Just when some onlookers thought MINI had lost the plot and gone all soft on us with the Countryman, along comes the MINI Coupe to shovel a generous helping of spice back into the brand.
With clear allusions to the spirit of Neville Trickett's Minisprint, the most glamorous of all the 1960s Mini variants, the new MINI Coupe looks fast even when it is standing still.
Interestingly, all the German MINI engineers I spoke to had never heard of the Minisprint. Perhaps a racy looking Mini with a lower silhouette is simply the logical thing to do!
While styling is always a subjective issue, but there is no disputing the fact that the MINI Coupe is the most 'look at me!' radical take on the New MINI platform to date. Even the Speedster concept version is less of a showstopper if only because some non-enthusiast onlookers might mistake it for the Convertible at a glance.
Running on 17-inch wheels with the lower JCW ride height, and JCW body styling additions, the Coupe sits squarely on the tarmac with a stance and attitude that says it all. This is a MINI going to the proms!
A quick glance at the lower roofline indicates that rear seat passengers would have a hard time with headroom. But no worries here, since the pure two-seater Coupe is the most selfish MINI yet.
Despite the lower roof line, headroom is still generous thanks to the elliptical concave moulding that brings the headlining closer to the roof above each seat. This adds an extra couple of inches of headroom where it counts.
The counterpoint is the largest luggage compartment in the MINI family to date, with a generous 280-litre volume. The removable parcel shelf further enhances versatility, and central hole in the bulkhead for dealing with long objects like skis.
In overall dimensions, it is 5mm longer and 29mm lower than the Hatch, whose wheelbase and overall width it shares. Kerb weight is similar to the Hatch and thus lighter than the Convertible, which is used as the Coupe's starting point.
There are some things that numbers on a piece of paper simply do not tell you. Subjective feeling is one of them, and anyone who owns the already fun to drive MINI hatchback will find the MINI Coupe experience revelatory on more than one level.
My first drive of a pre-production Cooper S Coupe on a racetrack in Austria a couple of months ago revealed the two-seater's better limit handling thanks to its lower centre of gravity.
What this track session could not tell me however, was what the Coupe would be like to drive on public roads, and how much faster and more stable it would be at high speed on the autobahn.
For the driving launch, MINI provided us with two Coupe variants from opposite ends of the spectrum; the rapid 211hp all-singing, all-dancing JCW version, and the brisk and super economical Cooper D.
From behind the wheel, mixed town and cross country driving proved the JCW to be as docile as any other MINI. But from an onlookers' point of view, the squat, sporty shape and bright white and red colour scheme attracted a whole lot more attention.
When I finally made it to the autobahn, one long blast through the gears to the Coupe's 240km/h top speed threw up the biggest dynamic difference between the Coupe and its hatchback sibling.
Where the rate of acceleration begins to tail off noticeably in the hatch once you reach about 190km/h, the Coupe keeps going with determination. A glance at the speedometer showed the needle still climbing fast, and it was not long till over 230km/h was registering with the motor was still pulling hard.
With the same power plant under the bonnet, the reason for this better high- speed performance is down to aerodynamics. The Coupe's windscreen has a 13-degree greater rake and a 29mm lower roofline. As drag increases with the square of speed, the Coupe continues to accelerate strongly beyond the point where the hatch is beginning to succumb to its battle with the air molecules.
That said, the apparently sleek Coupe shape creates its own set of problems because the airflow tends to move inwards behind the rear window, and the resulting turbulence induces drag as well as lift over the rear axle. Thus, although its frontal area and wind resistance is lower, the Coupe ends up with the same 0.33 drag coefficient as the Hatch.
To counter drag and lift the engineers added two aerodynamic devices. The first is the rooftop spoiler incorporated into the trailing edge of the roof, which funnels air between itself and the roof, speeding it up and aiming it downwards towards the active rear spoiler. This spoiler rises automatically at 80km/h (50mph) and retracts again below 60km/h. There is a button on the roof console for manual activation, so you can run with it up all the time should you choose to do so.
