By on April 11, 2012


We have at least two dandies on staff who make Beau Brummel look like Christian Audiger, what with their Zegna blazers and tailored shirts and handmade shoes and watches that aren’t also calculators. In the ordinary course of things, I leave it in their capable, well-manicured hands to wax eloquent on the concept of style.

As far as I’m concerned, clothes are just something which keep me from
(a) freezing
and
(b) being arrested.

However, even with such a clear disclaimer to my limited scope where fashion is concerned, I feel it necessary to point out at least one simple rule: if you walk around all day wearing a baseball hat turned around backwards, you’ll look like an idiot. Or Fred Durst.
Wait, that’s redundant.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. Mini’s latest model exists not because it is materially better-handling or faster or even lighter than the Classic Cooper from whence it sprang, but because it is stylier. Like, they put more style in it.

I hesitate to cast too many aspersions, being somewhat fat and definitely ginger, but I’d have to say the results are a bit… mixed. Surely you, dear reader, who are possessed of eyes, can come to your own conclusions on the matter. I think it looks like someone sat on it.

Still, from many angles the MINI coupé is actually not too bad looking. If you put up the deployable spoiler for instance. Or look at your feet.

And if getting attention is your thing, then good news! I once actually returned to my tester to find two ladies having an impromptu photo-session with it. Admittedly, it was a bit more Absolutely Fabulous than America’s Next Top Skeleton: apparently Grandma’s a Limp Bizkit fan.

But enough nattering about the looks, let’s jump in the little tyke and take ‘er for a rip!

First: who designed this interior, Flavor Flav? Or possibly Fisher-Price?

Second: who cares? Everything you’ve heard about one Mini interior, you’ve heard about all the others. They’re cartoonish and fiddly and whatever the exact opposite of ergonomic is. Blergonomic.

Add to that the cut-down cockpit of the Mini coupé and embrace the added impracticality of rear blind-spots like an Imperial Star Destroyer and a pillbox front view. Is the light green yet? Better stick your head out the window to check. I am not an overly tall person, but when first in line at the lights, I learned to follow the lead of the cross-traffic.

Ticking off a few more demerits, cargo space: pretty negligible. Ride quality: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Mix in a back parcel shelf that rattles like an Army of Darkness can-can line and you might think I’ve little love lost for the two-seater Mini. But you’d be wrong.

Like a dream. Like a go-kart. Like it’s on rails.

When it comes to handling clichés, take your pick and apply it to this latest member of the MINI range: the Cooper S coupé. Just don’t expect to make any sense.

This ain’t no go-kart: it grips over bumpy pavement rather than skittering sideways like a skipped stone. And as for going around a bend on rails, Thomas the Tank Engine would flop over on his flank at half the g’s that a Cooper S coupé pulls while scrabbling through a corner.

Depress the Sport button (why should you even have to?) and thrill to the declarative *pop-pop-pop* of improperly combusted fuel. It’s a cheery flatulence that must surely be artificial in some way, given our draconian emissions laws, but try to keep the grin off your face. I dare ya.

No chance. Inasmuch as the Mini coupé is uneasy on the eyes and of greatly reduced practicality, it absolutely wins you over with puppy dog enthusiasm, rorty exhaust note and hyperactive steering. It’s such a hard car to hate, so why would you?

But here’s the thing. Last time I attended fat camp…er… a manufacturer-sponsored car launch, I sat enthralled as a fellow journo listed off the number of interesting ways in which his personal Mini had broken.

These ranged from the “minor niggle” category – wonky signal lights, to the “just take all my money You Bastards” column – supercharger failure, thousand-dollar seat repair, ECU-fritzing. Mini is fairly ho-hum when it comes to any reliability survey you might care to mention. It’s almost as though BMW, with typical German humourlessness, has engineered a little of that British Leyland crappiness charm into each and every little happy-faced Cooper.

And it’s not like I can pull out the old standbys like, “more fun than cars costing twice as much”: this thing is more expensive than a WRX, and not exactly well-optioned. I didn’t play the same game on the US configurator, but in Canada, you can spend upwards of $45K if you tick all the boxes. There’s stuff more expensive by the pound, but not much that’s legal.

So: costly, unreliable, largely impractical, not particularly attractive and somewhat uncomfortable. Can I really recommend this latest Mini?

Not unreservedly, but – well, I suppose it depends on your constitution. It really ought to say on the brochure, “we can offer you nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat – but it’ll be worth it.” It’s not going to be a Honda Civic, but then, it’s not going to be a Honda Civic.

