Pros: Excellent engines; impressive fuel economy; nimble handling; fits just about anywhere

Cons: Only two seats; even less cargo space than a regular Mini

Introduction

Let's get this out of the way at the start: the 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe is all about fashion. We're not saying that's good or bad; it's just the way it is. At heart, the Cooper Coupe is essentially the same car as Mini's ubiquitous two-door hatchback, the Cooper Hardtop. But the Coupe boasts a more steeply raked windshield and a uniquely funky roof. It also has two fewer seats and a higher price.

Whatever our personal opinions may be about the Coupe, we have to admit that there's nothing else like it on the road. Don't believe us? Try to think of another two-seat sport coupe with front-wheel drive. The Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S twins are rear-wheel drive, and the only other sporting two-seater in this price range is the rear-wheel-drive Mazda MX-5 Miata, which also happens to be a convertible. Mini deserves credit for having the gumption to build this thing in the first place.

Yes, the Coupe makes little sense as a daily driver, especially given that the Cooper Hardtop delivers a comparable driving experience in a considerably more useful package. But who says car buying has to be about practicality? The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe makes a visual statement, and if that's how you like to roll, the Cooper Coupe is a rewarding and relatively affordable option.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe is a two-door coupe with a hatchback trunk. It comes in three trim levels: base, S and John Cooper Works.

Standard features on the base Cooper Coupe include 15-inch alloy wheels, height-adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, power accessories, a leather-wrapped tilting and telescoping multifunction steering wheel, keyless push-button ignition, a Sport button that enhances steering and throttle response and a six-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input and HD and satellite radio. The main upgrade over the Cooper Hardtop is the Coupe's standard retractable rear spoiler.

The Cooper S Coupe adds 16-inch alloys, a turbocharged engine, a hood scoop, a black mesh grille, foglamps, dual center-outlet exhaust tips, sport front seats and alloy pedals.

The John Cooper Works Coupe gets a slew of performance-oriented upgrades, including a more powerful turbocharged engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, an electronic limited-slip program called Electronic Differential Lock Control (optional on Cooper Coupe and Cooper S Coupe), a special sport-tuned suspension and various interior and exterior styling flourishes.

A major Mini selling point is the ability to have your new Cooper Coupe built exactly the way you want it. We'll spare you a reading of the Coupe's entire extensive options list, but some of the highlights for Cooper and Cooper S are 17-inch alloys, a sport package with a stiffer suspension, xenon headlamps, Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity, a navigation system with a 6.5-inch display, leather upholstery, Recaro sport seats and a premium Harman Kardon audio system.

The base Coupe's standard front seats don't offer much lateral support, so we greatly prefer the optional sport seats (which are standard on the Cooper S). The available Recaros are awesome, naturally, but they also cost about three grand. No matter what chairs you choose, we love the Coupe's driving position. The raked-back windshield gives the Coupe a sportier feel, but you still get Mini's familiar upright seating posture, perfectly placed pedals and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel that falls low and straight above your lap, right where it should be.

Alas, we can't claim the same appreciation for the audio and climate controls, which are laid out haphazardly and many of which employ stylish but frustrating toggle switches rather than proper knobs or buttons. Materials quality is also hit or miss. We're fans of the enormous center-mounted speedometer, though, and we think you should be, too. Do you really want a Mini with a conventional BMW-style interior? We prefer our Minis with maximum personality.

The Coupe is strictly a two-seater, so the only thing behind the front seats is the stingy 9.8-cubic-foot cargo bay.

Technology

Like other Minis, the Coupe makes you pay extra for Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity, which we find mildly insulting in 2012. We're not fans of the optional Harman Kardon stereo, but the base stereo is considerably worse, so it might be worth upgrading anyway. On the bright side, there's a cool option called Mini Connected, which adds a fun-looking information and entertainment interface in the middle of the center speedometer. It also gives iPhone users access to an app that can integrate Facebook, Twitter, Internet radio and a variety of other services.

Navigation can be added to Mini Connected if you want, but we figure that if you've got a smartphone that works with Mini Connected, you already have access to Google Maps and the like, so you probably don't need to pay extra for Mini's maps and directions.

Performance & Fuel Economy

All Cooper Coupes feature front-wheel drive and start with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional on all but the John Cooper Works, which is manual only. Despite the missing back seat, the Coupe weighs roughly the same as the Hardtop, so our impressions of the Coupe's performance are identical

The base Coupe is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. Like most BMW engines, this one punches above its weight, so the base Coupe is actually a rather sprightly performer, zipping around town with surprising vigor. Stick with the satisfying manual shifter, though, unless you want to leave a lot of acceleration on the table. Fuel economy matches that of the Hardtop at 29 mpg city/37 mpg highway with the manual and 28/36 mpg with the automatic.

The Cooper S Coupe upgrades to a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 that cranks out 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft on temporary overboost when you're flooring it). This is one of our favorite engines in any car, delivering exuberant acceleration with virtually no lag thanks to a twin-scroll turbocharger and some BMW engineering magic. It sounds like it's having a great time, too. Fuel economy is an amazing 27/35 mpg with the manual and 26/34 mpg with the automatic transmission.

The manual-only John Cooper Works gets an upgraded version of the 1.6-liter turbo with 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque (207 lb-ft on overboost). The extra power is palpable, but fuel economy drops a bit to 25/33 mpg.

Safety

The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and four airbags (front and side).

The Cooper Coupe had not been crash tested stateside as of this writing.

Driving Impressions

Under most circumstances, the Mini Cooper Coupe drives like-surprise!-a Mini Cooper. All of its responses are fully caffeinated, especially when you hit the little Sport button next to the shifter, which tightens up throttle and steering calibrations. Few cars are as engaging as a Mini, even if you're just running errands. We must note, though, that when we pushed a John Cooper Works Coupe hard on a racetrack, the rear end got surprisingly squirrelly in tight corners, which we can't explain. The Coupe supposedly carries slightly more of its weight up front than even the nose-heavy Hardtop, so understeer should be the order of the day. As with other Minis, we recommend avoiding the optional sport suspension; the one thing the base suspension doesn't need is less ride compliance. Ditto the 17-inch wheels, alluring as they are.

Other Cars to Consider

FIAT 500 - While we consider the base 500 and 500c to be a step down from the Mini, they're also a lot cheaper. Meanwhile, the turbocharged 500 Abarth hatchback has a great engine and is almost as quick, if not as athletic, as a Cooper S Coupe for a little less money.

Mazda MX-5 Miata - The rear-wheel-drive Miata is the quintessential affordable two-seater, and it's now available with a retractable hard top for a coupelike experience. We'd be hard pressed to pick a Cooper Coupe over a Miata for the same price.

Subaru BRZ - If you can find one on your local dealer's lot, the two-seat, rear-wheel-drive BRZ sport coupe is worth a try. It costs as much as a well-equipped Cooper S Coupe, but it's every bit a match for the Mini through the corners, with proper rear-drive dynamics besides.

AutoTrader Recommends

We don't see the point of buying a Cooper Coupe without the turbocharged engine. This isn't a practical car, so you might as well go all out under the hood. Heck, we'd make ours a John Cooper Works. Why not?

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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