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2012 Mini Cooper S Coupe review notes

Tue, 09 Oct 2012

EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: Just when all the auto pundits thought the big-honkin' all-wheel-drive full-size (at least for Mini) Countryman was the first sign of Mini's impending demise, along comes the apocalypse, otherwise known as the Cooper Coupe. Though people of all ages venture that it “looks cool” or “interesting” or “fun,” none of them have had to drive it or live with it.

Let's get out of the way that it can be as fun to drive as a Mini Cooper S, but it's not an improvement over the larger, more functional, more sanely styled model. It's a hoot to run hard, knifing through the commute like a laser, but the rear and side sightlines make that a risky venture.

So why would one purposely drop $33,000 on a car of even less functionality than the already tight Mini Cooper hardtop? Perhaps for the, ahem, unique styling? That's all I can figure, but to my eye it looks like a squashed bug and I feel a little sheepish when I'm behind the wheel. I can only imagine the same people who eventually tired of laughing at Pontiac Aztek drivers now turning their attention to me in this Mini.

Add the unreasonably harsh ride quality, the rattling plastic bits somewhere out in back and a general sense that the cabin is too tight, and this is not my cup of Mini.

I love Minis. I don't even mind driving this one. Just not when anyone else is around, OK?

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: This red pocket rocket is a riot to drive. I carved up traffic during my morning commute, savoring the inputs and reactions the Cooper S Coupe offers.

The feel of this thing is truly engaging. I love the tight steering that returns immediate weight and feel on-center. It's excellent for making hard, direct turns. As an enthusiast, that's exactly what you seek—the ability to command a car and get a response. The lithe curb weight and rock-solid chassis make for one of the most tossable machines on the road. Plus, it helps makes the most of this 181-hp mill. The automatic gearbox was aggressive in its shifting, which is fine, but I'd rather have a manual in a Mini.

I love the way this thing is optioned out. The colors, the stripes, the wheels . . . Wow, it's a unique look that I appreciate, though not everyone will. The extras on this thing really add flair.

The downside? Don't get the Mini Coupe unless you're a true enthusiast of this brand. This isn't a mainstream car. The chassis will beat the snot out of you, which is fine for hard-core drivers, but not livable for most. I could drive and enjoy this every day, but I'm not normal. It's a niche, fun two-seater that I enjoyed the hell out of.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: The best thing about the 2012 Mini Cooper S Coupe is that you don't have to look at it while you're driving. From behind the wheel you can imagine yourself in a four-door Cooper or something else entirely. Unfortunately, when you get out, you'll realize what you've just done.

I feel the same way about the Cooper S Coupe as I do about the Nissan Cube. That is, I don't like the styling, but I'm glad it's being made. I walked out of the gas station and a woman was taking a picture. She said she absolutely loved it. I told her I like the four-door Cooper more, to which she replied, “It's boring compared to this!”

The performance of the Cooper S Coupe is insane. It has 181 hp but feels more like 220. The twin scroll turbo spools up immediately and power doesn't let up until redline. The brakes are solid and had me stopping with confidence.

Like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the Mini Cooper S Coupe rides like it's on wagon wheels. Every bump, pothole and road imperfection is transmitted to the steering wheel with its name, age and serial number. I hit a nice-sized bump on a curvy expressway ramp and the car jumped a lane over. It's wound that tight. I'm sure it's fantastic on the track, but in the city, not so much.

The Mini Cooper S Coupe is fun—extremely fun. It's just not that practical. The Volkswagen GTI is about the same price but twice as refined and twice as quiet inside. The only place the GTI is behind the Mini Cooper S Coupe is on the autocross course.

2012 Mini Cooper S Coupe

Base Price: $25,300

As-Tested Price: $33,400

Drivetrain: 1.6-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed automatic

Output: 181 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 177 lb-ft @ 1,600-5,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,734 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 30/29.6 mpg

By Bob Gritzinger