MINI Coupe: Strong & Fresh

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to talk to Marcus Syring, head of Exterior Design for MINI.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to talk to Marcus Syring, head of Exterior Design for MINI. And he told me that based on the design language that has been developed for MINI, “I could design you a coffee machine.”

The 2012 MINI Coupe isn’t a coffee machine. Not by a long shot.

But it is strong. And fresh.

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The first Mini* was designed in 1957 by Alec Issigonis. It went into production, at British Motor Corp. (BMC), in 1959.

In subsequent years there have been all manner of Minis. Even as vans and pickups.

In subsequent years, the ownership of the vehicle known as “Mini” has been about as varied as the body architectures. BMW took control of the Rover Group, which had the car, in 1994. In 2000, BMW offloaded the brands of the group (e.g., MG, Land Rover) but hung onto Mini. And in 2001, the first gen of the new gen of MINI* was launched.

And in subsequent years, there have been the Clubman, Convertible, and Countryman. Or wagon, ragtop, and crossover.

Now they have come with something that is stylistically different. Significantly.

Not a coffee machine.

A coupe.

And while that may not seem all that much a stretch, know this:

It is a MINI with a three-box architecture.

That sort of thing hasn’t been seen since the days of the Mini-derived Riley Elf of the ‘60s.

Of course, compared to what most vehicles with the three-box form look like compared with the MINI Coupe. . .well, it really is more like a 2.5-box at most.

*Pre-BMW, lower case. With BMW, the all upper case. Sort of like BMW-competitor Mercedes’ all lower-case smart.

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A word about the word “Cooper.”

Some people might think that MINI and “Mini Cooper” are synonymous. Which is not the case.

There was a gentleman named John Cooper. He ran the Cooper Car Company in the U.K., which he had founded with his father in 1948. Among Cooper’s friends was Alec Issigonis.

The Cooper Car Company didn’t make production cars. It made race cars. Open-wheeled and rally cars. Cooper thought that the Mini would make a good rally car. And in 1961, the Mini Cooper debuted. And it did go racing. And the MINI continues to go racing.

So the point is, the “Mini Cooper” was a version of the Mini. And the Mini Cooper S was a more powerful variant of the Mini Cooper.

Today there is the John Cooper Works version of the MINI. And there is an S.

John Cooper, incidentally, died in 2000. And to close the loop regarding the originals: Alec Issigonis died in 1988.

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The marketing phrase used by MINI to differentiate its vehicles from other small cars, cars that tend to be somewhat anemic vis-à-vis performance, is “go-kart-like.” Presumably this means such things as light and lithe, quick and responsive.

Yes, go-karts are often the first step along a race drivers route to bigger and more powerful things, but chances are there aren’t a whole lot of MINI buyers who have had much in the way of karting experiences.

Still, it is a resonant image.

Some people are a bit critical of the MINI Countryman, the crossover variant, for being insufficiently go-kart-like. (Of course, given that it has a curb weight of as much as 3,252 lb. when equipped with an automatic transmission and that’s not too surprising.)

So the engineers went to work on the Coupe. Some on the suspension. Some on the powertrain.

Like this: The front suspension is based on MacPherson struts. It is multi-link in the rear. The control arms are aluminum. Anti-roll bars are deployed. The car has a low center of gravity, long (97.1-in.) wheelbase, and a 57.4-in. front and 57.8-in. rear track widths. The car uses electric power steering, with an active return-to-center function and speed-sensitive power-assist. There are disc brakes all around (with disc diameters being predicated on the Coupe model selected). Dynamic stability control (DSC) is standard; it integrates antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control, brake assist, and hill start assist. Available is a dynamic traction control system with integrated electronic differential lock control; the former allows a degree of controlled wheel slip during conditions like being stuck in the snow or during cornering, while the latter, which is engaged when the DSC is turned off, controls the braking of a drive wheel that is starting to spin during hard cornering so that traction is improved without negatively impacting the steering characteristics.

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Like this: The base engine is a 1.6-liter that produces 121 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 118 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm. There is a fully variable valve management system (BMW’s VALVETRONIC) that adjusts engine breathing for performance (0 to 60 mph, 8.3 seconds) and efficiency (29/37 mpg estimated with a six-speed manual). The S Coupe also has a 1.6-liter engine, but this one has a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection so that it produces 181 hp @ 5,500 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm. Top speed: 142 mph. And the 1.6-liter in the John Cooper Works has a modified turbocharger compared to the S (among other mods, like sodium-filled exhaust valves); it produces 208 hp @ 6,000 rpm and maximum torque is 192 lb-ft starting at 1,850 rpm unless you actuate the overboost function, which brings it to 207 lb-ft starting at 2,000 rpm for a short period.

Yes, go-kart-like. A really well performing go-kart.

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Then there are the speed cues. Like the integrated roof spoiler and the active rear spoiler (hit 50 mph and it extends). Like the dual oval recesses in the headliner over the driver and passenger seats (you can imagine helmets being worn).

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But while this is a car that is made to be driven if not fast, then in a spirited manner, it is also a 2012 model year car. Which means that technology is de rigueur. So those opting for the MINI Visual Boost radio or the MINI navigation system can access Internet-based services via MINI Connected. This means things like Google local search and Google Send to Car; it means RSS feeds on the monitor, as well as Facebook and Twitter posts.

And so on.

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One thing is clear: The MINI Coupe is, well, a MINI. You can’t mistake that design language for anything else.