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Motoring: Mini is maximum fun


Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 30th, 2012



A few weeks ago I attended the 2012 North American International Auto Show. This week, I'll tell you about the car that took me there, the Mini Cooper S Coupe.

This latest version of the Cooper model can be seen as a last hurrah for the current platform, since an all-new model is in the works currently.

So what does the Coupe have that the regular Cooper doesn't?

Actually, the better question would be what the Coupe doesn't have, and the most notable thing would be the lack of back seats. The back seats in a regular Cooper are pretty small, so for the funky Coupe model, Mini decided to get rid of them. So now you won't be able to cram in an extra passenger or two for a ride. On the plus side, the trunk is now much bigger. Do I see the lack of passenger carrying a negative? No, not one bit.

Not only will you be less harassed to transport people, you also end up with a vehicle that looks extremely cool. My family typically doesn't bother commenting on any car I ever bring home, but this one got everyone talking, and they all loved it.

The love affair with this car's looks continued at the border. Crossing into the U.S., I usually get a million questions regarding why I am driving a car that doesn't belong to me. This time around, the only questions I was asked were about the car and how cool the customs agent thought it was. This happened on both sides, going into the U.S. and coming back into Canada. So if you want a car that creates a favourable buzz, this is it.

If, however, you want a comfortable, quiet car, look elsewhere. On the highway, it's fine — it rides well and the only discomfort you'll feel is from a high-revving engine (it cruises at 3000 rpm at 110 km/h) and some road noise. But in the city, where the Mini should be king, it is quite jarring. This is a very stiff car and you will cringe and curse every time you go over broken pavement and train tracks. So it's a small car that isn't great for the city, and it's not exactly ideal for the highway. What it's brilliant at is tackling twisty roads.

If you like small cars that can out-handle just about any kind of car on the road, this is your car. All Minis handle well, and this Coupe model seems to take that to a whole new level. This is where the extra stiffness comes in handy, and you can feel the chassis working with you to tackle any twisting tarmac you can think of. I love it.

I also loved its engine, which, like in other Cooper S models, is a turbo-charged, 1.6-litre, fourcylinder engine that produces 181 hp and 177lb/ft of torque.

Couple that with its excellent six-speed manual gearbox, which sends power to only the front wheels, and you get a car that will plant a smile on your face every time you punch the accelerator. You'll smile even harder when you put it in sport mode, which tightens the steering but sharpens the throttle. It will tempt you to go fast.

If you do find an area that is okay for going fast, don't worry about stability. The Coupe has an electronically controlled rear spoiler that rises up at 80 km/h and goes back down again when speeds drop below 60 km/h. I like this spoiler.

I also liked this performance car's fuel economy. Most cars that are fun to drive will cost you a kidney to keep them running. The Mini Coupe, even despite my spirited driving, managed 8.0 litres/100km during my week. That is extremely impressive.

Continuing on with its impressiveness is its price. You'd think a special car like this would cost a fortune, but a base Mini Coupe with the naturally aspirated engine is yours from $25,950. The Cooper S version, like my tester, starts at $31,150. The top-of-the-line JCW version with a bigger turbo that develops 208-hp is yours from $38,400. For the style and performance these cars offer, they are great value.

So if you do mostly downtown driving, look elsewhere. If, however, you live near some great, twisty, back-roads, then this Coupe is the car for you.
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