First drive: MINI Coupe

With MINI sales seeming to buck market trends and showing an increase of 14% year on year, it's time for the fastest growing premium brand to launch its fifth model - the Coupe.

On sale from 1 October, the new two-seater already accounts for 3% of this year's sales. That's quite impressive, as buyers won't even have had the chance to drive the MINI Coupe yet.
So to see what buyers are letting themselves in for, I headed to Austria for the UK launch of the MINI Coupe and the chance to drive one back to the UK, a trip of almost 750 miles.

On the outside, the Coupe is like a MINI hatch, but not as I remember it. Built on a 5mm longer, modified and more rigid convertible chassis, it's stayed remarkably true to the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show Concept.

The most striking change over the standard hatch has to be the lower roof, it almost looks like a baseball cap that's being worn backwards.

The other most obvious change over a standard MINI hatch are the windscreen and A-pillars which are more steeply raked by 13-degrees.

The first modern MINI to adopt the traditional 'three-box' body structure, (splitting the car into distinct segments – the engine compartment, cabin and boot) is also the first to be fitted with an active rear spoiler.

Rising at 50mph, it drops again at 37mph and along with the integrated rear roof spoiler it's designed to add up to 40kg of downforce to the rear axle, thus improving stability and handling.

Move inside and, despite the lack of rear seats and the lower roof line, the dashboard and trim will be familair to all current Clubman, convertible and hatch owners.

Don't worry, if you're a tall MINI fan like me, you'll still fit as oval recesses in the headlining gives useful extra headroom.

Also, losing the rear seats has had a positive effect on the MINI's usually meagre loadspace. In fact, the Coupe's hatch has the biggest boot this side of Countryman with 280-litres. This is 20 more than the Clubman.

Surprisingly practical, it's easily accessible by the driver or passenger from inside the cabin as well as externally via the boot.

Available in Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper SD and John Cooper Works versions, prices start at £16,640.

So what was the MINI Coupe like to drive on my epic trip across Austria, Germany, Belgium and eventually France?

The 143bhp Cooper SD is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. Besides being the biggest engine to be fitted in a MINI, it also has the most torque at 305Nm, beating even the range-topping John Cooper Works model.

This engine doesn't feel as striking as the Coupe's looks. Best described as pokey, I found myself using the slick six-speed manual and accelerator more than perhaps I would do in a petrol version of the S.

It gets quite vocal too when revved, but the resulting performance figures are pretty impressive. The dash to 60mph is covered in 7.9 seconds, with a top speed of 134mph and all with Co2 emissions of just 114g/km. Despite heavy use, I managed 300 miles between fill ups.

MINI are making great claims for the Coupe's bespoke chassis set-up and the stiffer bodyshell, but initially I struggled to notice any differences over the hatch. As the miles piled on however, the differences became more obvious.

The bespoke spring and damper settings, plus the thicker anti-rollbars equal a sharper handling and turning MINI. However, I do wonder whether some of this sharpness has come at the expense of the ride comfort.

Tolerable on European roads, It turned out to be much more of a problem in the UK, as my car on the optional 17-inch alloys jiggled violently over the smallest road imperfections.

The other major issue I have with the MINI Coupe is with the rear and three-quarter visibility. The Coupe's rear window is shallow and when the rear spoiler extends past 50mph the rear view is almost totally obscured.

More worrying though when joining foreign motorways was the poor rear three-quarter vision. As I said, the rear screen is small and almost totally obsured when the spoiler opens. Add those little rear quarter windows and your rear vision is severely limited.

So as an owner of the first two-seater MINI, the mad John Cooper Works GP, would I buy the new Coupe MINI? No, as the difference between the hatch and the Coupe to drive isn't big enough and the GP still feels more special.

The looks might not appeal to all either, but there's no doubt it's distinctive and the build quality is first rate. Enthusiasts will buy the John Cooper Works version, but if you're after a MINI Coupe to use everyday or as a company car the Cooper SD Coupe is an interesting alternative to an Audi TT, Peugeot RCZ or Volkswagen Scirocco.

MINI Coupe
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First drive: MINI Coupe


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