BMW has successfully spun almost every ounce of marketability from its MINI family since the marque was re-imagined back in 2001.
So elastic is its small car image that there are now three model ranges that never appeared in the original line-up, yet all, even the MINI XXL (or Countryman as they insist it’s called), have been not just accepted but embraced, positively whizzing out of the showrooms.
The Coupé is not the prettiest addition to the MINI collection but it’s one that’s been honed to produce the most focused driving experience yet. A promise that is further teased by the John Cooper Works badge on the tailgate.
Viewed from the front, the MINI Coupé looks virtually identical to the regular hatchback versions but wander around the side and its curious shape is revealed. It’s a car you desperately want to love the looks of but no matter how hard you try, however you stand, squint or angle it to reflect the sunlight, it still looks awkward around the joining of the rear half of the glasshouse to the body.
Whilst I’m no design expert, I can’t help but feel that if that glazed side window was replaced by a roof-coloured panel, the overall effect would be more aesthetically pleasing. Not sure? Have a look at the closely-related Roadster, effectively the Coupé sans roof. When the hood’s erected, it still looks pert and purposeful.
In theory, that extra side glass should make the cabin feel airier and easier to see out of but climb aboard the sportiest MINI and you’re overwhelmed by a sense of snugness. It’s not cramped by any stretch but the dark trims and black roof-lining might invoke a frisson of panic to your inner claustrophobe.
You sit low in the cabin and with a lower roofline on the Coupé you’ll spot the lining above the front seats has been scalloped out to give additional scalp clearance. Shame the outer roof skin doesn’t bubble in unison, Zagato style.
Other than its unique shape, the other key difference over the MINI hatchback range is the lack of rear seats, further reinforcing that this is a more purposeful MINI aimed squarely at enthusiasts. After all, proper sports cars don’t have rear seats do they? That said, not many sports cars have a boot as commodious as the MINI Coupé’s either.
But is it a sports car, or just a sportier car?
Well, the MINI’s chassis is already well regarded as a honed tool, redolent in chuckability. After all, this is a BMW group product and regardless of its front wheel drivedness, Munich isn’t going to unleash anything naff onto an unsuspecting world, especially for its well-loved micro models.
Like the other John Cooper Works MINIs, the Coupé is pumped with its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine cranked up to 211bhp with a rude to not exploit it 192lb/ft of torque. This translates to 149mph and a 0-60 blast of 6.4 seconds which in anyone’s books are performance car figures.
Being able to approach 150mph is not in itself sportscar-making though. Whilst speed is important, like other aspects of life, how that performance is utilised is where the real enjoyment is derived.
Mash the MINI JCW’s throttle pedal and enjoy the sonorous bark as the sticky rubber bites the asphalt and propels you into, what was moments before, the distance. The slick six speed manual feels meaty in the palm of your left hand as you flick between ratios, the steering offering a weighty clarity of communication that seldom is bestowed on any car, let alone front drivers.
The JCW can play at being a drag strip hero with the best of them but where this MINI Coupé outshines its rivals is the adjustability of its handling, responding rewardingly and enthusiastically to the driver’s inputs. Despite the volume of power barrelling out of the front wheels, torque steer is a distant foe, rarely blighting the delight tingling through the thick rimmed wheel.
You may fear the worst reading the specifications mentioning the pumped alloys and stiffened springs and dampers but there’s no need. Ride quality remains on the sensible side of firm, the MINI remaining composed over undulations and ruts, allowing the driving pleasure to be present on all surfaces, not just those mimicking race tracks.
MINI’s John Cooper Works Coupé has all the ingredients to be an effective, enjoyable and rapid weapon. Its looks may not appeal to all but its lines are such that they’re easily forgiven for the pleasure experienced behind the wheel.
Some may be disenchanted by what they see and dismiss the JCW Coupé as a MINI playing at being a sports car rather than the genuine article. Their loss.
Model Tested: MINI John Cooper Works Coupé
Top Speed: 149mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 39.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
VED Band/Cost: G/£170pa
Engine size: 4/1598cc fuel injection, turbocharged petrol
Boot space: 280l
Kerb weight: 1240kg
Price: £23,800 (April 2012)
All photographs © MINI 2012