Does the Mini Coupe stretch the brand too far, or can it make a convincing case for itself?

Find Used Mini Coupe 2011-2015 review deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Used car deals
From £2,495
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

The modern incarnation of the Mini has had a lot of ‘firsts’ claimed for it by its BMW parent. The first four-wheel-drive Mini, the first four-door version, the first diesel.

And, now, Mini’s first two-seater (if you’re prepared to overlook the limited-run Mini GP special) and the first three-box body structure has arrived, too, in the shape of the Mini Coupé.

Mini is expecting less than five percent of its sales to be of the Coupé

To us, it’s even more simple than that: the Mini Coupé is the first of the modern breed to look like a sports car. (A curiously shaped one, perhaps, but we will come to that in a moment.)

As manufacturers explore ever more diverse market sectors, this one – the ultra-compact two-seat coupé market – is, you might think, a particularly small niche. And you’d be right – Mini is expecting less than five percent of its sales to be of this variant.

To make the numbers work, the similarities between the hatchback and the coupé are legion. What is common across both models is the naming conventions. Within the Coupe range, you'll find Cooper, Cooper S, JCW and Cooper SD.



17in Mini Coupé alloy wheels

After relaunching the brand in 2001, BMW became remarkably adept at moulding the Mini’s revamped shape into whichever format the original car’s genealogy permitted.

Despite being impudently tagged to the Mini Moke, the four-door, all-wheel-drive Countryman was a clear indication that the firm was now prepared to breach its own heritage-obsessed brief (and class boundaries) in the hunt for further profitability.

Purists will identify the Coupé’s aesthetic as the culmination of BMW’s creeping cynicism

Doubtless, the purists will duly identify the Coupé’s squashed aesthetic as the culmination of BMW’s creeping cynicism towards the marque’s positioning, but the manufacturer’s expectations are more to unquestioningly embrace the new Peugeot RCZ and Volkswagen Scirocco as rivals.

In order to exploit a programme of extensive component sharing, the spiffy two-seater look has effectively been achieved by lopping off the standard roof and heavily raking the windscreen.

Based on the cabriolet’s underpinnings, the Coupé has a dainty new lid 29mm closer to the ground than the hatchback’s top, and suitably hollowed out inside to maximise the resultant headroom. At the back, shallower glass tapers to meet an 'active' rear spoiler – the first to be found on a Mini.


Mini Coupé dashboard

If you’re at all familiar with the Mini hatch, dropping yourself into the forward part of the Coupé’s interior is like seeing your partner after they’ve had a subtle haircut.

You recognise everything, but there’s something ever so slightly different. Up to the waistline it's the same – save for some natty highlighting on the trim – with the same dashboard, switchgear, driving position and seats.

The curving roof adds a more sporting feel to the Mini’s cabin

What’s different is the steeper rake of the windscreen, and there’s no denying that the curving roof, as it slopes quickly towards your head, does add a more cocooning and, we’ll admit, more sporting feel to the Mini’s cabin.

The Alcantara-covered steering wheel of our test car helps that case along, too. The driving position is no more sporting than usual but, marginal loss of headroom aside, is as good as usual.

Ergonomically it’s sound, albeit with seats that some of our testers would have preferred to be bigger, and, particularly, longer under the thighs. So far, so Mini. That is, of course, so long as you continue to cast your gaze forwards. Turn to the rear and it’s as if a bob cut has become a boot cut.

The rear seats have gone, as too would the headroom if they had remained in place. In their place is a small shelf and a larger than expected cubby through to the boot. Given the general hopelessness of the hatchback’s rear seats, this entirely covered load bay might well make the Coupé a more usable alternative to the hatch for some buyers. Access is good, too, available via a wide, lengthy and heavy rear hatch.


Mini Coupé front quarter

Unsurprisingly, the engine line-up migrates intact from the Cooperised hatchbacks. The Coupé’s bonnet houses three guises of the now-familiar 1.6-litre petrol unit.

For fans who prize economy over performance, there is also the prospect of the 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel unit currently found in all Cooper SD variants. All come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and all save the JCW include a six-speed automatic on the options list.

A responsive and predictable engine make wringing speed out of the Mini Coupé very enjoyable indeed

The standard Cooper kicks off the range. It features the 122bhp, naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four cylinder engine which is perfectly adequate for most buyers. It's acceleration is adequate too - Mini claims a 0-62mph time of nine seconds dead. Despite the reasonable performance, it is likely to remain a springboard to catapult buyers up the range.

Another £3000-or-so puts the Cooper S within reach, and it represents money well spent for the enthusiast - and let's face it, this is a car that is unashamedly pitched at the hardcore Mini fan. There's much to praise the engine for. The turbocharged four-pot develops 177lb ft between 1600 and 5000rpm, peaking at 192lb ft from 1700 and 4500rpm, endowing the Cooper S with tremendous flexibility. Peak power is rated at 181bhp at 5000rpm, aiding a 0-62mph time of 6.9sec and a 143mph maximum.

The JCW is the performance pinnacle of the range and boosts power to 211bhp and torque to 192lb ft at 1850 to 5600rpm. Twin-scroll turbocharging is to thank for the lack of turbo lag in the powerplant, as well as its genuine forcefulness between 3000rpm and 5000rpm.

