Drive Story : MINI Coupé 1.6T John Cooper Works

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Coupés are cramped, impractical, noisy… and a whole lot of fun. That’s the whole point of them, yes?

MINI obviously thinks so, and has introduced a crackerjack Coupé to prove it. Keith Adams takes one up to Yorkshire and experiences something even more cramped and noisy.


Coupés, trains, and the Coopermobile

MINI Coupe 1.6T John Cooper Works
MINI Coupe 1.6T John Cooper Works

It’s fair to say that AROnline readers ‘enjoy’ something of a love/hate relationship with MINI. Some see it as the product of a company that’s cynically manipulated the precious Mini name for its own ends… while the majority more sensibly see it as a modern-day remix of an all-time classic. And it’s built in Britain; nailed together in Oxford; powered by Birmingham engines; and packaged in bodies pressed in Swindon. In an increasingly international industry, it’s pretty much as British as it comes. The recently launched MINI Coupé further divides opinion – and not just with you guys, going from the reactions from other road users during our recent drive. But that’s a good thing? We think so!

As an engineering exercise, the MINI Coupé makes all kinds of sense. As a driver’s car, the hatchback is still near the top of its class as it nears the end of its production run so, given that it’s 23mm lower, structurally more rigid, more stiffly suspended and has a lower C-of-G, the MINI Coupé should be sheer genius on the road – even if, disappointingly, it’s 25kg heavier. We’ve been handed the keys to a John Cooper Works prepared Coupé to find out just how true that is… and, for us, it makes sense to head north, where the roads are more open, the traffic lighter and… the trains have a BL slant to them.

Regular readers will, of course, know all about the famed Class 141 Pacers that rattle around our northern branch lines. But for those who don’t, here’s a quick run-down. British Rail needed a lower, cheaper and more cramped loco to serve its low-profit lines and, when offered a Leyland National bus with train wheels beneath it, they couldn’t say ‘no’. Of course, that was over 30 years ago now… who would have thought that these stop-gaps would be still in use today? What would we think of these sporting little numbers?

However, a bigger question hangs in the air though: do we like the way the MINI Coupé looks? Actually, yes. For one, it is nothing if not distinct in a mid-market that seems to have lost the bravery that set apart the early-to-mid 2000s. You’ll either love or hate that roof, which literally looks plonked atop the car, but then at least it’s different. The JCW kit combined with stripes and red-roof on our car might just be a little overdone, though. Seeing a Coupé in more sober colours is infinitely more satisfying.

First we had to drive north, and jumping into the MINI Coupé is a strange, yet familiar experience. Inside, it’s almost pure R56-generation MINI, with that same endearingly retro interior, dish-sized speedometer, funky switches and roomy cockpit. Now it’s a pure two-seater, there’s no pretense of practicality, and that’s largely a good thing. Just like the Triumph TR7 before it, there’s a lot of good in designing a roomy two-seater. And we approve. Especially when we sling our camera gear in the roomy boot. Here’s a MINI that makes sense for two-up adventurers.

There’s a little less headroom and the three-quarter visibility is abysmal but, other than that, the Coupé is hard to fault before you set off. Being a JCW – and a kitted one at that – there’s lots of gadgets to play with. Adjustable mood lighting might be the answer to a question we’ve yet to ask, but the rest of the equipment set it easy to use and the body-coloured dash and door trims are a quaint nod to the past which we approve of. The integrated sat/nav/infotainment/’phone is easy and logical to use – driving it with MINI’s interpretation of the iDrive controller – and, within minutes, our ‘phone is synched up and the destination dialled-in. It’s time for the off.

Fire it up, and the noise from the 211bhp four-pot up-front is undistinguished – smooth and anodyne. Very modern… But once underway, it develops a nice rasp that vaguely reminds one of a classic A-Series (we wonder if MINI would thank us for saying that). The difference is that, when you push the throttle hard and then hang on to it, the thing literally flies forward and impresses with its lack of turbo lag. Six nicely stacked ratios mean there aren’t too many interruptions in the flow and the big numbers come quickly: 0-100mph in 16 seconds and a top speed of 150mph. It sounds great too, though the rev range but, oh boy, is it noisy when on throttle.