The spoiler creates 60kg of downforce, reducing aerodynamic lift over the rear axle to 20kg. This works brilliantly at high speed, and the JCW Coupe felt very planted with the speedo showing over 230km/h on the autobahn. This extra measure of stability gives you a much higher level of confidence compared to the hatch, which starts to feel a bit light at the back over 190km/h.
In overall dimensions, the Coupe is 5mm longer and 29mm lower than the Hatch, whose wheelbase and overall width it shares. Kerb weight is similar to the Hatch and thus lighter than the Convertible, which is used as the Coupe's starting point.
The lower 'helmet' roof pares weight from a critical area of the car, to the benefit of handling. However, the large hatch requires structural reinforcement to maintain integrity, and the Coupe's torsional rigidity ends up a fraction lower than the Hatch, but a whole lot better than the Convertible on which it is based.
Significant reinforcement is added to the structure aft of the B-pillar area. Here, a new steel rear bulkhead aft of the seats is the major unique component added to bolster stiffness.
Additional stiffening is added to the sill areas, and with the shorter 'helmet' roof in place, the two-seater ends up with greater torsional stiffness than the hatch, making it a better platform for the uprated suspension of the JCW version in particular.
For reasons of ride comfort in everyday driving, the JCW shares its sport spring and damper settings with the Cooper S. In this spec, the only minor adjustment is to the spring and damper rates, with the use of an 18mm (1mm larger) diameter rear anti roll bar to complement the normal 24mm front one. This arrangement is aimed at improving turn-in and reducing understeer in line with the Coupe's sportier nature.
However, for the hard-core driver, MINI offers an aftermarket JCW suspension option with further uprated springs and dampers and a 10mm lower ride height. You can either order this from the factory, or have it dealer fitted.
The Coupe is the first two-seater MINI other than the limited edition JCW GP variant of the R53 Cooper S line. Thanks to dimensional and trim differences, not to mention the lower roof line, its interior feels more special than other MINI variants.
Designed as a young person's car, the Coupe options list has been devised with extreme personalisation in body colours and interior trim in mind. MINI will offer the full spread of engines in the Coupe apart from the One, meaning 122bhp Cooper, 184bhp Cooper S, 211bhp JCW and 112bhp SD. Even the choice of 15, 16 and 17-inch alloy wheel designs is plentiful, with two, three and eight unique styles for these three diameters respectively.
In line with the cars flair and eye appeal and its targeted youthful customer base, a new range of colours and upholstery is on the cards. Two-tone paintwork is a big thing on the Coupe, and the only body colour offering the same coloured roof and bodywork is black.
Inside, a myriad of colour combinations is possible, with colour coding for armrests, fascia and so on. This will be the most customisable car in the MINI range by far.
My test car had the optional Recaro seats, and with the usual reach and rake adjustable MINI steering column, it was easy to find the optimum driving position. With the lower roofline and small glass area, all round visibility is not as good as other MINI models, but this is the only disadvantage of the sleeker Coupe shape.
With 17-inch wheels standard on the JCW, the 16-inch wheel shod Cooper D has a slight advantage in the ride department. With just 112hp under the bonnet, it does not push the chassis as hard on paper.
In the real world however, its greater torque at lower rpm will find any torque steer or issues on a bumpy road more easily. Much credit is due to the engineers then that good geometry and electronics have tamed any tendency for the front end to misbehave in normal driving.
While its 216km/h top speed and 7.9 sec 0-100km/h time are decent numbers, low-end torque is the oil burner's strong suit, and the 305Nm from 1,750-2,000rpm accelerates the Coupe with a strong surge in each gear.
The Cooper D's 80-120km/h time of 6.5 sec in fourth gear is not far behind the 5.1 sec of the much more powerful but less torque rich JCW, which hits 100km/h in 6.4 sec. The JCW's 260Nm of torque (280Nm on overboost for 10 seconds) also clearly does its part here.
Thanks to the D's strong mid-range urge, when I joined the autobahn it rushed around to 180km/h very rapidly, and had no trouble staying with most other cars right to its top speed.
The Coupe is by far the most exciting of the four MINI variants to date both in performance and visual panache. So if you don't need a rear seat and are looking for a prestigious small car that you can personalise to the hilt, the MINI Coupe may just be the answer.