Our 7.2sec two-way average to 60mph was adrift of Mini’s 6.4sec claim – and that claim is to 62mph, remember. A slight shortage of traction at the front axle also contributed to that shortfall. At higher speeds, where traction matters less, the JCW earned the very visible stripes that it wears as a delete option – 30mph to 70mph through the gears took just 6.0sec, which is fast enough to mix it with Golf GTIs and their ilk.

If you’re seeking a fast getaway in your Mini Coupé JCW, don’t be lured by that enticing black Sport button just ahead of the gearlever. Running in normal mode, the car responds quickly and in pleasingly direct proportion to the position of your right foot. However, in an attempt to conjure an impression of even greater responsiveness, Sport mode ruins all of that. Press the button and that engine delivers significantly more of its maximum power and torque at narrower throttle openings. Not that it benefits outright acceleration in any way.

The Cooper SD is the only model to pack an engine larger than 1.6-litres. The 2.0-litre turbodiesel - which is lifted from the 1 Series - sounds excessive, but competitive CO2 and fuel consumption figures allied to a 7.9sec 0-62mph makes a great deal of sense. But don't be fooled into thinking the SD is a frugal alternative to the Cooper S and JCW. While it is quick, it lacks the urgency and fizz of the petrol units, but is a worthy diversion nonetheless.


Mini Coupé cornering

A reinforced body, a lower centre of roll and a focused suspension set-up give a certain amount of on-paper credibility to Mini’s claim that the new Coupé is a real sports car – and the driving experience delivers thrills and excitement aplenty.

This Mini lacks absolutely nothing in the way that it dives at apexes. Brimming with agility, it's a lively handler which offers a great deal of driver involvement. However, anyone hoping, as we were, for a radically different, more rounded and grown-up dynamic temperament in this car than the one recognised in so many hot Mini hatchbacks we’ve seen over the past decade will be disappointed, because the Coupé is like a hatchback raised on a diet of sugar, caffeine and amphetamines. Nowhere is this more true of the JCW.

The driving experience delivers thrills and excitement aplenty

In other words it’s edgy, boisterous and, at times, even a bit badly behaved.

On the right road – one with a smooth surface and a mixture of open, flat corners – or on a circuit, this car is riotous good fun provided you don't switch to Sport mode, which makes the steering rack feel as if it has been refilled with treacle. It turns in with incredible zeal and very little body roll, and it matches that prodigious front-end grip with easily accessed adjustability at the rear.

The DSC system doesn’t allow the car’s mobile rear axle much freedom to roam, but with the system off you can take full advantage of it, even in the dry. And underlying that initial dynamic playfulness, the car’s chassis is a completely benign one that you can have real faith in. Trouble is, most empty UK cross-country roads aren’t circuit-like. They’re uneven and unsighted, and the Coupé just isn’t suited to them.

The JCW is the only Coupé model with runflat tyres as standard – low profile ones at that – and it rides in predictable thumping, crashing, unsettled fashion over expansion joints and the like, lacking the shock absorption needed to deal with a broken surface with any kind of authority or finesse. And over even more gentle crests and dips, the Mini’s tendency to torque-steer slightly doesn’t make your driving experience any more pleasant.

Sacrifice some power and the ride smooths and the drive becomes less frenetic. Some will love the hard-edged thrills, but much of the JCW's inherent performance is wasted through a ride that demands you back off.


Mini Coupé

BMW’s ability to repackage the Mini’s basic formula as a convincing new product is matched only by its knack for convincing consumers that the result is desirable enough to pay a premium for.

It’s a welcome surprise, then, to learn that at the cheaper end of the market at least, the Coupé has been priced very keenly indeed. Thanks to the entry-level Cooper model, the new line-up undercuts all of its nearest rivals by a comfortable margin.

The Coupé has been priced very keenly indeed

Predictably, the JCW returns the brand to premium-pricing form, but even the top-spec car is broadly competitive, especially when its respectable 165g/km and potential 46.1mpg touring fuel economy are taken into account.

Our overall test figure was a more representative 33mpg, a fair result for the pace on offer – but the Cooper SD is little slower on real roads and has the economy bonus that a 114g/km CO2 score makes clear.


3.5 star Mini Coupé

The Mini Coupé has instantly entertaining dynamic appeal and it will delight a great many. In its element, this Coupé is a lively, agile, fast and super-responsive driver’s car with a disarming, scruff-of-the-neck sort of character.

But on typical UK roads, its dynamic qualities just don’t surface often enough, endure long enough, or shine bright enough to eclipse its failings in other areas, particularly in JCW form, which is particularly stiff.

For all its vivacity, this car imposes serious compromises that don’t feature in the best £20k coupés

Considering how much car you get for your cash, the Coupé is not all that expensive. But it’s also noisy, has limited practicality and suffers the kind of rolling refinement that makes you wince over really bad roads.

We had hoped for a more three-dimensional, less contrived dynamic performance from Mini’s new sporting king. It doesn't materialise: for all its vivacity, this car imposes serious and regrettable compromises that just don’t feature in the best £20k coupés.

Mini Coupe 2011-2015 First drives