On the B-roads that get us to the motorway, it’s an absolute laugh, once we’ve acclimatised yourself to how edgy if feels. It seems well-damped for such a roll-free car on smooth roads and the super-quick steering gives you oodles of confidence to really crack on. It’s a shame, then, that as we pile on to the motorway, we now have 150 miles of pretty much straight-line motoring. Like all MINIs, the Coupé feels planted and solid on the motorway and the miles tick off quickly. Once we’re on to cruise, and off the throttle, it’s not offensively loud either. That three quarter blind-spot remains a nuisance for those who like a ‘lifesaver’ over-the-shoulder look before lane changes, but we soon get used to it.

By the time Leeds rolls onto the horizon, we’re more than happy with the MINI Coupé – pleasantly bolstered by the 35mpg average we’ve clocked up too. Not bad for a 150mph car… As we roll through the city, it’s hard to avoid the stares the car’s attracting – are they positive or negative? Hard to say, but at least it’s good not to fade into the background once in a while.

It’s an absolute change of pace once we’ve abandoned the car and are into Leeds railway station, though. A Day Rover ticket costs us £7.00 and allows us all the hot Pacer action we can stand – we hand over our money, asking the question, ‘which lines have those class 142 Pacers on? You know, the really crap ones.’ It’s hard not to smile at the information desk attendant’s eye-roll. Why on earth would someone ride on one of these for fun? Why, indeed?

We head down to a platform with a train heading for Blackpool. We’ve been told these can sometimes be Pacers but, as we head for the line, we see a Sheffield-bound train that makes the heart skip a beat! Yes, it’s a Pacer, and it’s just about to be whistled off. A quick run and we’re on. And it’s standing room only – which is fine, as I want a good look at the inside of this tobacco-coloured interior without necessarily wanting to sit down in it. The train’s attendant steps on behind us, opens a roof-mounted flap and locks closed the doors.

The passengers look unbelievably cramped, with their knees touching their ears in some cases. Not one is smiling and perhaps they’re wondering why the hell we are. The diesel motor fires up and we’re off. Slowly and noisily… It’s far worse than I’d hoped for and a real insight into how the idea of a rail-bus was (and remains) far less appealing than the reality. At the first stop, a handful of passengers jump off. They look relieved. We grab a seat and are amazed at how uncomfortable they are… as the train sets off again, its engine roaring ineffectually away, it really does feel like we’ve embarked on the last ride of the damned. The scenery outside is yet to compensate for this truly miserable experience and, as we arrive in Wakefield, our only thoughts are of a quick exit…

In truth, the Pacer’s not actually that bad – but it’s far from goo, and you do have to pity those poor souls who rely on them day in, day out. Rather like an old East European car, you know they’re good at what they’re designed for, but at no point in the design brief were the words ‘enjoyment’ or ‘comfort’ mentioned. We can only hope they’re cheap to ride on.

There’s no choice for it, but to make sure we enjoy the rest of the day by avoiding the Pacer and so that’s what we do. The day then actually becomes a pleasant reminder that rail travel really is quite nice if you’re not in a hurry or crammed in on some commuter service into London. Sitting back, watching the world go by – as well as mawkishly peeking into other people’s back gardens – is really quite satisfying. And that has us thinking about Motorail and possibilities for the future.

However, for now, it’s back to the MINI Coupé and a quick dash back down to the crowded and unfriendly south. First thoughts? Aside from being a huge contrast to those Pacers? Well, back on the M1 and on the lit stretches, we’re still not sure if the constant slowing down and speeding up of other drivers while they take a look at the MINI is a good thing or not. On the whole, we think it is – it proves that many people out there do care about cars and aren’t afraid to show their curiosity. In time, as more MINI Coupés get out there, things might change – so buy one now if you’re craving attention!

