Just try to rein in your exuberance in the Mini JCW Coupé
Do yourself a big favour and, if you're seriously considering buying the new Mini Coupé, tell nobody that its designers refer to the new hard top as the "helmet roof". You'll be laughed off the golf course. Thing is, they'll be laughing on the other side of their faces once they realise how much fun you're having from behind the wheel. Even more fun than in the best of the regular Minis.
This, then, is the sportiest official Mini yet, the John Cooper Works Coupé. Call it the JCW or you'll bore your buddies. They'll already suspect that it's a bit special when they first see it in the metal. While the Coupé is virtually identical to the three-door Mini hatch from the window-line down, above that, it's all change, in case you didn't notice.
Apparently, there was mutiny in some quarters at the Mini design office when somebody suggested giving the windscreen more rake, but even the traditionalists had to concur that the Mini's normally upright front would look plain strange in conjunction with the fastback shape of the coupe's rear end.
And what a pert rear end it is. The shape suggests a hopelessly small boot opening but, in fact, the car features a large hatchback that cuts into the roof, taking the big wraparound spoiler with it. Ensconced within the hatch is another spoiler that rises automatically at 80kph. Naturally, you can press a button inside the cabin at any time to activate it; you know, in case you need to clean it, or attract even more attention.
The rest of the cockpit is largely similar to the JCW hatchback's, though the lower roofline and sloped windscreen do make it feel more snug. Still, elliptical cut-outs in the roof help claw back some headroom (is that why it's called a helmet roof?) and it doesn't feel as cramped as you might think.
Thankfully, Mini hasn't fitted a pair of pretend rear seats. Instead, there's a shelf for storing such things as small bags and the bulk head allows access to the boot. Incredibly, this is significantly bigger in capacity than the regular Mini's, boasting 280L of storage to the hatchback's 160L. It's easier to access as well and there's a hidden area for valuables.
You might want to stash any breakables there, too. And stuff it with bubble wrap for good measure. That's because the coupe positively encourages hooliganism behind the wheel. The regular JCW model has always been a bit of a live wire, but the Coupé version is even more rapid. There's less weight over the rear wheels, so it's lively when driven fast, and feels much more powerful than its 211hp figure suggests.
That's down to the torque. A figure of at least 260Nm is available from just 1,850rpm, all the way around to 5,600rpm. If the engine management system approves, you can even have access to 280Nm thanks to an "overboost" facility. In tight corners the Coupé just about manages this level of grunt and it's all too easy to spin one of the front wheels if you're a little eager with the throttle.
Sport mode makes the car feel even faster thanks to a sharper throttle response and less power steering assistance, while the settings available in the various stability and traction-control systems allow the driver to customise how the car reacts when driven fast. By default it reins in exuberance safely, but more experienced drivers will love how it reacts in the most extreme settings.
They'll love how it sounds, too. It's only a 1.6L four-cylinder engine, but it has as much personality as any other petrol unit out there, roaring around to the red line and popping and banging out the exhaust on the overrun. If you don't get a kick out of driving this car you should go see a doctor. And take the scenic route in case you change your mind.
At launch there are three variants available alongside the JCW model tested: Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper SD. That latter one is the high-performance diesel and while it offers huge torque (even more than the JCW version), as much real-world performance as anyone needs and unbelievable economy, we'd still opt for one of the petrol models. Every one can be specified with a choice of three different chassis set-ups.
They won't all look quite as aggressive as the low-set JCW Coupé, but they will be noticeably distinct from their hatchback relatives - thanks, in part, to the fact that Mini will force buyers to specify a contrasting roof colour. It can't force you to tell anyone that it's called a helmet roof though, can it?
The Mini JCW Coupé will hit the UAE in late October. Prices have not yet been set.
Base price n/a
Engine 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder
Gearbox six-speed manual
Power 211hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque 260Nm @ 1,850rpm
Fuel economy, combined 7.1L/100km
Published: August 19, 2011 04:00 AM