Road Test: MINI Coupe SD
What is it: Two-seater sports version of MINI
Key features: powerful diesel engine, ‘baseball cap’ styling
Our view: Remember when there was just the MINI? BMW’s reimagining of the classic Issigonis small car proved an almighty hit, particularly with the fashion-conscious set, and not surprisingly in the decade or so since it appeared the original Hatch has spawned several derivatives.
Some have been more controversial than others – motoring purists choked on their coffee when MINI hung its badge on a muscled up 4×4 SUV which it called the Countryman. Yet even this has not drawn quite as much controversy as the MINI Coupe.
The coupe’s creators claim it as the first two-seater MINI, though some used to the less than generous rear-seat room in a normal MINI might disagree… This, however, is very much pitched as a sports car, and curiously it’s somewhat closer in size to the classic Mini from the 1960s. But is it one too many derivatives?
Your reviewer initially thought so, on studying the newly-delivered test car and thinking back to the 2009 Frankfurt show when the Coupe concept was first unveiled from under a baseball cap – a nod to its styling inspiration (“a baseball cap worn backwards”) and target market.
It’s the first three-box MINI, the engine compartment, cabin and boot all being individual curves, the screen raked back rather more than a conventional MINI to add to the sporty look, a big integrated spoiler hung around the top of the rear, and all meeting in a frankly odd sort of way. For most of the reviewer’s family the exterior look frankly jarred, and it’s significant that the one Charman dubbing it “awesome” was the one far too young to drive…
The Coupe also sits 29mm lower than other MINIs, (to ensure interior headroom isn’t compromised there are actually head-sized recesses in the headlining…) so it looks oddly squat too. It’s certainly a car you won’t mistake for anything else…
Step inside and you will be in familiar surroundings – if you’ve ever driven a MINI. It’s all here – the massive retro-nodding speedo dial with space in the middle for sat nav and the like, the row of switches that look as if they’ve been lifted from Luke Skywalker’s pod racer in Star Wars Episode 1. It’s neat and stylish, and of course excellently screwed together as you would expect with a BMW Group product.
Minus points include the three-quarter rear vision, which is restrictive and not helped by a tiny rear window blocked by a spoiler that pops up when you are at speed. And then there’s the tailgate…
Open this large slab of metal to access the surprisingly large bootspace – at 280 litres some 20 more than the hatch – and if it’s been raining a stream of water runs down the wide sills and deposits itself across whatever is in the boot. Not impressive…
The Coupe is offered with a four-way engine line-up with a naming convention matching its sisters. Three are 1.6-litre petrol units in the 120bhp Cooper, the 181bhp Cooper S and the range-topping 208bhp John Cooper Works, the second pair both having twin turbochargers.
Our test car, however, was the one diesel. For its Coupe MINI doesn’t bother with the 90-horse entry-level oil burner, instead choosing a 2-litre turbo version. The Cooper SD offers 141bhp, along with 225lbft of torque, the most of any of the Coupe range and on tap from 1,750 to 2,700rpm.
Put through a six-speed manual gearbox (you can have an auto as an alternative) it’s tractable and great fun, yet it also promises a seriously frugal plus-65mpg fuel consumption figures and 114g/km of emissions.
If you like your performance this is not the swiftest MINI Coupe option – in fact it’s the second slowest, yet it feels pretty swift, with a large dose of practicality thrown in.
From rest it hits 62mph in 7.9 seconds and it will go on to 134mph. To compare, the Cooper S, while admittedly around £800 cheaper than the diesel, shaves only point eight of a second from the 62mph sprint, and at the expense of around 18mpg.
The JCW finds 62mph in a mere 6.4 seconds, but having paid nearly £3K more for this version you go around 25 miles less on a gallon, and of course you pay more tax because the emissions are higher…
And the diesel is such fun to drive. The nice wide spread of torque, and from a low level, sees it always feeling enthusiastic, and it is surprisingly easy to break into penalty points-earning territory if you are not careful.
This enthusiasm is combined with one of the MINI’s real plusses, thankfully unharmed on the Coupe, its handling. The “go-kart handling” phrase is over-used but the car certainly likes to be driven through twisty bits, remaining perfectly poised, commands from the steering wheel instantly answered and with excellent levels of grip.
High-speed stability is good too, the Coupe a surprisingly agreeable companion on the motorway trawl, no doubt aided by the ‘Active Rear Spoiler’ that pops up at 50mph to add a bit of downforce and keep the rear end firmly planted.
Yes or no?
A difficult question – the looks are a bit Marmite-style love-it-or-hate-it, and most of those who love it will likely be so young you’ll need to explain to them what Marmite is.
But the performance is competence, involvement and enthusiasm all rolled into one, with a large dollop of fun and a surprising amount of practicality too. If you can live with the looks, then the Coupe has a lot to offer…
Model Tested: MINI Coupe SD
On Sale: Now
Engine: 1995cc diesel
Power (bhp): 143 @ 4000rpm
Torque (lb/ft): 225 @ 1750-2700rpm
0-62mph (sec): 7.9
Top speed (mph): 134
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 65.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 114
Key rivals: Audi TT, Peugeot RCZ
Test date: May 2012
Words by: Andrew Charman