We enthusiasts complain incessantly about the lack of soul of the modern motor car. About how we’d all exchange a little of that relentless Japanese reliability and economy for a spark of frivolity, a frisson of joy, a soupçon of liveliness. Well, with a Mini, that’s what you get.

Frankly, the only things that would make the Mini coupé better, to my mind, were if it was slightly larger, perhaps a useful hatchback. Maybe if it had two small seats in the back, just in case. Maybe if it looked a little more like the original Mini, and –

Oh.

Oh, I see.

MINI provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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80 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mini Cooper S Coupé...”


  • avatar
    probert

    Nicely done. One correction – the Germans do have a sense of humor it’s just not funny.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    Just to point out a double standard here:
    This article (rightly in my opinion) bashes the hell out of this car becuase it offers no benefits and many detractions to the usefullness of an otherwise cheaper standard Mini.

    the Audi A7 is the_exact_same_thing as compared to an A6 with the exact same detractions, but it’s widely liked. The only difference is that the Mini coupe is just plain butt ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I don’t know about the practicality issue, but I was under the impression that the hatchback nature of the A7 made it similarly practical to its plainer sibling.

      The fact that the A7 is nicer looking than its stablemate is an important distinction from this Mini, which loses a pair of seats and looks, in my opinion, ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar

      Looking better is a benefit.

      And you don’t give up too much rear seat room with the A7, while gaining some versatility with the hatch.

      The main thing you give up with the A7 vis-a-vis the A6: another $8,000 of your money.

      I’m glad Brendan reviewed the Coupe. I knew I couldn’t do it such rightfully entertaining justice, so didn’t request one.

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    It’s where the square, totally unmodified Mini body meets the wedgy back glass that the design falls apart. They might have been able to save the thing if they were to somehow redesign the back half of the body to match the canopy, but I suspect there was no budget for it.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Nice review. How long did it take to set up that shot on the tracks? Given the Mini’s limited clearance, going, er, off the rails could have been a minor catastrophe.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      Well, that’s a bit of sleight-of-hand at a crossing. Took a little while to get it lined up, but didn’t actually put it “on the rails”, as I wasn’t entirely convinced a train wouldn’t come by and hit it, thus COMPLETELY IMPROVING THE STYLING.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike the Dog

        You had little to fear from a train. Judging by the rust on top of the rails, that spur hasn’t been used in quite some time. A pity, because I agree that a slight remodel at the hands of a GE diesel-electric locomotive would probably help the looks immensely.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice read. Where were the photos taken? One should never underestimate the appeal of style, however. About 6 months ago, there was a discussion in my household about my replacing my 10 year old Z3, which, though largely reliable and still fun to drive was just not a practical 2nd car (it had been a 3rd car when acquired). No back seat, and I can’t even take the dog somewhere in it unless I strap him into the passenger seat (something that both of us find kinda dubious). So, my wife suggests a MINI — there are several in the neighborhood, mostly Clubmen. Sez me: “Well, they cute and fun to drive. But they ride harder than my Z3 (which you complain about), they’re not reliable and they’re expensive to fix (just like my Z3).” Brief silence. Then, from her “I’d like to drive one.”

    We’ve had this conversation several times, and it always goes the same.

    Meanwhile, I’ve kept the Z because I know its faults and issues; and I don’t want to deal with a whole new set of issues. And I consider it telling that alone among so-called Luxury car manufacturers, MINI does not have any kind of CPO program. That tells me something, and it’s not good.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Bruce, the photos were taken in West Vancouver pretty much underneath the North end of the Lions Gate Bridge:
      http://maps.google.ca/maps?hl=en&ll=49.321094,-123.137121&spn=0.002769,0.006968&hnear=Vancouver,+Greater+
      Vancouver+Regional+District,+British+Columbia&t=h&z=18

      • 0 avatar
        Brendan McAleer

        That’s the place. not sure I was REALLY supposed to be there, but there wasn’t any signage. Are you a North Shore resident, Mr. Cat-wearing-headphones?

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        What happened to the animation with your cat? ;-) I don’t think my cat would ever let me get away with putting headphones on him . . . and he’s a pretty forgiving and tolerant guy (he lives with a dog; he has to be).

        I figured this to be in the Canadian Pacific NW, given that Brendan is a Canadian and this didn’t look like the parts of Atlantic Canada that I have seen.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      The Clubman’s longer wheelbase (compared to the hatchback, er, hardtop) makes for a decent ride if you avoid the sport suspension/17″ wheel upgrades. I took a few long trips in ours and found it quite comfortable. That was with run-flats, getting rid of those should help too. Stay away from the turbo and it’s probably no less reliable than your Z.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Gotta correct myself here. MINI does have a CPO program, called “MINI NEXT,” but, at least in this area, dealers seem to use it very infrequently.

