cooper Works version (155kW and 260Nm). There's a cost-optional six-speed auto if the excellent, standard fit, six-speed manual, which we prefer, isn't to your liking.
What is most obvious, even after two minutes behind the wheel of either car is the signature Mini ‘directness' or ‘connection' to all the major controls. In manual guise the clutch is firm and reassuring, the gear changes swift and precise and the steering is quite brilliant. There's a level of feel and feedback aimed at the driver that would embarrass many, more expensive, ‘drivers' cars. We'd opt for the manual, but that's not say the auto isn't good enough in its own right. It shifts smoothly and quickly and keeps the engine in the right part of the rev range.
Built, obviously, to handle, the Mini is super stiff through the chassis and damping, which is great on a racetrack or perfectly smooth strip of hot mix, but not so great on choppy, bumpy, pot-holed back roads. There's some scuttle shake in the Roadster (slightly more forgiving suspension tune than Coupe) because of this stiffness, and the Coupe hits larger potholes with a bone-jarring crunch. Likewise, if these bumps and imperfections crop up mid-corner, the little Mini can skip around.
That said, find the right piece of tarmac and the diminutive Mini is sublime, with either engine singing up to redline and the manual gearbox working through the ratios swiftly. Grip is prodigious, handling just about flat and there's a certainty and surefootedness to the Mini's every move.
Both vehicles are relative lightweights too, so that plays a large part in the driving and handling feel. With the manual transmission, the Coupe only weighs in at 1165kg, while the Roadster is only slightly heavier at 1185kg. The manual Coupe claims a fuel usage of 6.3L/100km, while if you opt for the auto that goes up to 6.7L/100km. The manual Roadster uses only 6.4L/100km while the auto sips 6.9L/100km. All impressive numbers for a vehicle with genuine sporting ability, and due in no small part to the light overall weight.
Style wise, each model has its own distinct appeal. We prefer the Roadster but the Coupe delivers genuinely practical luggage space, so there's a consideration there for city dwellers who often need bigger than average space from their small car. What the styling does do though is create a restriction in visibility from the driver's seat. Especially in the Coupe. Looking rearward, the rear three-quarter panels tend to get in the way, and the automatically deployable rear wing gets in the way too, splitting your rear view right down the middle. The rear window is also tiny. Visibility is never unsafe or dangerous, rather it is compromised. The Roadster goes a step further with the rear side windows deleted entirely, while a mesh wind blocker has been added.
Inside, there's plenty of standard kit. Extensive inclusions on this front start with speed-sensitive power assistance for the steering. There are also electrically-adjustable rear view mirrors, park-distance control, height-adjustable seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, USB audio interface, and an audio system with MP3 compatibility and an AUX input. Optional equipment extends to an adaptive function for the standard bi-xenon headlights, comfort access, auto-dimming rear view mirror and exterior mirrors, and the JCW pack. There's plenty to opt for in the audio side of the equation too, with a 10-speaker Harman Kardon system and MINI Visual Boost Radio or MINI Sat Nav.
VERDICT: In terms of the driving experience, these two new models are every bit the MINI we have come to know and love. Style will be the ultimate measuring stick, because you've got to come to terms with the looks before you get behind the wheel, though in terms of whether the public warms to these new styles.
|Model||Coupe & Roadster|
Excellent mechanical, brilliant handling, plenty of standard kit.
Ride can be stiff, visibility compromised, quirky coupe styling.
|Country of manufacture||UK|
|Available from||March 2012|
|Priced from||$42,900 (Coupe) (+ORC)|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.4 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||135 kW @ 240 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||155 Nm @ 260 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||6.3-6.9 L/100km|