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The on-going success of BMW’s MINI is not only good news for the British economy, the latest variant – the Coupe – is also a hoot to drive, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant

Had one been available to him at the time, Francis Bacon would, I feel sure, have been referring to the MINI Coupe when he wrote: ‘There is no beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion’. BMW insists on those capital letters in order to clearly differentiate its carefully considered- cute, 11 year-old copycat from the original Mini, now 53 years old. This is hardly necessary, yet entirely appropriate, for you only have to see examples of the two parked side by side to realise how vast, by comparison, the young pretender actually is.

I had a lanky pal with a Mini and so genuinely diminutive was it that, arm out of the window and door tucked into armpit like an atlas being returned to the library, he could drag his knuckles along the tarmac as he drove. Only an octopus could match such anatomical articulation in the MINI.

That the latter has got away, pretty much unnoticed by most, with actually being something of a porker is entirely down to a design which so artfully crafts cribbed proportion that, at a glance, you simply don’t notice. Or, at least, not in the case of the hatchback, you don’t. Clubman and Countryman versions of the MINI added more than enough strangeness to turn heads and, in my case, the corners of the mouth firmly down.

Not, you understand, because of the ever burgeoning raft of MINI variants available, but simply because – most notably in the case of the bloated Countryman – all too many of them just don’t quite look the part. Lest we forget, it only took about ten seconds following the launch of the original Mini in 1959 for variations on a theme such as the Traveller, Moke, Van and Pickup, plus the Riley Elf, Hornet and Clubman to ping off the production line.

So BMW can hardly be chastised for a relatively modest line-up expansion to date, now comprising hatchback, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupe and most recently, Roadster. Personally, I can’t wait to witness the company’s take on the original Moke, which was more fun than a clown on fire…

For me, BMW’s marketing of the MINI is less convincing, relentlessly striving to ram home the car’s faux British credentials whilst often just getting it ever so slightly wrong; as a mate of mine put it ‘like being served Black Forest gateau for tea instead of Victoria sponge…’

No matter, however, because the rest of the world thinks MINI remains quintessentially British, which is good news for the workforce at the Cowley factory in Oxford, the Hams Hall engine plant in the Midlands and Swindon-based parts suppliers.

The Coupe wades in with a roof – appropriately enough resembling that badge of oafdom; an IQ reducer worn back to front – lowered by 29mm.

The roof lining boasts oval cut-outs to accommodate the toupees of taller drivers. But for a more steeply raked windscreen, the rest of the body remains the same size as that of the hatchback.

On board, there are just two, elegantly trimmed and appropriately snug racing seats that grip like an over-amorous stingray and, by Mini (or even MINI for that matter) standards, a gargantuan boot. The rest of the cabin is familiar MINI, with that trademark, wok-sized speedometer housing the standard BMW multimedia array, including sat’ nav’ and a web connection function to access the internet for web radio, Facebook and Google maps. I can, personally, think of no particular reason why I should wish to listen to Dallas police radio when driving through Mudfordshire, but am comforted by the knowledge that it is now a possibility.

The dashboard, centre console and even roof lining are festooned with toggle switches and I couldn’t help noticing that someone had programmed the interior lighting to come over all disco after dark, rambling gently through the colour spectrum in a manner which my ten-year old son found absolutely riveting. I’m sorry, but I just can’t help liking it.

Even – in the case of the specimen I drove – painted to ape the Liquorice Allsort nobody plumps for, it makes me smile.

And driving this Cooper S version makes me smile even more. Armed with a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine good for 181bhp and 240Nm of torque and mated to an acceptably user-friendly 6- speed manual transmission, the Coupe lunges to 62mph in a sprightly 6.9 seconds, and on to 143mph.

A fat steering wheel and chunky gear change belie hilariously entertaining levels of agility, poise and grip, despite a ride quality which is only just south of acceptable. Nicely honed MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension systems are testament to the fact that the MINI costs BMW so much to make that, for years, all profit on the range has come from optional extras and after sales servicing.

We should be grateful; the Coupe dives into corners with darting enthusiasm from the merest whiff of input from the helm. Indeed, so responsive is it that it does take a little getting used to after the comparatively lazy steering of almost anything else. At the outset, I feared a sneeze would fling me headlong into the shrubbery.

Once you acclimatise, however, progress of unseemly rapidity is possible with remarkably little effort. Never prone to snapping in irritation, the chassis is delightfully forgiving no matter how hamfistedly you throw the car around, with only a nicely predictable correction to line if you lift of the throttle.

Better yet, the markedly longer wheelbase of this car over the original Mini means that, on undulating surfaces, it no longer makes progress like a frog in a sock. Down sides? Well, there’s not much pleasure to be had pottering in the Coupe, but this is such a rewarding car to drive hard that’s something of an irrelevance, especially since, with just two seats, there’s nothing here for the family man.

At £19,780 plus the £4,785 worth of extras you’ll need to kit it out properly, this is a somewhat pricey machine. Oh and, waving ‘Cooee’ to Panda cars at speeds over 50mph, the rear wing utterly obscures the view astern. And it’s always, always up…


PRICE: From £19,780
Four-cylinder petrol engine with twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection.
OUTPUT: 181bhp/135kW at 5,500 rpm
MAX TORQUE: 240 Nm/177 lb-ft at 1,600 – 5,000 rpm
(260 Nm/192 lb-ft with Overboost at 1,700 – 4,500 rpm)
ACCELERATION: 0–62 mph: 6.9 seconds
TOP SPEED: 143 mph
Average fuel consumption (combined cycle):48.7 mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 136 g/km

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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