    • 0 avatar
      Buck_Futter

      MINI does in fact have a Certified Pre-Owned program BOTH in Canada and the United States. It’s called MINI NEXT

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Very amusing. Thanks for the laugh, especially the reference to ‘America’s Next Top Skeleton.’

  • avatar
    wsn

    I never sat in this perticular model, but the regular Mini Cooper is the most uncomfortable car I have ever been in (driver’s seat). The seat is too short and can’t be tilted back enough, the headrest was basically supporting my shoulder blades. And I am only 5’11″. The car is essentially for people under 5′. The transmission wasn’t good either, as I pressed gas harder and harder, the car barely moved and then suddenly shot forward. Not what I would call a linear acceleration. To be very honest, it’s not as good as the rental Ford Excel we had in 1995.

    Obviously, Englishmen don’t know how to build a car (as they all went bankrupt) and Germans don’t know how to build a low end car.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    “Still, from many angles the MINI coupé is actually not too bad looking.”

    I wish you had included one. Or left this one on the tracks.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I’m sure this car is a blast to drive, but who is responsible for that roofline? A clamp-on hardtop for a Mazda MX5 looks quite natural. Compared to this, it is downright beautiful.

    The roof kills any interest in this set of wheels for me, as I see no reason to choose this over a standard Mini. The roof looks like another take on the Toyota FJ Cruiser back roof, which the Clubman mimicked as well. Neither works in my design book.

    Other than that, the car does look like a hoot to drive, and I won’t pass final judgment until I see one up close and personal.

    Next time, include a full shot of the locomotive, as railroad photos are great, too.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Zackman: “Next time, include a full shot of the locomotive, as railroad photos are great, too.”

      Were you trying to be funny or was that a comment upon the styling of the Mini coupe?

      6:35 AM and I am on the floor laughing. My family thinks I had a stroke or something.

      Thanks, I needed that…

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @Geozinger:

        Absolutely dead-serious! I love trains, too, especially passenger trains – our kids grew up on Amtrak in the ’80′s when we lived in the St. Louis area. I’ve only been able to travel on a train twice since moving to Cincinnati, back in the ’90′s.

        BTW, the locomotive DOES have more “style” than the Mini coupe!

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Zackman: so you ARE saying the locomotive looks better…

        I’d agree!

  • avatar
    John R

    Eh, somehow this is an automotive equivalent of Rack City…as sung by the Chipmunks. I think they tried to hard.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    “I think it looks like someone sat on it.”

    AGREED.

    It also gives the feeling that there’s no room inside. I get that same feeling whenever I see a Triumph or Austin-Healey: ‘how the heck does a normal-sized adult FIT in there?’

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      In college, my buddy and I (both 6’4″) and our two women friends all rode in a TR-4. We did not have the top up. And, more recently, I recall riding a short distance in an A-H 3000 with two others, who were perhaps a few inches shorter than I.

      Both of these cars had a vestigial back seat, unlike today’s roadsters. Hell, if I owned either one of them today, I could take my wife and my dog out for a drive . . . something I can’t do in my Z3 (the dog is definitely too big to be a lap dog).

      In both of these cars, the front passenger footwells extend forward into the engine compartment on either side of the engine, rather than having a flat “firewall” bulkhead between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment. Since there was no ventilation down there, this made the cars rather warm in the summer, but it was that design element that allowed the cars to have reasonable leg room and a back seat of sorts.

    • 0 avatar
      straightsix

      I’m 6’2″ and fit in a Triumph TR6 just fine. I won’t say I have tons of room but it’s comfortable for multi-hour drives.

      As for the Mini, any Mini, I can’t get past the interior, especially the instrument cluster.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    That was great, Brendan. I really wasn’t expecting the ‘Spanish inquisition,’ and that prompted a hearty and honest chuckle.

    I actually like most Minis, but this one even I’m not sure about. Frivolous decadence squared? (Maybe that very thing will give it a certain cache amongst more ‘discerning’ folks…)

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    Another great review from Brendan. What fun! More, please.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Agree wholeheartedly. Mini Coopers are fun cars but this was a model nobody asked for. It takes away the day to day practicality of the Cooper S without really adding anything to the performance side of the equation.

  • avatar
    ajla

    So are the Cooper S models now more fun to drive than the 328i?

