Polarising looks, but Mini is a fun flier

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 12:25 26/09/2012
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BMW Mini Coupe

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Perhaps this is the best way to describe the Mini Coupe. When you first see the car your immediate reaction might be 'Oh, my'. Then, when you first drive the car, your immediate reaction is likely to be 'My, oh my!'

The Oh My reaction might be because this new Mini offering by owner BMW is so out-there in its looks that initially it might be difficult not to burst out laughing.

I know I laughed. I mean, really. When I first laid my eyes on the little car my immediate impression was that its designers had essentially taken a perfectly good Mini and chopped it, turning it into a two-seater featuring what the company calls a "helmet" roof that sits atop very raked front and rear glass.

Further, the model I had for road test not only had a red roof over a metallic white bodyshell, but it had red double racing stripes and red wing mirrors as well. And the Coupe's pronounced wheel arches were matt black, and they folded over big 17-inch alloy wheels.

The BMW blurb might have told me that the Mini Coupe represents a fascinating injection of variety into the super-compact sports car class, and that it is a new expression of the Mini design that offers extremely high emotional appeal, but as far as I was initially concerned the car looked more like a caricature than anything else.

Even worse, I had to drive the thing. So I climbed into the extroverted little vehicle, took in the unusual interior which has several design features that hark back to the original Mini of the late 1950s such as a big central speedometer and toggle-style switches on the centre console, and I started it up.

It was then that it began to dawn on me that this car might also be capable of causing a 'My, oh my!' reaction.

That was because my test Mini Coupe was a John Cooper Works model that had several modifications to the 1.6-litre BMW/PSA twin-scroll turbocharged engine under its stubby little bonnet, all of which result in its being capable of developing 155 kilowatts of power and 260 newton metres of torque - and an overboost function allows this to increase to 280 Nm for short periods of time.

That's a lot of grunt for a car so small. And so it was with renewed interest that I put the Coupe's close-ratio six speed manual into first, and headed off out into the countryside.

It didn't take long at all for me to realise that this car can really fly. The Mini Coupe JCW can accelerate to 100 kmh in just 6.4 seconds, and it has a top speed of 240 kmh. And if you have time to look out the rear-vision mirror while hanging on for dear life as the Coupe does this sort of thing, you'll notice that the car also features a large rear spoiler that pops up out of the boot once you pass 80 kmh.

The purpose of that spoiler is to reduce lift at the back wheels when the car is travelling at really high speeds. Frankly I have no idea if it works or not, because I found myself very busy concentrating on keeping this Mini on track - its sporty suspension, big tyres and short wheelbase seemed to constantly combine forces to pick up every road surface imperfection and present a quite nervous ride.

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But what fun! As I belted around some favourite country roads, I spent far too much time rowing through the gears using the Mini's lovely manual, and listening to the Coupe's raspy exhaust note, which even crackled during deceleration or on a trailing throttle.

John Cooper would have been pleased.

The man who co-founded the Cooper Car Company in the United Kingdom and who was responsible for development of the beloved Mini Cooper and Cooper S models, was said to have lamented late in his life that he felt the fun had gone out of motorsport.

Well, he wouldn't have been able to make that complaint with this car.

Instead, he'd have been happy that John Cooper Works, the company he created shortly before his death in 2000 to produce tuning parts and accessories for various versions of the new BMW Mini, has succeeded in doing something special with the Coupe.

At speed out on the open road, it really can perform, although personally I didn't feel too comfortable with its jiggly ride at pace on less-than-perfect seal. But I was comforted by the fact the car boasts a high level of safety including stability control, and ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution.

The around-town performance is good, too. In fact, it appealed as an impressively flexible car that offers a good level of specification.

Standard items include park distance control, xenon headlights, sports seats, automatic air conditioning, and full connectivity. Our test model also carried $5000 worth of options including a neat little Mini navigation system, so overall it all added up to a comfortable and luxurious ride.

This vehicle takes its place against the likes of the Audi TT and Peugeot RCZ in the sporty little coupe segment of New Zealand's new vehicle market, and from the performance and appointment perspectives it is a very competitive machine for its $67,200 price.

But from the perspective of looks? Well, that's where I start having a little trouble with this car, because I simply don't like those lines.

So is it an 'Oh My' car, or is it 'My, Oh My'? Your choice.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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