By on July 29, 2012

Before 2011, if you were looking for a hot hatch but wanted something MINIer than a Cooper, your options were limited to the less than smart Smart BRABUS. With fuel costs on the rise and fuel economy targets looming, MINI and Fiat are hoping to tempt “sporty” shoppers into something smaller and more practical. This week we have the MINI answer to the question: why doesn’t MINI make a heavier John Cooper Works (JCW) without back seats? We kid, we kid. But in all seriousness, why would you buy the MINI Coupé instead of the four-seater JCW Cooper, JCW Roadster or even the sexy Italian we tested last week?

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Exterior

The modular car strategy has been around for some time, but few auto makers take the “one sausage, different lengths” school of design to these heights. The MINI Coupé is instantly familiar with its large headlights, hood scoop and perky side view mirrors. To “coupify” the basic building blocks of the MINI brand, the engineers raked the windshield back, lowered the roof, ditched the hatchback for a “liftback” with a faux-trunk and added the infamous ” backwards baseball cap” spoiler. MINI prefers to call this design cue a “helmet,” but to my eye it’s just funky. And not in the groovy kinda way. Completing the look is a spoiler that deploys from the faux-trunk at 50MPH and retracts at 40 MPH. My bottom line: if you wan an attractive 2-seat MINI, just buy the Roadster.

While this may be splitting hairs, MINI tells us the Coupé is based on the Roadster which is based on the Cabriolet which is ultimately based on the Cooper. This game of semantics lineage is important because while the Coupé rides on the same 97.1-inch wheelbase as the Cooper, it inherits all the chassis stiffening from the Cabriolet and the Roadster, then adds the rigidity imparted by a solid top. Oh, and it ditches the Cooper’s rear seats.

Interior

All MINI models share more than just their design DNA – the interior bits are shared across the range, too. This is by no means a dig against MINI, as on the whole MINI’s parts bin is a nice place to be. As with every other MINI, the interior greets you with a ginormous round speedometer front-and-center and more chrome toggle switches than you can imagine. As always, the speedometer’s location means it’s more of a styling exercise than a useful gauge and thankfully MINI continues to provide a digital speed readout in the tachometer on the steering column. If you were hoping the MINI Coupé would improve on the few problem areas of the modern MINI, you’ll be disappointed. The same blend of first-rate stitched leather and bargain-basement headliners still exist.

The relative roominess of the Cooper gives way to a cabin that feels cozy, bordering on “tight.” The raked exterior design required moving the driver’s seat rearward which yields a seating (position relative to the wheels) that is similar to many RWD coupés. Headroom is still fairly good despite the lowered roof thanks to the novel way the headliner is molded with “divots” above the driver and passenger. Although this is unlikely to be a feature tested regularly, these “head wells” mean the MINI Coupé is one of the few cars I have tested recently where you can sit in a comfortable driving position wearing a helmet and not have it constantly hitting the ceiling.

Infotainment

The infotainment system on the JCW Coupé is a basic, 6-speaker AM/FM/XM/HD Radio/CD unit. That’s right, iDevice  integration and a Bluetooth interface are $500 extra. If you’re a gadget hound like I am, be ready to open your wallet because the options list is extensive, full featured and high-priced. An extra $500 (or $250 if you planned to get the armrest anyway) gets you the MINI Connected system (without navigation). MINI Connected is essentially BMW’s iDrive (circa 2011) with a rounded LCD and a more minimalist control interface. Like iDrive, Connected provides an elegant, snappy interface for browsing your tunes along with iPhone app integration. As with BMW’s iPhone app, you can Tweet, Facebook, stream internet radio, Google, and view some additional “sport” themed instrumentation on the LCD.

