What is it?
The Mini Coupé may not be the first two-seat production Mini in the 53-year history of the brand but as the other was the highly specialised and frankly nuts Works GP car of 2006, we can let the conceit stand.
Lower by 23mm, structurally more rigid, stiffer of suspension (in non-JCW cars) and sleeker of profile, it has the appearance of Mini’s first true sports car.
Yet for all the changes, much has stayed the same. There is, for instance, no more power under your right foot, regardless of which of the two diesel and three petrol models you buy. Bits of brightwork apart, the interior will be instantly familiar to anyone who has sat in a Mini hatch before.
But even before firing up a JCW and heading for the horizon, there is much still to keep you in the car park, not least its looks. At first glance it looks like it’s been sat on. But after a while you may come to conclude it that it is nothing if not distinctive and that its strange proportions seem to work after all.
Is it any good?
The first thing you should know is that regardless of what the numbers say, the Mini Coupé is no faster than its hatchback relative. Yes the JCW’s 0-62mph time has come down a tenth but only through the traction advantage of a weight distribution further unbalanced by the new body shape. Nor should you read much into the 2mph improvement in top speed – that’s purely the Coupé’s more slippery shape talking. The car itself is not only no more powerful, it is a shade heavier too, to the tune of 25kg.
But on the right road the JCW Coupé is consistently entertaining. Something, perhaps the unavoidably altered interior acoustics, makes it sound more rorty than its hatch backed sibling and while you don’t actually sit any closer to the ground, the extra rake on the screen makes you feel like you’re in a more sporting car. The JCW engine is pretty special too: unless you’re really dawdling, there’s never a point in the rev range where it’s not keen and eager.
The problem is that even here on the surgically surfaced roads of southern Germany, finding that right road is a far tougher task than it should be. Just like the JCW hatchback, it feels over sprung and comparatively under-damped.
There’s barely any body roll and the amount of mechanical grip it can summon from a set of 205-section tyres is laudable, but the car is altogether too susceptible to any passing bump in the road, either to provide the mid-corner body control you might expect or the ride comfort even quite sporting cars require. If that’s what the car is like here, what are Britain’s broken B-roads going to do to its composure?
By contrast the Cooper SD with BMW’s 143bhp, 2-litre diesel motor and the standard suspension set up is a revelation. It lets you enjoy what we like most about Minis – their poise and the way they give such safe and easy access to their unquestioned agility. And while it did not ride beautifully, that is not a requirement of such a car. It is only essential that it offers enough comfort not to tire, unsettle or thoroughly cheese off its driver. This the Cooper SD will do on any even vaguely reasonable road.
Should I buy one?
The truth is the Mini Coupé JCW fails to deliver on the promise of those low-slung looks. It gives reason to hope it might offer a true Mini sports car experience, but while good in parts, it’s absolutely no better to drive than the hatch. Instead its cut ‘n’ paste powertrain and running gear shows only too clearly Mini’s eagerness to promote style over substance.