What is it?
As far as the Mini Coupe is concerned, the question should be what is it for? That's the problem with extending a brand with its roots in a couple of very recognisable shapes. Devising a new one seems to be missing the point.
Or so the purist might think. The success of the oversized, extremely impure Mini Countryman shows the buying public is less troubled by such sensitivities. So, a coupe version of a regular-size Mini could just work, especially if you think of it – as the Mini people intend – as a sports car. Which the original 1960s Mini-Cooper never was: the whole point was that it was better than most sports cars of its day.
So here's the new 'three-box' Mini, the first Mini notchback (in shape at least, although functionally it's still a hatchback) since the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet. The newcomer's curious roof looks like a baseball cap worn backwards, a fact hard to reconcile with the Mini people's assertion that two golf bags will fit in the biggest boot yet found in a Mini-sized Mini. This culture clash vies in surprise value with the marketing department's prediction that the majority of buyers will be male. It must be the stripes, a delete option along with the two-tone paint.
What's it like?
We've already tried the John Cooper Works Coupe, finding it fast but curiously unsatisfying mainly because of BMW's wrong-headed insistence that a truly sporting car must have rock-hard suspension. This time we're in a more mainstream Coupe, the SD which is effectively a Cooper S with a 141bhp, 2.0-litre BMW turbodiesel. The idea of an engine that big in a Mini seems ludicrous, but the official CO2 figure of 114g/km makes perfect sense especially when allied to a 7.9sec 0-62mph time.
Clearly the suspension here is calibrated differently from the JCW's. It has to accommodate a heavier engine, and is also more yielding (less so with the optional Sport settings). There is much talk of a 'go-kart feel', but the SD does have enough give in its springs to transmit messages of slippage and body roll. These make it easier to detect what the Coupe is doing in a fast, slippery bend, of which there were plenty as the rain, and some snow, fell on the Austrian test route. Sharp bumps still thumped through the test car's optional 17in wheels, but the Coupe's structure feels indestructably robust.
The SD's wet grip is impressive, with terrific bite from both ends so inputs from the quick, precise steering have an instant effect. The electric power assistance feels artificial, as ever, but here the Sport mode doesn't have the heavy, viscous, rubbery motion encountered in EPAS Minis to date. The self-centring is artificially strong, though, so the normal mode remains more natural-feeling.
Normal gives a softer accelerator response but it's a small price to pay, given this engine's huge and even spread of torque. Overtaking is the matter of an ankle-flex in this car, with downshifts merely optional. The idle is quite noisy, but the note is smooth once you're on the move. Stop-start is standard along with other Minimalism (the Mini version of Efficient Dynamics) features.
Should I buy one?
Owning a Mini Cooper Coupe brings compromises. The view aft through the slit-like rear window is minimal, made worse when the retractable rear spoiler rises at 50mph, and the over-the-shoulder vista is non-existent. Obviously there's no rear seat. Does that make it a sports car? Probably not, just as neither an Audi TT nor a Peugeot RCZ is a sports car. But that doesn't make it any less indulgently entertaining.