MINI takes the app thing to a new level with their “Dynamic Music” and “Mission Control” apps. Dynamic Music plays digitized, beat-heavy, music that changes as you drive. Speed up and the tempo increases while the system adds more instruments. Flip your turn signal on and cymbals start ringing out of the speaker on the side that you’re indicating. Mission Control plays canned phrases in stereotypical British accents in response to driver inputs. Floor the MINI and the system says “fulllll throttle!” Press the Sport button and several canned voices have a conversation about sporty driving. While it is entertaining for a day or two, I can’t imagine owners using this option daily.

Like a gateway drug, once you have MINI Connected, it’s hard to say no to the $750 nav. Once you have the nav, it’s easy to up-sell the $750 Harman/Kardon speaker system. After all that’s been added, your MINI sales rep will tell you “if you select the Technology Package you can add the parking sensors for half price” ($250.) Total up-sell: $2,750 and we have only just begun. The JCW Coupé has a base MSRP of $31,900 ($32,050 for 2013), but if you’re buying “off the lot,” expect to pay around $38,000 according to our survey of 4 local MINI dealers. Our tester rang in at $38,450 and included metallic paint, the Connected system with navigation, chrome accents, black headlamps, sport stripes, white turn signals, chrome mirror caps and the up-level speaker system. This represents a nearly $2,000 premium over a similarly equipped four-seat JCW hatchback.

Drivetrain

Powering the JCW Coupé is the same 1.6L four-cylinder engine shared with every MINI model (as well as select BMW, Citroën and Peugeot models), only this one’s had a twin-scroll turbo and direct-injection bolted on. New for 2013 is a variable valve event system based on BMW’s Valvetronic technology to reduce emissions (power output remains the same.) The JCW tuning increases power to 208HP at a lofty 6,000RPM and torque jumps to 192-lbft from 1,850-5,600RPM. MINI incorporates an “over-boost” function to bump torque to 207 lb-ft (2,000-5,200RPM) automatically under the right conditions. A six-speed manual is the only cog-swapper on JCW models in 2012, but for 2013 MINI has announced you’ll be able to have the car shift for you. MINI has yet to release official pricing on 2013 options, but expect the Aisin six-speed automatic to add around $1,250.

Drive

Before our week-long stint in the JCW, I had an opportunity to drive a similarly equipped JCW Coupé on Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. The impression that resulted is a classic problem in our business. The JCW Coupé impressed with impeccable track manners, incredible grip, perfect poise in the corkscrew, moderate steering feel and a feeling of confidence. Note that I didn’t say “fast.” Sorry MINI fans, with only 208 horses motivating 2,811lbs, the power to weight ratio ends up around 13.5:1 (lbs:HP.) This means the JCW Coupé scoots to 60 in 6.6 seconds, notably slower than the Volvo XC60 R-Design we had last month (5.6 seconds) or even a V6 Camry (6 seconds).

Back to the problem with testing a road car on a track. First and most obvious, the only place you’ll find perfect pavement in California is on a track. The rest of us must contend with potholes, loose pavement, stop-light races, off camber corners, and parking lots. The “glued to the ground” handling feel the JCW exhibited on the track was replaced by a vehicle that felt decidedly unsettled over corners with broken pavement. The increased chassis rigidity, stiffer springs  and run-flat tires that made the JCW Coupé a delight on the track also make it a back killer on Highway 101. The road noise that wasn’t a problem when you were wearing a helmet was a problem when you’re trying to have a hands-free conversation on the speakerphone. On the track you’re looking forward, on the road, the roof design and B pillars cause enormous blind spots while the seating position and small rear window make rearward visibility poor with the spoiler down and nearly non-existent with the spoiler deployed. Keep in mind, these trade-offs are nothing new, many manufacturers follow exactly the same formula to create performance versions, especially those with low curb weights.

There is little practical reason to buy the JCW Coupé over the regular hatchback JCW Cooper, unless you live in an area with three-person HOV lanes and your carpool is a dynamic duo.The regular JCW Cooper delivers 99% of the fun for nearly $2,000 less, has two extra seats, more cargo room and is far more attractive. If money is no object MINI has an even better solution for you: the MINI JCW Roadster. The drop-top MINI two-seater solves all the aesthetic issues of the Coupé and goes topless to boot. The problem? The price. A roadster is $3,300 more than the Coupé in 2012 and $4,350 more for 2013.

