First Drive: 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Coupe +VIDEO
Mini's fifth body style and most fun to drive!
By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
MAISACH, Germany - September 3, 2011: The Mini people cannot be denied being creative. They choose the former military airfield at Maisach near Munich as the base for the media introduction of the Coupe. Although I had driven a prototype earlier this summer at the Austrian Wachauring race track (see link to Henny's report below), this time, the production version would be available for test drives in the area and on the slalom and handling course set out on the long and wide runways.
A sneak peak from the public road along the airfield provided an intriguing view at huge red ‘bridges’ on the runway, with white balloons tied in a row along the open-air dinner table-for-fifty. The grass covered bunkers were designed as ‘headquarters’ and ‘press conference room’, while five of them served as ‘base camp’. They also served as the hotels for the journalists…
You may wonder what the media and hotel accommodations have to do with the new model. Well quite a lot, actually, since you are entering the Mini World: A world that the Mini Community cherishes and that is part of the brand’s success. This success, by the way, resulted in the 2 millionth (modern) Mini produced in the Oxford plant yesterday.
The Coupe is the fifth body style and will soon be followed by the sixth, the Roadster. The official debut of the Mini Coupe will take place in less than two weeks at the IAA auto show in Frankfurt. This is the exact same place, where the study for the Coupe was unveiled two years ago. Since the media and public were very enthusiastic about the two-seater, the BMW Group did not need much more encouragement to give Mini the green light to go into production.
Watch the Mini Coupe promo video
Two years development time is short indeed, but the production model is nearly unchanged from the study. And, most important: the underpinnings of the Coupe are taken from the Mini Convertible. The architecture has a higher stiffness than the hatchback, resulting in some 77 lbs. of extra weight. A noticeable difference is the flatter windshield, due to the fact that the A-pillar is raked 13 degrees more than the one on the convertible.
Watch the original Mini Coupe concept video
With 44 lbs. more weight on the front axle and because the rear part is smaller than that of the hatch, the bodyweight and the center of gravity are situated a couple of tenths of an inch more up front. According to Dr. Ingrid Reyzl, head of Process Driving Dynamics, this results in more traction of the front wheels.
With the preliminary details out of the way, let me tell you about the test drive. I started with the slalom on the runway. With DSC engaged, DSC off and later DTC activated, the Coupe showed three different characteristics. For general road use, I would recommend to always have the DSC engaged. It does not influence the driving character much, since the Coupe is agile and with just the slightest steering input the vehicle reacts instantly. DSC is the safety net with ABS, ESP and Traction control, cornering track control and brake assist. When you switch it off, you need more steering input – not always faster in the slalom – and the throttle input is changed as well.
When you push the right button in the center console for the DTC, you are on your own, with just a little help (10-20 per cent depending on the speed) of the traction control, which is called ASC. By the way, the JCW also has standard Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC). In the slalom and on the racetrack you can feel the difference, if you have time to feel it…. Time flies with the John Cooper Works Coupe as it only needs 6.4 seconds to reach 62 mph from the standing position. The car is very stable and leaves enough room to play; in other words, drift.
Activating DTC, the car allows more wheel spin, and also a certain amount of wheel slip when you are cornering at higher speed. A longer push of the button fully deactivates the DSC system. With DSC off, the EDLC system responds instead, to specific situations. The system offers enhanced performance characteristics when accelerating hard out of corners and tight bends by precisely controlled braking of a drive wheel that is starting to spin. This improves traction without affecting the under steer or over steer characteristics. The result is faster and smoother cornering.
To keep down force on the rear axle, the Coupe has a rear spoiler that pops up automatically when you reach 50 mph. However, you can also deploy the spoiler manually with a switch on the control panel just above the rear view mirror. That makes you look fast, even when driving around town!
I think Dr. Reyzl and her team have done an excellent job setting up the suspension. With a roll bar at the rear with a larger diameter and with stiffer springs, the Coupe has the real go-kart characteristic that we all expect from a sporty Mini.
Also on the road the Coupe is a good companion: the suspension is not too harsh and the 211 hp strong engine is not pushing you constantly to go constantly over speed limits.
The designers have done a nice job as well, since they created a roomier feeling in the interior by adding two round ‘increases’ in the headliner. A nice bonus is that you can reach into the unexpectedly large (9.9 cu. ft) luggage compartment from within the cockpit through the opening in the back.
The Mini Coupe will make its North American debut at the Los Angeles International Auto Show that opens its doors to the media on November 16th.
Look here for full details of the 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe, The Mini Cooper S Coup and the Mini John Cooper Works Coupe. For European and some other markets there will also be a Mini Cooper Diesel Coupe.
Gert Hildebrand, MINI Design Team Director, talks about the coupe concept (Sept 3, 2009)