Pros: Excellent engines; impressive fuel economy; nimble handling; fits just about anywhere
Cons: Only two seats; even less cargo space than a regular MINI; can get pricey when loaded with options
What's New: Bluetooth now standard; JCW model adds automatic option
Let's get this out of the way: The 2013 MINI Coupe is all about fashion, which is neither good nor bad; it's just what it is. Essentially the same car as MINI's popular 2-door, 4-seat hatchback, the MINI Cooper Hardtop -- also called the Cooper Coupe -- differs with its shorter and more steeply raked windshield, two fewer seats, baseball-cap style roof and, alas, higher price.
For better or worse, as a 2-seat sport coupe with front-wheel drive, there's nothing else like it on the road. The Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S twins have rear-wheel drive, and the only other sporting 2-seater in this price range is the rear-wheel-drive Mazda MX-5 Miata convertible. Well, that and the 2013 MINI Cooper Roadster, which is essentially this car with a convertible top.
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 Coupe is fun, hip and relatively affordable.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 MINI Cooper Coupe is a 2-door coupe with a hatchback-style trunk (hinged above the rear window, not below it). It comes in three trim levels: base, S and John Cooper Works.
Standard features on the base Cooper Coupe ($21,450) include 15-inch alloy wheels, height-adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, power accessories, a leather-wrapped tilting and telescoping multi-function steering wheel, keyless push-button ignition, a Sport button that enhances steering and throttle response and a 6-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 ($24,750) adds 16-in alloys, a turbocharged engine, a hood scoop, a black mesh grille, fog lamps, dual center outlet exhaust tips, sport front seats and alloy pedals.
The John Cooper Works Coupe ($31,350), also called the JCW Coupe, gets a slew of performance-oriented upgrades, including a more powerful turbocharged engine, 17-in alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, an electronic limited-slip differential program (optional on the other Coupe models), a special sport-tuned suspension and various interior and exterior styling flourishes.
A major MINI selling point is its impressive options list, allowing you to customize it to your liking. We'll spare the entire list, but highlights include 17-in alloys, a sport package with a stiffer suspension, xenon headlamps, a navigation system with a 6.5-in 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 (standard on the Cooper S). The available Recaros are as outstanding as they are expensive. No matter what chairs you choose, however, the raked-back windshield gives the Coupe a sportier feel, yet you still get MINI's familiar upright seating posture, perfectly placed pedals and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel that falls right to hand.
This is not the case with the audio, climate and other controls, which are laid out haphazardly and some of which use toggle switches rather than knobs or buttons. Material quality is hit or miss. We like the enormous, center-mounted speedometer. Do you really want a MINI with a conventional compact car interior? We prefer our MINIs with maximum personality.
The Coupe is strictly a 2-seater, so the only thing behind the front seats is a partition -- preventing the seats from reclining very far -- and the 9.8 cu ft cargo bay. It's the price you pay when you want something this small to look this cool.
Like other MINIs, the Coupe makes Bluetooth connectivity standard for 2013. We're not fans of the optional Harman Kardon stereo, but the base stereo is worse. Offsetting that complaint is a cool option called MINI Connected, which adds a fun-looking infotainment interface inside the center-mounted speedometer. It also gives iPhone users access to an app that can integrate Facebook, Twitter, Internet radio and other services. Navigation can be added to MINI Connected, if you so desire.
Performance & Fuel Economy
All Cooper Coupes feature front-wheel drive and come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic is optional on all (with paddle shifters on S and John Cooper Works versions). Despite the missing back seat, the Coupe weighs roughly the same as the Hardtop, so our impressions of the Coupe's performance are virtually identical
The base Coupe is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy matches that of the Hardtop at 29 miles per gallon 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 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft on temporary overboost when you're flooring it). Fuel economy is an amazing 27/35 mpg with the manual and 26/34 mpg with the automatic transmission.
The John Cooper Works Coupe 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, as we discovered during our long term test with one, but fuel economy drops a bit to 25/33 mpg.
The 2013 MINI Coupe comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and four airbags (front and side).
The Cooper Coupe had not been crash tested stateside as of this writing, but other Cooper models have generally fared well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests. The Cooper Hardtop was deemed Good, its highest score, in frontal offset and rear impacts. The IIHS gave the hardtop its second-highest rating of Acceptable in side impact and roof strength testing.
Under most circumstances, the MINI Cooper Coupe drives like -- surprise! -- a regular 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.
In spite of its modest power, the base Coupe is actually a rather spry performer, zipping around town with surprising vigor. The automatic transmission slows things down quite a bit, so stick with the satisfying manual shifter unless you want to leave a lot of acceleration on the table. The Cooper S model's turbocharged engine is one of our favorite engines in any car, delivering exuberant acceleration with virtually no turbo lag. It sounds like it's having a great time, too.
The JCW model is an adrenaline-junkie's dream come true. We must note, though, that when we hustled the JCW Coupe hard around a racetrack, the rear end got surprisingly squirrelly in tight corners.
As with other MINIs, the optional sport suspension can make the car too stiff for everyday use -- ditto the 17-in wheels, alluring as they are. A thorough test drive may be in order if you want to check those boxes.
Other Cars to Consider
FIAT 500: While we consider the base 500 ($16,000) and 500c ($19,500) to be a step down from the MINI, they're also a lot cheaper. Meanwhile, the turbocharged 500 Abarth hatchback ($22,000) has a great engine and is almost as quick as a Cooper S Coupe for a little less money.
Mazda MX-5 Miata: The rear-wheel-drive Miata ($23,720) is the quintessential affordable 2-seater, and it's now available with a retractable hardtop for a coupe-like 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 2-seat, rear-wheel-drive BRZ sport coupe ($25,495) 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.
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. Whether you want to step all the way up to the JCW model depends on your budget.