Because of how great the JCW Coupé felt on the track, I spent an entire week trying to find a compelling reason to buy one over the regular JCW Cooper hatchback. I’m still searching. Likewise the MINI Coupé seems to be the answer to a question few have asked. If you are one of the few people I met that liked the way the Coupé looked, or you just want one of the rarest MINIs around, then the JCW Coupé is for you. Everyone else should stop at the Fiat dealer and check out an Abarth on their way to buy the JCW Cooper hatchback.

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MINI provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 6.6 Seconds (I’m sure a professional driver could eek out a 6.4)

1/4 Mile: 15.0 Seconds @ 98MPH

Average fuel economy: 25.6MPG over 754 miles

 

 

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27 Comments on “Review: 2012 and 2013 MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Coupe...”


  • avatar
    John

    Jaw-droppingly ugly, almost as good visibility as driving a tank using the periscope – a $40,000 plus after tax, title and tag Mini – I’m sure they will sell a million of them. Earlier today I read an article stating 50% of recent college graduates are un, or under-employed. Yup, these will sell out fast.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    The price of this thing is comical. For almost $40k, the list of preferable competitors is long. Many are several thousand $ less. Just for starters:

    The 500 Abarth already mentioned.

    A loaded BRZ is something like $10k less. A BRZ has a similar power-to-weight ratio while being slightly lighter, more practical, and RWD. The JCW Coupe might offer more options, but I think only the most gadget-obsessed buyers would find a loaded BRZ lacking.

    “Hot hatches” like the WRX, GTI, Mazdaspeed3, and upcoming Focus ST. Order every option on the ST, and after tax, title, and registration it should still be at least $7k less. I’m sure the story is similar for the Subarue,VW, and Mazda. I realize these cars are the next size up and a few hundred pounds heavier, but they are also much more practical and not exactly awkwardly large vehicles anyway.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    $40,000 for this? A 370z is 6 cylinders and not fail wheel drive. A miata delivers everything this does for $10-15k less along with being right wheel drive. A nice CPO Z4 will offer everything the 370z does plus a BMW badge and a better warranty than any of them. Why would you ever even look at this unless you were a Mini fanatic?

  • avatar
    word is bond

    This is just an unbelievably dumb vehicle. And now BMW almost has a whole fleet of them
    X6, 5GT, Mini Coupe. I guess you could throw in the 6 grancoupe.

  • avatar
    John

    $40k buys you a cheesy piece of tin foil over the exhaust manifold/turbocharger.

  • avatar

    Before 2011, if you were looking for a hot hatch but wanted something MINIer than a Cooper, your options were limited to the Smart BRABUS.

    lol.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Who washed this car with sandpaper?

  • avatar
    th009

    That trunk is shockingly small. Given only two seats and the same overall length as the standard Mini, I would have at least expected a usable trunk. This looks like it can’t even take a single full-size suitcase.

  • avatar
    John

    The plastic wheel opening flares are straight out the 90′s GM style division – think Aztec or Avalanche – or what you might have ordered for your CJ-7 from J.C. Whitney.

    At least the owner can change their own spark plugs, which is becoming increasingly rare.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    An epic “Your doing it wrong” design and terribly expensive. So many good cars under 40k other than this thing and for 40k, I’d get a Mustang GT convertible. This needs burned with an admixture of diesel fuel and magnesium shavings.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      The overlap of potential buyers between the Mini Coupe and the Mustang Convertible is likely vanishingly small. Not to say the Mustang isn’t good, it’s just a different buyer.

