Sunday, 25 September 2011

MINI COUPE

It was quite a good idea for Mini to make a coupe version as the fifth body derivative in the model line-up because the earlier variations basically covered the widest customer expectations possible.

If you loved the Mini for what it has always been, you'd easily go for the classic Hatch. Want more fun and there's the Convertible. Need to be a little pseudo and the Clubman awaits you. Crave for family practicality and the Countryman's yours.

But if you needn't any of those values but want a genuinely good looking and driving Mini for yourself, the Coupe is the perfect choice.

The removal of the compartment for rear passengers has allowed Mini to put in place a three-box profile to give the Coupe a nice coupe profile. Adding more fun is a helmet-style roof distinctively coloured from the body.

But that's just about it when it comes to the cosmetic test because the rest of the Coupe is plainly a Mini.

There's no differentiation when it comes to the lights or front grille. Simply, it's the roof that holds the key to your liking of the Coupe.

The fascia is just like in any other Mini: fun but flawed to use.

Despite the booted appearance, the Coupe's boot lid opens in a hatch manner (together with the rear windscreen) which, in essence, makes the Coupe more of a liftback.

No rear perches means that the Coupe has that kind of boot space rarely seen in any Mini. Mini has also taken the opportunity to design the interior boot cover with stylish twin cowls. In functionality terms, the Coupe is all what two people at most would ever need.

And turning to aesthetics again, the interior reaches the same dead end as the exterior in which distinction is only confined to the rear bit. The front seats, steering wheel and fascia are like in other Minis, with the latest aspect being fun in appearance but flawed in ergonomic terms.

But you really can't blame Mini for the vast similarities the Coupe bears to its other siblings.

It's a diversification of a specific model, in the first place, and not entirely all-new on its own. Hence, the need to share as many parts as possible.

The pop-up spoiler has both visual and dynamic benefits.

So if you're expecting the Coupe to feel distinctively special on the move, prepare to frown because it doesn't. However, that can never be considered a bad thing since Minis have always been known to be cars that are great to drive.

The running gear of the Coupe is predictable enough: the engines and transmissions are the ones you have seen around since the Mini's facelift in second-gen form with no changes in power and torque outputs.

The one highlighted here for the Coupe test drive in Germany this month is the range-topping 211hp 1.6-litre petrol-turbo and six-speed manual gearbox for the so-called John Cooper Works guise.

The chassis setup is basically just like in other Minis including a sporty tuning. Absence of rear seats has also allowed engineers to place a cross-member in their place to further increase body rigidity for even better handling.

With this in mind, the Coupe drives very much like the Hatch. Performance is brisk in a straight line and impressive when picking up from low engine revs and when exiting corners.

There's no doubting the Coupe's handling, too. This is as sporty as a car of this small size gets, and the way it grips at high speeds when slamming down the autobahn to its top speed is quite amazing. Special thanks go to a new rear spoiler that pops up at over 80kph (and disappearing again when dipping below 60kph).

Ah, that spoiler, the item much talked-about in the Coupe which many critics have described as more a cosmetic gimmick rather than one for dynamic reasons. But as things turned out during the international driving trials, there seems to also be much weight leaning towards the latter factor.

The Coupe also goes around into corners with the same conviction as the Hatch: superbly agile, finely balanced and virtually free of understeer. It's equally as capable as a rear-drive sports car like the Mazda MX-5, unless your idea of looking out from the car is through the side windows.

There’s some stow space behind the front seats... and more of it in the boot.

Speaking of the driving view, the Coupe does feel different from the Hatch in the sense that the front windscreen is more slanted and not as upright as in the Hatch or Clubman. And the Coupe's rear view is limited, although the view of the spoiler (and the stripes painted on it) looks cool.

A more serious downside (in terms of marketing and not engineering) is the unavailability of an automatic gearbox. Mini still insists that JCW cars must be manual. This means that Thais won't be getting this powerful JCW, unless they order it.

Instead, the Cooper S and Cooper variants will come at the year-end with six-speed slushers, the prior spec having steering-mounted paddle-shifters. There wasn't the chance to sample the Cooper S, but it's fair to say _ based on previous driving experiences of other Minis _ that the Coupe with this power treatment will still be a fast car to drive.

You need not have suspicions about the Coupe's ride: the underlying firmness of the chassis makes for a stiff ride, even on the slightest of potholes on German roads. We'd easily say that the ride on Bangkok streets would be terrifyingly hard.

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