    Or has it been that way for awhile now?

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    The net effect would be better if they ditched the ridiculous, CUV-esque plastic fairing all along the bottom in favor of straight painted metal. That was a design failure that will clearly be evident in five years when it has all faded to a brittle, light-gray texture.

    • 0 avatar
      4LiterLexus

      When I visited my parents in Chicago last month, I noticed that the plastic cladding around the wheel wells of Mom’s ’03 Cooper was fading a little. Still, considering that she parks it outside, the overall condition of the paint was outstanding. Zero rust, and the rock chips/scratches were not deep at all. The plastics and paint used on the MINI seem every bit as nice as those on a real BMW.

      On the mechanical front, things have been less than stellar. The power steering pump burned out in December, sending alarming amounts of smoke pouring out of the hood. Hopefully she sells the car before the CVT throws in the towel.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    Any ‘before’ pictures? Before it got into the train wreck?

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    It’s not as if BMW didn’t have a precedent for what a coupé version of the Mini might look like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini_Marcos

    Mr. MacAleer did a much better job of reviewing this car that the piece I read in the ‘Your Car’ section of my local paper this morning.

  • avatar
    SV

    My takeaway from this is that the best Mini is still the classic Cooper. Which, incidentally, has had a pretty solid reliability record in Consumer Reports surveys for the last 5 years, I’d guess because of the lack of a turbo. TrueDelta results have been iffier though.

  • avatar
    a44v589

    I have a 2010 Cooper S hardtop.

    I was in for service last week (recall, water pump issue, the only time it’s been in for non-routine service since I got the car) and sat in a Coupe they had in the showroom. I didn’t like the visibility. The normal Cooper S has great visibility, you can see out of it everywhere. The Coupe has very poor sightlines out of the car, I wouldn’t want to drive one in heavy traffic.

    From the top of the door down it’s pretty much the same car as mine though. You just lose all the visibility and practicality you get with the hatchback and gain…not much.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    The top looks like it’s been scalped by injuns. (yeah, yeah, let’s send me to the Inquisition)

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    The lease deals for 36 months are pretty attractive for a lightly optioned Cooper Hatch. One wouldn’t cost a whole lot more per month to own (including down payment) compared to the depreciation & maintenance on my E46 (which I own). Not to mention better fuel mileage with the base engine.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    One comment as regards the fuel economy. I didn’t put a great deal of mileage on the Coupe in my time with it: mostly stop and go, zippy city stuff. The fuel gauge is this round “petal” arrangement, and in the whole week, I only used up one “petal”. When I re-brimmed the tank before drop-off, it took a little over 20L (~5 gallons)of fuel. That’s a bit weird, as it’s only a 13 gallon tank.

    • 0 avatar
      akitadog

      That sounds like some of MINI’s wonderful built-in character (ask me how I know). You would have REALLY found it weird had you sputtered to a stop with a “half-tank” left.

  • avatar
    imag

    *Fantastic* review. Would read again.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    The view from the front looks good but the side & rear views just kill it. Kinda hard to believe (at least for me) they actually put it on the market with this styling. Bleech……

    Without a doubt one of the worst looking cars I have ever seen, maybe the worst.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    You know what I find funny? Whenever there is an article about a Toyota or Scion with its high-centrally placed instrument cluster, you get pages of comments harping on how horrible that is. But nobody ever makes a peep about the Mini’s far worse placement of the speedo down low and in the middle (the Toyota’s instrument is actually above the steering wheel and slightly canted towards the driver). Worse still, the tach is in a totally different place. Yet nobody ever says anything about that. Why is that?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      >>. Worse still, the tach is in a totally different place. Yet nobody ever says anything about that. Why is that?

      Probably because with a just a couple of button presses, the speed is displayed on the digital display located on the tach. So if you have an issue with the location of the analog speedometer, there is an easy remedy.

      For me, a center display speedometer in a very small car isn’t an issue. If the car was a 72 Eldorado, it might be a problem. On a small car the center is well within the field of view of drivers without severe glaucoma issues.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Brendan, Did you find the coupe to be ANY different from the Classic Mini in handling or performance?

    If not, to me this thing is just ugly. The Classic looks great, it is already almost a coupe, I dont really see a need for this one at all. Maybe as a convertible 2-seat “Spyder”… losing the roof improves the look dramatically, although the softtop up on the coupe looks even more like a baseball cap (ala Porsche 986 Cabrio).

  • avatar
    Mzdaspd304

    The rims on these look like welded together horseshoes. Interesting.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    That last sentence makes a car with “soul” sound like a bad thing, I’m a car guy but I’d much rather have something that works than something built to dry-out my bank account.

