Mini Mania's New Coupé!
Two doors is nothing new for MINI. Even two seats has been done before with the rear seat delete in the MINI GP. What the MINI Coupé brings to the table is a much more ground-up development to be a particular kind of car because of those two seats. The crux of that focus is performance. The Coupé was designed, in essence, for enthusiasts by enthusiasts. From the love it or hate it roofline to the model’s focus on the JCW version, the Coupé is the furthest away from “all things to all people” as MINI could get. It’s the niche within the niche. MINI designed the Coupé to be driven hard, and to be hard to ignore.
Our previous information had the Coupé predominantly based on the MINI Convertible, the R57. This was only partially true. In fact, the Coupé and it’s sister the Roadster are actually based much more heavily on the R56 — borrowing only a handful of rear chassis components from the R57 to help stiffen the frame. Additionally, the partition behind the driver and passenger cabin is not simply architectural, but structural. A pressed steel structure lies under the upholstery with only the boot pass-through door cutting through it. This creates a sort of “H” in the structure of the car. The result is impressive. If anything, the Coupé feels stiffer than its hardtop siblings.
That overall stiffness and solid construction of the Coupé bodes incredibly well for its soft top twin, the Roadster, because even now, the Coupé isn’t relying on its diminutive roof for any structural stiffness, yet it’s a noticeably solid car. Once you see the size of the boot opening, this chassis-first approach makes total sense. MINI couldn’t rely on the Coupé’s roof for lateral stiffness if they wanted to. There’s just too big a hole cut out of the back of the car. The approach they’ve taken has added benefits though. Those extra structural pieces have shifted the center of gravity much lower in the car. The result is a rigid chassis platform ripe for suspension tuning.
It’s also worth noting that though MINI has engineered many key structural upgrades and reinforcements, the weight gain is as little as 11 lbs for the Cooper, and only about 30 lbs on the JCW (on US-spec cars). Euro-spec cars push up to around 40 lbs max weight gain. Given the gains in chassis stiffness, aesthetics, and suspension poise, that’s a weight tax I’m happy to pay.
Love it or hate it, the MINI Coupé’s most distinctive feature is its roofline. The windshield is backswept 16º from the R56, yet the Coupé is only 1.25″ lower than it’s hardtop sibling. Thanks to the dished-out sections in the interior, internal headroom is reduced by less than half an inch. At 6′ 3″ myself, I found slightly more headroom in the Coupé than in my sunroof-equipped R53. Viewed on its own, the rake of the Coupé’s windshield isn’t something you really notice. It looks completely “right” on the car. It’s only when you see the Coupé next to another MINI that the windshield angle becomes noticeable. Even then, it’s a positive notice. From the belt line down, a Coupé and a Hardtop are basically the same car, but the swept windshield plus the Coupé’s distinctive roof, make it look more contemporary and more aggressive. In a lot of ways, the Coupé looks like the car the R56 and R55 evolved from, rather than the other way around.
At the other end of the roof, the first of the Coupé’s two spoilers gives the car its distinctive backwards baseball cap look. I came to learn that this first spoiler serves a dual purpose. First, it directs airflow down the tail of the car toward the pop-up spoiler on the boot lid. This not only aids the downforce produced by the second spoiler, but serves to reduce the drag on the rear of the car. Secondly, the airflow off the first spoiler, according to MINI, keeps the rear window clean. This is why you won’t find a rear wiper on the Coupé. I’m curious to see if this turns out to be true in real world use.
Aesthetically, the roof looks simply fantastic in person. From every angle, the Coupé looks intentional and carefully thought out. It’s aggressive. It’s sleek. It’s mean. However, as bold a choice as the Coupé’s roof is, it’s not without its costs. Firstly, getting into the Coupé isn’t quite as easy as its hardtop siblings. It’s not difficult, even at my height, but it’s different from what current MINI owners have grown used to. Getting out is no big deal, but current MINI owners will have to relearn how they get into the car. Once seated, the MINI Coupé still seems surprisingly spacious and comfortable inside. The arc of roof feels much more sculpted around the cabin. Everything is a tad closer, but not in a claustrophobic way. However, those sculpted angles do cut into your visibility a bit. Looking forward, the Coupé has even more of a brow than the R56 does. This isn’t an issue for seeing traffic, and is actually pretty handy as the sun gets lower in the sky. The only place it’s a problem is if you pull up too close to the traffic light. This is already an issue in the current MINIs, it’s just a touch worse in the Coupé.
