First Drive: 2012 Mini Coupe

The small car brand gets bigger.

by on Jun.13, 2011

TheDetroitBureau.com gets a first drive of the new Mini Coupe, which is set for a world debut at Frankfurt.

Many folks seem to recall the original Mini as a single, pint-sized offering though there was, in fact, an assortment of sizes and shapes marketed by the British brand over the years.

And so, from the rebirth of Mini in 2001, it was obvious that the brand would come up with more models than just the Hatchback – as the British marque, now under the command of Germany’s BMW, is rapidly proving. This year, Mini is adding the Coupe, the fifth model to the range, to a rapidly swelling line-up that already includes the Clubman, Convertible and Countryman. Next year, the Roadster will be number six.

Insight!

We got our first sneak peek at the Coupe prototype at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. The strongly positive back convinced Mini to not just put the new 2-door into production but bring it to market in time for the next Frankfurt show – where it will make its official world debut this autumn.

But we were able to snag some seat time months before that formal introduction.

The new Coupe shares the same platform as the new Mini Convertible.

The decision to go with the Coupe was made in 2009, in the midst of the industry’s global crisis, and at a time when many other makers were pulling back on their product programs.  It helped that Mini didn’t have to sell parent BMW on coming up with a large investment, since the Coupe would be developed usingthe very same, reinforced platform as that of the Convertible.

A drive of the new Mini Coupe at Austria’s Wachauring circuit left no doubt that this is a true Mini. Our test model was a John Cooper Works edition, with its 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbo has 211 hp and 177 lb-ft. of torque.

With the same wheelbase and the same suspension as the hatchback, the JCW’s handling delivers the same tossable fun factor. Fun is the active word, as always, with Mini, but the Coupe adds a new, sportier appearance enhanced by a roof spoiler and another at the rear deck.

According to Mini’s design chief Anders Warming the unusual dual-spoiler approach is more than just decorative, each dealing with a separate portion of the airflow.  The lower spoiler flips up automatically when the car reaches a speed of 50 mph, which generates 88 lbs more downforce (pressure on  the rear axle).

That pace will be quickly reached as the engine is willing and eager to perform. In the corners the Coupe never lets you down and if you go into the bend too quick, it can be easily corrected. Of course, this Mini is also equipped with ESP – though it can be switched off leaving only traction control to make your life on the track enjoyable. If you hold the button in the center console a couple of seconds longer, even TC is switched off and you can play as much as you want.

The big brakes never let me down, even though the day at the track was very warm. We’re often let down by electric power steering systems which may be great for mileage but often leave us with a numb and unresponsive feel.  Not so on the Mini Coupe.  The 2-door’s EPS was nimble and instantly reacted to the most subtle inputs through the steering wheel.

Besides a different and sportier appearance, the Coupe also offers extra practicality for people who want to drive a two-seater and also need some luggage space. It delivers 9.9 cu.ft of cargo space, enough for a golf bag. When using the pass-through load door, you can even take a package measuring 7.8×11.8×67 inches.

Mini is expecting the majority of the Coupe will be sold to men, but women will especially appreciate that roomy cargospace.

The coupe will hit dealerships in 30 countries worldwide on October 1st. We expect to get more specific technical details, as well as official pictures without camouflage at the end of the month. Pricing probably won’t be released, however, until right before the world debut of the Mini Coupe at the Frankfurt auto show in September.

Will the new model fit into the expanding line-up?  So far, the growth strategy is proving successful: since the launch of the modern Mini, some 1.92 million units have been sold worldwide. Until the arrival of the Countryman, the mix was 60/20/20 for the Hatchback, Clubman and Convertible respectively. Mini expects that by the end of this year, a full one-third of all Mini’s sold will bear the Countryman nameplate.

Last year, the division sold 5% more cars than in 2007, the last full year before the global economic meltdown. North America is still the brand’s largest market, with 44,000 units sold last year – but the home UK is only one step behind, with sales just 600 units short of taking the lead.

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