MINI Coupe: First Drive

My first Cooper S

MINI Coupe: Concentrate of MINI

My first MINI was a 2004 Cooper S (Model R53). It was Hyper Blue with a white roof and 17 inch S-lite wheels, complimented by a sunroof and cloth/leather seats.

I remember the thrill of spec’ing the car exactly as I wanted it, and the agonizing four-month wait for it to arrive from Oxford.

This was car unlike any other I had driven before. Diminutive in proportion, cosseting the driver. You didn’t get into it as much as put it on. Every bump and rumble on the tarmac was transmitted from the unforgiving runflat tyres, through the suspension, to the hands of the driver. You felt the road with your butt and the twisties in your gut. It was concentrated driving.

In early 2000, BMW bought Mini from the failing Rover, and the first new MINI was launched 2001/2002. BMW had decided to take on the premium hatch market with the MINI, and Retro Styling was all the rage. The new VW Beetle had done well, gaining cult status.

There were many flaws in the first generation “new” MINI. Rattling dashboards (cured in the 2004 facelift), failing CVT transmissions in early Coopers, and a lot of complaints of the unforgiving ride (made especially harsh by runflat tyres on 17 inch wheels). BMW had inherited and released a car not entirely designed and developed by them, and it showed.

This was remedied in 2006 with the release of the completely reengineered R56. The MINI had come of age. It still looked like a MINI (lots of people could not tell the old model from the new model at first glance), but the ride was refined, and the build quality akin to what one has come to expect from BMW. It was a comfortable ride, and the supercharger in the Cooper S had been replaced by a twin-scroll turbocharger. Fuel economy was much improved across the range, with the new engines designed by BMW and built by Peugeot-Citroen winning several awards. The second generation new MINI was refined.

This was all great, yet I couldn’t help feeling some of the zing my first MINI had was missing. (The cure for that turned out to be driving the MINI John Cooper Works, but that’s another story.)

Enter the MINI Coupe (Codename R58). It is a strict two-seater, with a sharply raked windscreen, short roof (like a baseball cap worn the wrong way round) and a shapely rump with retractable wing.

The styling will polarize. Hate it or love it, no doubt it is distinctive, and head-turning.

Getting into it feels snug, like a glove. The first thing you notice is the rake of the windscreen, then the headspace (courtesy recessed bubbles in the headliner), then the proximity of the rear glass. Everything feels immediate, within reach, concentrated.

Driving the car, the feeling of immediacy is heightened. The bubble that ensconces you leads to an intimate relationship with and the road, your surroundings, and the car. Compared to the Hatch, the Coupe’s handling feels nippier, its steering lighter, and performance sprightlier (even though it’s 80kg heavier due to the additional torsional strengthening added). The zing is back!

Performance of the Cooper S Coupe is provided by the familiar twin-scroll turbo-charged Prince engine found in other MINI Cooper S variants, with an output of 135Kw and 260nm of torque. The engine is especially punchy in second gear, with the rorty exhaust note accompanying the torque shove.

The loss of two seats means you get a bigger boot. There is a ski-flap for quick access to the boot from inside the car – very useful for stashing goodies out of sight while inside the car.

While the distinctive styling sets the car apart from other MINI visually, for me, the greatest impact is felt inside the car. Side- and rear vision is severely impaired by the low rake of the roof and small side glass, making it difficult to check your blind-spot when merging lanes. Above 80km/h the rear wing raises, further obstructing the view from the rear-view mirror. Thankfully the side mirrors offer great rearward vision. These quirks are easily forgiven though, this is a sports coupe, after all. And just look at it!

The distinctive looks and driving dynamics of the MINI Coupe will appeal to differing groups – motoring purists and design aficionados alike – with a taste for zing.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Derick Simpson at Lyndhurst Auto MINI for making our drive possible! Call Derick on 011 430 3129 to get your MINI!

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One Response to MINI Coupe: First Drive

  1. sean 7 November 2011 at 11:35 #

    Great drive!!! looks good!!!!!! MUST HAVE!!!!!!!!!!

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