OK MINI – you’ve done it. You’ve made this die-hard muscle car guy see the light with your little hot-rod roller skate. It handles like a go-kart, has great power and the uncanny ability to plaster a smile on the face of anyone who drives it. This is the 2012 MINI JCW Cooper Coupe and after spending one week and more than 1,000 miles with this little bad-boy I can tell you hands down that this thing is a f*ckin’ riot. I picked up my red and black coupe at San Francisco International airport. I was tired, hung over and quite honestly not in the mood for a road test, much less a spirited drive home. However once I laid eyes on it all that changed. Sitting before me was the little beastie you see here. It looked wickedly bad-ass with its red hat and black trousers and stood out like nothing else in the lot. It was, for lack of a better description, a big middle finger being flipped to the rest of the cookie cutter transportation that littered the lot. Hell, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t psyched knowing that this one was mine.
The 2012 JCW Cooper Coupe is basically a standard John Cooper Works MINI Cooper, sans the back seats and standard roof. But where the standard Mini’s body is now somewhat dated, the Coupe looks fresh and modern. Under that chopped roof are two fewer seats and visibility that is a 7 out of 10 at best, however this car is not about hauling your friends around, it’s about hauling ass down your favorite twisty road.
I’m a big Dude at 6’4″ / 240 lbs. so at first I was a little concerned about squeezing myself into the MINI. Thankfully though the designers went through great pains to make sure that not only did I have room, but that I was pretty damn comfortable. The roof for instance has concave cut-outs that are invisible from the outside, but increase head room dramatically.
Interior door panels have been designed for increased space so that your arms rest comfortably in the insets. Front seats also sit low in the cockpit and provide both driver and passenger 6-way manual adjustments that allow for great leg room. All in all it was pretty impressive.
The Coupes interior is a melding of old style with new technology. The center of the dash houses a monstrous speedometer with a scrolling speed needle, and in the middle resides an LCD readout screen that provides you with everything from your fuel gauge and Bluetooth functions, to navigation and diagnostic settings.
All of this is operated via a small joystick that sits behind the shifter. It all works well but will require a bit of time before you master it. The speedometer, while looking cool is honestly a bitch to read at speed and would serve the driver better if centered in the drivers line of sight. Thankfully though a large 8,000 rpm tachometer (6,500 red line) sits dead center in front of the steering wheel with a small digital speed readout at the bottom.
Everything about the interior is designed to be visually pleasing and inviting to the eye and while it is, somethings are awkward to use. The climate control dials for example use an upward scrolling motion that was difficult to modulate while driving. Then there were the toggle switches for the windows and door locks. Sure they look great, but they should be positioned on the doors, not in the center stack. Three cup holders and a single power port are also provided, however be aware that if you throw this sucker into a corner any drinks you may have WILL go flying (trust me on this).
The seats are firm with good bolsters and once set properly will provide you with about 300 miles of great comfort. I know this because at mile 301, while on my way to L.A. from San Francisco, I actually looked down as I realized my butt was starting to go numb.
A leather wrapped steering wheel with red stitching was a nice touch as was the covered shift knob for the Coupes 6-speed manual transmission. Aside from the ample seat room I was also surprised to learn that once you pop the rear hatch you’ve also got quite a bit of storage. This is a very well done interior with only a few minor quirks here and there.
Keep in mind that I’m a muscle car guy. In fact I own two classics with combined horsepower numbers of over 1,000 hp, so I didn’t really think I’d be impressed by the JCW’s 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-banger. Boy was I wrong. The little mill pumps out 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque which gets the Coupe to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 149 mph. Pretty impressive for something the size of one of Shaquille O’neal’s shoes.
The thing about the engine is that it’s not so much about the power, but how it delivers it. Pop it in sport mode, hit the gas and rev it out to 6,500 rpms. You’ll be rewarded with a great exhaust note, stable acceleration with just a hint of torque steer and a smile. Grab second and third, repeat the process and I can guarantee you’ll be in automotive heaven.
The JCW Cooper Coupe is set-up stiff, like VERY stiff. In fact even in standard mode I found myself wishing it had a “touring” setting. Combine the stiff suspension with the short wheel base and what that means is that you’ll be feeling every bump the road offers up. I’m pretty resilient, but after about 500 miles I was wishing I was in something else. Another thing to mention is that at speed, meaning 80-85 mph (don’t lie, you do this too) you’ll be encountering a fair amount of interior wind and road noise. As the windows are frame-less this is no surprise, but I feel that MINI could’ve done more to rectify this.
Once I got to L.A. all of the little annoying things disappeared. I headed up to my favorite canyon road and once there I was in nirvana. This is what the JCW Cooper Coupe was made for and my God did it love it. Go-kart handling and 17-inch sport wheels combined with a high revving engine and Brembo brakes are great for instilling confidence. I found myself diving deep into corners, dropping a gear and then powering out all the while giggling like a 4-year old boy. This is where the MINI lives, not on the highways, but up here in the canyons.
All of this fun does come with a price though and in this case it was $38,450.00, about the same as a well optioned BMW 128i. I’ve driven the BMW and it’s nowhere near this much fun. But here’s the rubb – whereas something like the 128i is a car you can live with everyday, the MINI is, in my opinion a great 2nd car. Again, I drove this thing for the better part of 1,200 miles in the week that I had it, and by the time I gave it back I was pretty thankful. That doesn’t mean however that I wouldn’t want one. Quite the contrary actually – I want one bad. But again, as a second car.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise though because if you’re already thinking about buying a 2012 MINI JCW Cooper Coupe then you no doubt already know what this car is about. The question now is just what color and configuration are you going to order.
Personally, I’d recommend exactly what you see here.