    This Mini itself is… who wanted this again? Does the more round roof give better areodynamics? I don’t find it to be all that ugly, just unneccesary.

    The dash on the other hand is the same one that you’ll find in other Minis, and I never cared for it. Almost every guage is unreadable and its totally impractical. It looks like it was built of toys you’d find at your local Goodwill.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Fuh-uh-uh-uh-uh-gly. The interior too. Glad it drives well.

    Rumor has it the next gen Mini loses the Battlestar Gallactica dash. Thank you Jeebus.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    My boss’s wife bought one a few months ago…I didn’t say anything when she asked me what I thought of it…It’s one of the ugliest beasts I have ever seen.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Indeed, a great read.

    I like the looks of the MINI, though the current dash has GOT to go and I’d be just as happy with the base MINI probably with the manual.

    That said, this… THING is atrocious. The top does indeed look like a baseball cap put on backwards and I’ve never totally understood that, or even worse, when kids wear them sideways – and with the label still on the bill, what’s up with that?

    But I love how you kept going back how much fun this car is to drive and how it put a smile on your face despite the likely artificial popping noises of the exhaust in its rorty state.

    I’d love more of this kind of review wherever appropriate.

  • avatar

    “Is the light green yet?”

    Don’t you younguns know about a Signal Finder? Vintage auto accessory popular for chopped rods.

    http://www.julianos.com/signal_finder.html

  • avatar
    NateR

    I’ve seen a ton of these on the road in Abu Dhabi recently. I think they’re being purchased by the same people who buy the Range Rover Evoque (i.e. people with more money than taste, and a burning desire to have something “unique” in a town where a Porsche 911 doesn’t draw a second glance from anyone but a gearhead).

    I think they’re hideous, but I’m obviously not in the target demographic, so what do I know?

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      I think you nailed the target market exactly

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      Pretty much. A coworker of mine here in Korea just bought last week. I can’t get over how ugly that back end is and how he’d have been better off with the Cooper S. OTOH, there aren’t many of these things running around town here, yet.

      But I can’t talk too much because the two salesman who delivered his vehicle talked me into a test drive of the Countryman S they also came in which was followed by a deposit on one. I’ll take delivery Monday. :/ Guess I’m not getting a the Scirocco R-line.

  • avatar
    chrishs2000

    An overly styled car that will look out of date in 5 years for people who lease, dump when the warranty expires, or are masochists. No thanks.

  • avatar
    joberg73

    “It’s almost as though BMW, with typical German humourlessness, has engineered a little of that British Leyland crappiness charm into each and every little happy-faced Cooper.”

    More like it is British and German so it is at war with itself.

    This is just one of the reasons my ’04 has just 40K miles on it. It has not had the opportunity to break yet.

  • avatar
    cfclark

    My wife has owned a Hardtop and a Clubman, and they’re both fun (we can debate the practicality of the Clubman, but it’s her ride, and her money), but I don’t think this model will be next in line to be her daily driver.

    To give you an idea of her tastes, she’s always liked the “shoe” Z3 coupe, which I think is why she likes the Clubman.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Never change a winning team. To revive the Mini was a good idea by BMW, but this is just greed. Looks are important, and this car is just butt ugly.

  • avatar
    racingmaniac

    It might not be all that bad if it had actually looked better….Mini was never that practical to start with and a buyer made a lot of conscious sacrifices when getting into one. I mean what is with the weird not-flowing door window to rear quarter window treatment, just the awkwardness of the whole roofline….

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Finally, a Suzuki X-90 for snow-free climates. Should do well.

  • avatar
    barrystevenlewis

    I lease a 2010 Mini-Cooper S convertible. I love driving the car but the fun is nixed by an in-car computer system that controls everything but fails to do anything well (you will NOT override this system!). Mini-Cooper, the company, tells me I’m the problem, not their poorly written software. I’ve disconnected the in-car phone system, the gps is worthless, the map might succeed as day-glo art but fails miserably in telling you where you are and the first 2 summers i leased the car (4 year deal) the top malfunctioned; now the trunk is having digital meltdown at odd, irrational times. All i wanted was a small convertible with a stick shift–and lease it. Toyota and Honda wouldn’t let me lease in the Northeast; Mini would. So I went with Mini. But the computer system has ruined my enjoyment. And the company’s refusal to back their product is typical of a company that values marketing hype over actual service. I’m not impressed with their ‘cute’ website; just give me a car that works.


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