Anyway, before we plunge back down the M1, it’s time for some more fun in the Peak District, and some of England’s finest roads. Once again, the go kart-like MINI can’t fail to raise a smile although, as the roads get rougher, the stiff suspension set-up sometimes gets confused by the worst of those inevitable irregularities. Once you mix some rain into the equation, keeping things on the straight and narrow becomes a real challenge. Clearly, it’s a little too stiff for these conditions and the thought is hard to shake – a standard MINI would be quicker on its more compliant spring/damper set-up. Still, it’s most definitely fun.

Time waits for no man, though, and it’s soon time to leave the hills and get back onto the dreaded M1. The miles roll by and that gives us a little more time to ponder the day. Would we choose to ride on a Pacer again? Not on your nelly… not unless the alternative was walking and, even then, the decision would be tough. However, as for the MINI Coupé – we loved its irreverence and sheer exuberance but, truth be told, it’s not different enough – styling aside – from the hatchback. It’s a case of original is best – but we admire the thinking behind its conception and the sheer fact it exists. Unlike that bloody awful rail-bus…

 

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

34 Comments

  1. JCW 1.6T? But would the lowlyist MINI be just as fun?

    I wonder if a trial of “Heritage” could link the Pacer to the MINI? Surely an earrant “Flying Plughole” must be buried in the second generation MINI!

  2. I think the review encapsulates not only why I’d never look at the coupé, but why I find coupé versions of most FWD ‘family’ cars thoroughly uninteresting.

    “And even then, the decision would be tough. And as for the MINI Coupé – we loved its irreverence, and sheer exuberance, but truth be told, it’s not different enough – styling aside – from the hatchback.”

    I find the styling of the MINI Coupé as off-putting as I find the original appealing. The more I think about the normal MINI however, the more I want to give them another look – I really quite enjoyed the original Cooper S, and got dissuaded by them ditching the interesting supercharger for a turbo.

    (I had the same opinion, with regard to coupés, of the last-gen Celica. Having driven it, I decided that I may as well buy an Avensis. Or indeed, almost anything else. Thankfully the RX8 came out). 

  3. Nice photos of Hebden Bridge station.

    I still think it looks like two font ends joined together. Doesn’t float my boat looks wise at all.

    And, Keith, I am sure MINI are delighted that the 211 bhp turbocharged lump sounds like an A Series engine!  That bit actually made me smile!

  4. It’s far worse than I’d hoped for”
    Told you Keith!

    As for the Mini Coupe, although it’s not my cup of tea I’m glad it exists, if only to provide a bit of relief from all the identikit car designs out there.  The effect it has on people sort of reminds me of how the original Audi TT was received in the late Nineties – Mini are probably onto a winner if so.  It’s also pleasing that the Mini is still built in Britain a decade on – I honestly thought that it would have been made in China or somewhere by now.  Respect to BMW for keeping it British.

  5. I appear to have inadvertently made the font small. No, fixed it by copying and pasting some other text. What happened there?
     

  6. “while the majority more sensibly see it as a modern-day remix of an all-time classic. And it’s built in Britain; nailed together in Oxford; powered by Birmingham engines; and packaged in bodies pressed in Swindon. In an increasingly international industry, it’s pretty much as British as it comes” Well said Keith and I wish it well. It good news that MINI as well as J&LR are making cars that people want and charging a premium price for them.

  7. If I wanted a 2 seater MINI, I’d prefer the roadster as it’s less challenging on the eye!

    The German manufacturers do like their niches don’t they? The model ranges for BMW, Audi and Mercedes are vast now, with saloons, estates, hatchbacks, coupes, 4 door coupes, SUVs, coupe SUVs…

  8. That’s a class 142 not a class 141, but otherwise a great story… Your right about the Pacers being built down to a cost but they are pretty tough these days, you can’t kill the buggers! And yes they are very cheap to run… i have been told that they use about 30% less in fuel ‘per passenger km’ than a Class 150/ Class 156 ‘Sprinter’ which is what matters most on t’ modern railway!

