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Tim O'Brien | Mar 2, 2012 | 4 Comments

2012 MINI COUPE AND ROADSTER REVIEW

 

OVERVIEW

How mad is this? The Mini John Cooper Works Coupe. And what about the stumpy, runted Roadster? Both are as in-your-face as a Liverpool kiss.

And both are kind-of berserk: anti-establishment bad-boys with a raw and uncompromising charm.

From the belt-line up, the Coupe looks like it was designed by the company space-cadet. It has a roof, a sort-of roof... a semi-roof-thing that fits like a Bondi lifesaver’s cap.

And there's a spoiler built into it - and another one on the boot - because at warp-speed they're useful. Or maybe they just look good.

The Roadster also has an active spoiler but doesn't have a roof. It has a snug fabric top that folds easily away in seconds.

But, impossibly short and brattish, and, like the Coupe, riotously quick, it makes no concessions to sensible motoring.

Weird then that they were designed in Germany, by a very solid German chap no doubt, and products of conventional, careful, uber-aspirational BMW.

We put both the Mini John Cooper Works Coupe (and you have to be severely dyslexic to be comfortable with that mouthful) and the Cooper S Roadster - Mini's "first ever" two seaters - under the addled TMR-eye at their Australian launch.

And, we might be drunk, we might wake up more sensible tomorrow, but we’re hooked - how, tell me, how could you not love these pocket-sized twins?

If the Elvis Chapel was nearby, and if I was a chick, I’d marry one of them right now. Coupe..? Roadster..? (Dang, it has to be the Roadster; cuter bum.)

 

Interior

Yes, there it is: that giant speedo that hangs off the centre of the dash like a calibrated pizza tray. It dominates the interior and God alone knows why Mini is persisting with it.

With the optional sat nav, its centre becomes a large display, but then it's almost useless as a speedo because there's too much detail for creaky eyes to absorb.

Everything else - the switchgear, centrestack, sporty steering wheel and instruments - is equally familiar and, thankfully, much easier to live with.

Coupe and Roadster: each is Mini through and through.

The layout (aside from the speedo) is good, and while the plastics are a bit, well, plasticky, it’s beautifully trimmed, well put-together and a nice place to spend some time - especially if you crank up the optional ten-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio.

No change here then to that wonderful Mini build quality.

But peer ahead, then left and right through the side windows, and you’ll notice a change. The windows are tiny: in both Coupe and Roadster there's a beetle-browed feeling at the wheel.

Compared to the Mini Hatch, the roofline is 29mm lower in the Coupe, 21mm lower in the Roadster. The compactness to the interior is further accentuated by the sloping windscreen, which is canted 13-degrees rearward.

In the Roadster, open-air motoring is at the fingertips. The roof is easily unclipped and lowered from behind the wheel. It tucks neatly behind without encroaching into bootspace the way a folding tin-top does.

mini coupe and roadster launch event 15

Top down, with that neat curved little tail, short raked screen and stainless roll-bars, it looks fabulous.

Seats too in both Coupe and Roadster are comfortable, nicely shaped and beautifully trimmed. The JCW versions get very soft and supple leather and smart contrasted piping.

There's no rear seat (a handy storage area instead); both are strictly two seaters.

But while compact and enclosed - tiny really - from the wheel and the passenger seat, there's an arty premium feel to the interior and plenty of room for long legs (I borrowed some to check).

There's also little missing from the feature list - especially the more expensive JCW models.

Standard are electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, park distance warning, height-adjustable seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth hands-free functionality with USB audio interface and MP3-compatible CD player plus aux-in connection.

 

Storage

The boot in each isn't as tight as you might expect. It's quite a bit bigger than the boot in the Hatch.

The Coupe's wide-opening hatch exposes 280 litres of boot-space. There's even more behind the front seats, with a couple of neat moulded cubbies for bags, shopping and stuff.

The Roadster has slightly less with 240 litres, but gets the same cubby-holes and space behind the seats.

 

The Drive

Crikey, they're quick. Each is a blast at the wheel. Fire up the 155kW of the Mini John Cooper Works Coupe and it's sinfully rapid around a winding road. That's what happens when you put all those ergs into something little bigger than a rollerskate.

It absolutely hammers away from the line; at 4500rpm in each gear it gets a second wind and then really scorches.

mini coupe and roadster launch event 03

And, stretching it out to 6000rpm before grabbing the next cog, the rising throaty throttle-body sound is joined by a glorious howling brattish rasp from the twin rear pipes.

Mini is claiming 6.4 seconds against the stopwatch for the 0-100km/h sprint. No problems with that claim, I'd reckon.

The six-speed manual in the JCW models is as slick as you'll find. With a big knob (what else would it have?) and a short precise throw, it is a hoot to row back and forth through the well-weighted gate.

The Cooper S Roadster, with 135kW to play with (less, but still a lot), is also quick and also - even mated to the six-speed automatic - a hoot at the wheel.

And, interestingly, as good as we found the manual in the JCW Coupe, of the two transmissions I ended up preferring the six speed auto in the Cooper S Roadster.

Left in Sport mode, it didn't put a foot wrong: always found the right gear to put underfoot, and its changes are as quick and precise as some twin-clutch transmissions we've driven.

You can row it back and forth via the shifter or paddles behind the steering wheel, but, left alone when pressing on, it keeps things right in the meat of the torque band - great for quick point-to-point touring.

In the Roadster, despite some less-than perfect roads, there was little scuttle shake. Thanks to reinforced sills and underbody, a smaller cabin opening (with the rear-seat section ported over) and a reinforced boot section - it's far tauter than the Mini Cabriolet.

The suspension, independent all round with MacPherson struts up front and independent multi-link rear, is as forgiving as the benches in a puritan chapel.

Mini describes it as "firm". If you like your springrates compliant and your dampers soft, you have no business in a Mini showroom.

And especially none with the JCW Coupe, nor the Cooper S Roadster.

mini coupe and roadster launch event 14

These are like race cars at the wheel - they're as sharp as razors, each points into a corner like an arrow and whistles to the next.

Responsive, precise, but hard-riding on imperfect roads - they're not for the timid, nor the cushy.

For safety, each comes with stability and traction control, ABS brakes, big discs all round, and, standard on the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé, an electronic differential lock that can be specified as an option on Cooper S models.

Each carries a 5-Star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Passive safety features include front airbags, head-thorax airbags, three-point inertia-reel seat belts with belt-force limiters and pretensioners, and a tyre defect indicator.

 

First Drive Verdict

They're not for everyone. The JCW Coupe is Mini on the mean streets, a nice lad gone bad. The Cooper S Roadster; just marginally less so.

They have cult-car written all over them - especially the JCW Coupe.

But they're pricey, dearer I reckon than they should be in these days of a very competitive Australian dollar. The JCW models are priced closely to the very tasty, easier-to-live-with, and nearly as quick Peugeot RCZ (which shares the 1.6 litre mill up front).

But for fun at the wheel, and genuine 'bad boy' performance, these twins are in a class of their own. If you want to reconnect with all the visceral joys of driving you thought you'd forgotten, you simply must check them out.

 

Pricing

  • MINI Cooper S Coupe - $42,990 (+ $2350 for auto transmission)
  • MINI Cooper S Roadster - $45,500 (+ $2350 for auto transmission)
  • MINI Cooper JCW Coupe - $52,600 (no auto)
  • MINI Cooper JCW Roadster - $55,100 (no auto)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price (unless otherwise noted) and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.

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