Last year, after our first drive in the 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, we were instantly struck by the fun factor that came with this itty-bitty Cooper. So, when BMW suggested that we take a deeper look at the car's reliability and long-term practicality, our team jumped at the chance to spend a full year with it.

Now, 12 months and nearly 17,000 miles later, our JCW Coupe has seen multiple autocross rallies, weekends filled with mountain roads and even a handful of road trips. But where does the MINI Coupe shine, and where does it fall short?

The Good

When it comes to driving the Coupe, every person we've put behind wheel has come back with the same opinion: It's fun. And when we say "fun," we don't just mean that it's nice to drive to and from work; it's wildly, insanely, edge-of-your-seat entertaining. The John Cooper Works model comes tuned up with a big turbocharger, is good for 208 horsepower, has big brakes for ample stopping power and has a big, bad suspension that makes cornering an art form. The Coupe is just one of those cars that had us driving a little too fast and a little too spiritedly all the time, and we've loved every minute of it.

Despite the Coupe's racy nature, we've found ourselves pretty satisfied with its fuel economy, too. Granted, we haven't tasted anything near 40 mpg and it does require premium gasoline, but we won't complain about the combined 31 mpg we've enjoyed while driving around pretty aggressively. On weeks where we were gentle with the car, it saw upwards of 36 mpg on the highway, and on weekends where all we wanted was a good time on mountain passes, we saw as little as 19. Even so, for the sheer amount of enjoyment that came from that little 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, we're walking away with a pretty high fun-per-gallon ratio.

Perhaps the best part about driving the Coupe in its first year of production has been the joy of flaunting its unique styling around town. The MINI owners community is vast, but many of these MINI motorers hadn't seen the new coupe before we pulled into gas stations and parking lots or simply stopped at traffic lights. In the past year, the Coupe has garnered dozens of waves, thumbs-ups and smiles, and if you were willing to stand around for a few minutes, it provided an easy conversation-starter, too. The Mini Coupe is popular, it ought to have its own Facebook check-in. We were asked most often if it was a hardtop convertible (it's not), but we understand why the roof design might confuse a few folks. And oh, the self-deploying spoiler came with rave reviews from every MINI owner we met. If nothing else, the deviation from the normal MINI design has been a huge hit and has made at least a few of our drivers a handful of new friends along the way.

The Bad

If you're shopping for a car like a pre-owned Porsche Cayman, the MINI might make for an interesting alternative. However, if you're thinking about the Coupe as a practical small car, put that thought to rest. It's not. As a 2-seat sports car, it also comes with 2-seat sports car inconveniences. The seats are comfortable, but they can't fully recline. The trunk is surprisingly spacious, but oversized items won't fit.

We were also left feeling a little uncomfortable with the Coupe's massive blind spots. While forward-facing visibility was acceptable, we found ourselves second guessing lane-changes and receiving less-than-friendly honks from time to time as we merged. The rear window is small, and can doesn't give you a full view of what's behind. Plus, the rear spoiler automatically pops up at speeds over 55 mph. It's a real concern of ours, and you'll have to make sure that the funky styling is worth the potential compromise in safety before you buy the Coupe.

The price on the MINI JCW Coupe is what gives us real commitment issues, though. Our car came with a handful of niceties like xenon headlights, leather seats and the navigation system with MINI Connected Drive, but for $38,350, it should have. But where were the heated/power seats, automatic climate control or push-button start? They're all options, but it would take nearly $45,000 to get us there. We think that's just too much money for this little car. Reasonable alternatives include cars like the Infiniti G37, Audi TT or BMW 1 Series for the same cash. Now, keep in mind that the base MINI Coupe only costs $22,000 to get into, but options drive the price up quickly, and the car finds itself competing against luxury sport coupes in a hurry. The JCW treatment alone adds about $10,000 to the price of the base car.

The Takeaway

If you're looking for an immensely fun and unique little car with a cool community of owners and tons of style to boot, the MINI John Cooper Works Coupe is a great way to go. We've really enjoyed it, and it's proven to be very reliable along the way. The endearing little car keeps both driver and passenger entertained, earns lots of smiles and may even save a few pennies at the gas pump. However, if a tight budget is your primary concern, it might make more sense to take a look at less expensive alternatives like the Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, Hyundai Genesis Coupe or even the Ford Mustang.

author photo

Davis Adams is a writer and content producer for the AutoTrader.com editorial team. Previously, he helped craft digital media for several automotive industry brands, including Consumer Reports, Toyota and Porsche. Davis feels at home on the track, and he owns a 2006 Lotus Elise that has seen its fair share of autocross courses.

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