  9. Actually not a bad looker, though impractical for me.  I agree with Tim Stoughton that BRG with a white roof and (say) nine spoke alloys would look good aswell.

  10. I would be the last person to question the dynamics of a MINI and also its success,but this one is a bridge too far for me,even the local williams MINI dealers are handing them to admin staff to smoke around in and to be perfectly frank they look like a pointless desparate afterthought,even the micra cc looks less stupid,almost.

  11. Glad it’s made here and employing lots of local people,…but.

    I saw one the other day and I laughed, but not in a good way.  the way I laughed the first time I saw Suzuki X90.

    And yes, the font is small, isn’t it?

  12. “The passengers look unbelievably cramped, with their knees touching thier ears in some cases. Not one is smiling, and perhaps they’re wondering why the hell we are. The diesel motor fires up, and we’re off. Slowly. And noisily. It’s far worse than I’d hoped for, and a real insight into how the idea of a rail-bus was (and remains) far less appealing than the reality. At the first stop, a handful of passengers jump off. They look relieved. We grab a seat, and are amazed at how uncomfortable they are… as the train sets off again, its engine roaring ineffectually away, and it really does feel like we’ve embarked on the last ride of the damned. The scenery outside is yet to compensate for this truly miserable experience, and as we arrive in Wakefield, our only thoughts are of a quick exit…
     
    In truth, the Pacer’s not actually that bad – but it’s far from good, and you do have to pity those poor souls who rely on them day in, day out. Rather like an old East European car, you know they’re good at what they’re designed for, but at no point in the design brief was the word ‘enjoyment’ uttered. Or ‘comfort’. We can only hope they’re cheap to ride on”
     
     
    CHEAP? I was paying £11 a day for the ‘privilege’ on spending two hours a day on one. Last ride of the damned sums it up admirably. After over 2 years and at least 7000 miles or so, I had saved enough to get hold of my Montego and do the commute in more comfort and for less.

  13. I think it sounds as if it goes considerably better than it looks. But then, I think a 2CV probably goes better than the MINI Coupé looks 🙂

  14. Yes, these days the British Motor Industry is far better at satisfying customer demands than our Railways are. The Pacers are completely inadequate for any service. There are similar examples of train operating companies using cheap and nasty rolling stock completely unsuited for the services they operate on. Transpennine use Siemens built Diesel units on long distance services across the North and Scotland, including Manchester to Edinburgh. These would be just about adequate on a branch line, but on long distance Intercity services they are absolutely hopeless, every bit as bad as a Pacer in many respects, but you have to spend hours on the damned things. Dont even get me started on the Virgin/Cross Country Voyagers!

  15. I notice you skipped the fact that this thing costs £24,000. That’s serious money. Autocar also weren’t fussed on it.

  16. I think a Cooper S with similar kit costs similar money, though? How much is an Audi TT specced up?

    I once considered a Porsche Cayman. £48K or something, seems attainable.

    Nice brakes, they look good. Radio stuff… yeah… paint…

    Hold on. How did my car end up being £80K? 

  17. I saw one the other morning on the M42. How I laughed! Looks like one of those plastic racing driver helmet pencil sharpeners on wheels…….

  18.  Andrew Elphick – January 25, 2012
     
    I wonder if a trial of “Heritage” could link the Pacer to the MINI? Surely an earrant “Flying Plughole” must be buried in the second generation MINI!

    Try This

    Class 142 was an extended class 141

    Class 141 was the mass produced version of class 140 prototypes

    LEV 1 was the first national on a powered underframe,with heavily modified ends

    HSFV1   was a true leyland national MK2 body shell ,placed on an old freightliner flat to test speed running

    The MK 2 national was a simplified MK1 national from 1978

    The Mk 1 national was launched in 1973 and was styled by Giovanni Michelloti

    Michellotti had previously styled BMC and triumph cars.