Rear visibility, however, is a different story. While the rear window essentially fills the rearview mirror, the position of the window meant that for taller drivers like me, you’re only able to see things immediately behind the car. It bothered me that I couldn’t see more than few car lengths behind me at any given time. I also couldn’t see the horizon behind me, let alone get a real picture of what traffic was doing. I couldn’t help but think that if I had a cop on my tail, I wouldn’t see him until he was right on my rear bumper. With the rear spoiler in the up position, you see even less out the rear view. I joked with one of the other journalists that it’s almost as though the rear window is there just so you can watch the spoiler move up and down in your rearview mirror. And really, the spoiler is so much fun that I’m completely okay with that. MINI is aware of the spoiler’s impact on visibility though, that’s why at 37 mph, it automatically retracts.
Where straight back rear visibility has its challenges, rear 3/4 visibility is all but compromised entirely. There are small windows between the B and C pillars, but the view through them is so limited that you’re left with a significant blind spot. Adjusting the side mirrors takes care of most of this issue, but it’s a significant difference from what R56 or R55 owners are used to. It will change the way you read traffic, especially while merging or changing lanes. On the driver’s side, the rounded shape of the door window cuts into some of your rear 3/4 view on that side as well. This was especially challenging when trying to see oncoming traffic from the left when stopped at an intersection. I had to lean further forward than I’m used to in order to get a clear view of oncoming cars. That said, none of these compromises in visibility really detract from the Coupé in my opinion. If anything, it’s character. But they’re worth mentioning because they’re a significant change from the rest of the solid roofs in the MINI lineup, yet also slightly better than say, a MINI Convertible with the top up.
Without the possibility of rear passengers, MINI engineers were able to dial in the Coupé’s rear suspension with greater precision. The Coupé is the most neutral and even tail-happy factory MINI ever produced. I can confirm this in the wild as well. The rear seat delete and chassis reinforcements have shifted the CG down and slightly forward, and MINI has balanced this against a 1mm thicker rear sway bar, plus stiffer rear dampening and rebound rates in the rear shocks and springs. This was especially noticeable on the JCW-equipped cars, but the Cooper S Coupé felt just as eager to turn in and poised through the corners. The Coupé takes the MINI handling feel we’ve all come to appreciate and turns it up to 11. If I had to sum it up in one word, it’d be this: poise. The Coupé feels put together at every level without ever feeling clinical or boring. In fact, the suspension is so responsive, and the car so eager to go where you tell it, that much of the time I was out driving the Coupé around, I’d forget to hit the Sport button. The car was already so much fun, it didn’t seem to need it. Though the roofline will get all the attention, it’s the Coupé’s suspension that makes it so special.
My JCW Coupé was equipped with all the JCW kit that counts: the powerplant, the suspension kit and the big brakes. Mated to the Coupé’s stiffened and rebalanced chassis, these top-shelf components combine to create a driving experience that made the car feel like the ultimate MINI that it is. Touting a 6.1 second 0-60 time, the JCW Coupé is the fastest production MINI ever built, including the GP. That speed bump is thanks to both its power and its improved aerodynamics. But make no mistake, this is no point-and-squirt muscle MINI. Mated to the specially-tuned JCW suspension, the JCW Coupé was poised at every speed and in every situation I could legally (or mostly legally) throw at it on civilian streets. Moving through freeway traffic was effortless and downright giggle inducing. On winding B-roads, the car positively dares you to push it faster and harder — a dare that only the local law enforcement can dissuade you from taking.
In terms of overall feel, the Coupé felt like a slightly more well-balanced R56. In fact, everything about the Coupé felt familiar yet special. The thoughtful interior touches, such as the cabin parcel shelf behind the seats, made the car feel wholly intentional. The Coupé, at every level, feels like a bespoke special edition — like a much more limited edition car than it is. When you drive one, you don’t get the sense that it’s a production car. It seems too right, too unique, too custom tailored. From the outside, it’s the same story. The Coupé looks so intentionally MINI, yet so uniquely its own animal. If it were the only one in existence, it wouldn’t surprise you. The looks I got from other drivers told the whole story. From one fellow in a minivan, it was a huge thumbs up and a bounce in his seat — especially when I put the boot spoiler up for him. From another guy in an older Z4, it was an open mouthed stare of pure envy. My favorite reactions, though, were from other MINI owners. I got waves, pointed fingers and huge smiles from folks in Coopers, Clubman and Countryman — exactly who this car is aimed at. If you’re a fan of MINI, your hero car is here.