      But there are still many better choices …

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    One ‘a’ in Brabus. Also, the USDM Brabus was solely a trim package. No turbos or anything.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I hate the look of these models. It looks like someone with a bad toupee. This color combination is the worst yet. Mini is all about style, so why this grotesque little car? And I thought large speedometers are so that they’re easy to read, but those tiny numbers are hard to read.

    I think today’s Mini has strayed too far from the simple, form follows function original. Just like all the other German interpretation of British automobiles, they’re like a bad caricature of the original, the one intended to mock and make fun of the original. Alex Issigonis would roll in his grave. I guess that’s how the German avenge their loss in World War II.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      I think the more accurate terms are “delayed victory, sans antisemitism”.

      All retro cars – imo – are horrible abominations, the Ford GT, Fiat 500, mustang, Camaro and the Mini bring nothing of value to the world of car design, it’s an easy solution for design hacks.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “All retro cars – imo – are horrible abominations”

        Is the fish-faced suppository-on-four-wheels look of modern vehicles any better?

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        @mcs

        Sure they are, most cars from a given period look quite similar, finding that right combo of details and overall presentations that makes a car stand out and be desirable is the real art. Reheating old designs require nothing more than nostalgic or clueless buyers.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I’ve seen these in the flesh and me no like.

    There is one with the white top that passes me often most mornings on my way into work while either waiting to turn right onto Denny Way or while in the wait cue to turn left onto Stewart while ON Denny Way, on my way to the freeway.

    If I get a Mini, it’ll be the standard Cooper hatchback thanks.

  • avatar
    mikenem

    Does it look any better without its red helmet?

  • avatar
    Junebug

    What are ya’ll taliking about? It’s the perfect car………..for anyone with a whole lot more money than brains!

  • avatar
    Sam P

    A $24k base Cooper S hatch with a 6-speed manual makes much more sense, and will run to 60 nearly as fast as this “thing” if you want a small, fun hatchback. Also, Abarth.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “The drop-top MINI two-seater solves all the aesthetic issues of the Coupé and goes topless to boot. The problem? The price.”

    Wrong. The problem is everytime I look at it, I want to brain it with a shovel until it quivers and dies.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    Who at MINI actually thinks an even-less-practical, heavier and uglier MINI would sell in any appreciable numbers, or even enough to make their money back on development costs?

    Who wouldn’t choose a better 2-seater vehicle? The Toyobaru coupe and MX-5 beat these respective iterations hands-down, and then it’s all uphill from there.

    Maybe MINI was pushed in the same direction as their BMW overlords to squeeze multiple products, no matter how irrelevant or dubious, out of the same platforms. We witnessed this with the X5/X6, the 6-coupe/6-Grancoupe, and the 5GT (made from the 7-series platform, but competing with the 5-wagon and X5).

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    I just don’t get the MINI thing. These cars are way over priced, aren’t safe (the laws of physics are the law of physics, the smaller car will always lose in a crash) and ride like medieval torture chambers. I rented a Clubman S a few years ago in Florida and walked away thoroughly unimpressed. I couldn’t fathom driving this thing on the beat up roads in MA. The power was subpar (maybe the Florida heat and the turbo?). When I got back home and speced the car out in the MINI configurator it was $37,000. JOKE!

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      So, by your logic, you drive a Bluebird School Bus?

      Disagree that small cars cant be safe. Watched an Astra get pummeled on the Autobahn by a Merc at 80 Kmh where it bounced away like a soccer ball, the steel safety cage inside with side impact air bags doing a Yeoman’s job of keeping the people inside injury free. Car was totaled, but who cares as long as you walk away.

      However, this thing is a convertible. Anyone owning a convertible inherits a bit of natural safety issues.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    This car is butt ugly. The mini should be left in the original shape. Then it´s retro and cool looking.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I recently looked at Minis before buying my Miata. One thing you mentioned but did not dwell on is the wing that goes up at 50 and back down at 40. WTF? It’s dorky beyond belief and you can’t turn it off. I hope it’s poseur, because if these cars need a wing at those speeds, something is seriously wrong with the chassis.


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