    He styled the facelifted BMC 1100 

    The Marina had many 1100 parts,this was built at cowley

    Cowley now builds MINI.

    Dave

               

              
           

             

  19. @ Mark:

    Nicely put. It is definitely not my cup of tea but I hope it sells and further adds further prominence to MINI’s Oxford plant. Add to this the success of Jaguar Land Rover and of course the Nissan assembly plant in Washington, and it clear British motor manufacturing is enjoying a rennaisance.

  20. Six Degrees of Kevin Leyland?
     
    Personally, I think the Coupe was a waste of money, considering how the regular 3dr model is practically a coupe already. The Roadster is interesting, but the Coupe just looks like a regular MINI with worse visibility.
     
    It might have been more worthwhile had it been a proper 2010s interpretation of the ADO15-based sports car prototypes of the 1960s. Even the Countryman/Paceman is inspired by the Maxi and ADO16 rather than the designer’s son’s baseball hat.
     
    Ah, well. If there are people willing to buy it, why the hell not?

  21. The red bit of the roof looks like it’s removable and hasn’t been put back on properly. 

    Personally i’d have made the roof look like it fitted and i think it would have looked better with more of a fast back rear roof line.

    As it is, it looks like someone in a backstreet garage or possibly the set of scrap heap challenge has converted a normal hatchback. It doesn’t look bad until you realise, “what??? You mean a car manufacturer actually builds them like that?!”

  22. I used to drive the  142 pacer trains in the West Country, (still driver the other Leyland unit the class 153 but that’s another story). I can assure you the driving experience is as miserable as that for the passenger. Does corner like it’s on rails though 🙂

  23. Your article is incorrect. As you should be aware from the other article that you published about trains this month, there are no Class 141 trains operating from Leeds and there have not been for many years.

    As for the Class 142, the multi-folding bus doors were all replaced many years ago with a two doors by Peters Bradbury and have nothing to do with the Leyland bus doors.

    They do not “make the same shhhh-fshhh noise that a National Bus does.”

  24. In general, I think the MINI suits a coupe roof line. I’m not 100% sure about the ‘base ball cap’ look – would like to see some alternative proposals for the MINI Coupe.

  25. Interesting new write up on the ‘Austin Memories’ website about the original plans for the new Mini production at the Longbridge factory:


    First R50 Body Built in 1999


    Early R50 Built at Longbridge (Methods Build 1999)

    New MINI comes to Longbridge.
    That was the Plan, although in the end it never happened……..

    “The general BMW plan for the Rover Group was that Cowley, renamed Oxford would produce the large cars, with Longbridge, becoming Birmingham which would produce the small and medium.”

    “Rover Birmingham (Longbridge) needed to undergo major restructuring to prepare for the launch of R50 (new Mini) in the year 2000. In order to create a world class manufacturing facility for the production of the new Mini, Rover needed to replace existing old buildings with new factories, designed to accommodate modern machinery and equipment.”

    More details of the original plans here:
    http://www.austinmemories.com/page164/page164.html

  26. @Keith, comment 15:

    Even the roundabout way the Penistone line goes, Meadowhall to Huddersfield is nearer to 65 than 90 miles return.

    In a moment of madness I decided to take the train today rather risk being snowed out in the Montego. It took an hour and forty minutes to get from my front door to the university library, rather than the hour it takes in the car (Bear in mind the station is CLOSER to the library than where I park). The return ticket cost £11.30 – it’s a shorter journey by car and at the 34mpg I get petrol costs me about £8.50 per day. I get a better ride in the Montego, more personal space, can hum along to Transvision Vamp or the Pet Shop Boys if I like without annoying anyone, and the blast along the A629 is huge fun. The car is thus cheaper, quicker, and more enjoyable than the train.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love rail travel, and I still think that a good train is the sensible option for long distance travel – for a start you can work when you’re not concentratiung on driving. But hell will freeze over before I next get on a Pacer of my own free will. Much like my legs and feet did this morning.

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