Brief encounter: MINI John Cooper Works Coupé

Social media has revolutionised the business of new car launches. When I were a lad, I had to turn to Autocar & Motor to read all about forthcoming new cars or spy shots. Alternatively, I’d flick through the pages of the local rag or rely on a certain TV programme that used to air at 8.30 on a Thursday night. Well, as Robert Allen Zimmerman may have said, the times they are a changin’.

Today, scoop spy shots, motor show concepts and new car launches are transmitted around the world within a matter of seconds. In some ways it’s a rather sad development of the modern age. The theatre and romance associated with waiting for the arrival of your chosen mag or tuning in to Top Gear to await their verdict on the latest new car has all but gone. The news travels fast and embargoes are often broken. The manufacturers have been quick to catch-on and will use social media to their advantage. Some do it very well, others less so.

But manufacturers can only control the social media output so far. Once in the public domain, a new product is metaphorically speaking, thrown to the lions. People will make instant judgements based on no prior knowledge of the car and if that person is influential, their voice and opinion will travel further. It’s all a long way from the days when William Woollard and LJK Setright were the voices of motoring!

I’m not entirely sure what Setright would have thought of the new MINI Coupé, but such was the reception the car received on twitter that you’d have thought MINI had accused Alec Issigonis of being a hamster and smelling of elderberries. I can’t remember the exact comments, but let’s just say people weren’t exactly falling about themselves to lavish praise on the ‘challenging’ design. A tidal wave of negativity seemed to follow, with only a few people sticking their necks out to defend the little two-seater.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me either. The MINI Coupé is definitely a car that looks better in the metal than it does on the ‘net. But automotive history is littered with examples of cars with styling that has divided opinion but remain great drivers’ cars. I point to the BMW Z3M Coupé, Vauxhall VX220 and Lancia Delta Integrale as three examples.

Mini John Cooper Works Coupé Pepper WhiteSo at the recent SMMT Day held at Bowood Hotel in Wiltshire, I was in no rush to test the MINI Coupé. But as the day drew to a close and most manufacturers were packing their boxes to head home, I jumped in the Coupé John Cooper Works. I fully expected to drive home that evening debating what would be my car of the day. As it happened, I needn’t have bothered. The MINI Coupé completely stole the show.

What a fabulous little car. It’s so obviously a MINI, but at the same time, quite unlike any MINI you’ll have driven before. If you can look beyond the slightly awkward looks, you’ll find the MINI JCW Coupé to be one of the most engaging and exhilarating cars on sale today.

MINI clearly has high hopes for the Coupé, referencing the likes of the Cayman, Boxster and Scirocco GT in its press pack. It may not seem like it on paper, but the £23,795 price tag for the JCW Coupé is something of a bargain. With a 0-62 time of 6.4 seconds, this is the fastest accelerating MINI to date and will also go on to a top speed of 149mph. But of course, power is nothing without control, so it’s good news that the JCW Coupé also is a delightful car to drive. There are huge levels of grip and virtually zero body roll, even around the tightest of bends. There’s also bags of feedback through the Alcantara-clad steering wheel. In so many ways, the JCW Coupé reminded me of my old Ford Racing Puma, another car that puts the driver at the centre of proceedings. You don’t just drive these cars, you revel in them.

But where the JCW Coupé out-trumps the Racing Puma is in the engine department. OK, so you’re not going to experience the 149mph top speed in the real world, but the manner in which the MINI delivers the 211hp is delightful. It’s just a mere 1.6 litre, 4-cylinder engine, but it manages to squeeze 280 Nm of torque and surprisingly, a combined MPG figure of 39.8. Such economy from a performance-oriented car is truly impressive, although naturally you’ll see far less than this figure if you use the JCW Coupé to its full potential.

Mini John Cooper Works Coupé Pepper White side viewAll too often we hear manufacturers claiming that they’ve launched a car to put the fun back into driving, but all too often, these claims are unfounded. Besides, with congested roads, rising petrol prices, pot holes and speed cameras, the car is only part of the equation. But the JCW Coupé manages to raise a smile, even when it’s stood still.

I’ve always believed it is impossible to deliver a rounded and conclusive review without spending a few days with a car and with this in mind, my 30 minutes with the two-seater MINI is merely a taster of the car’s strengths and weaknesses. But from the moment you set eyes on the car for the first time, to the moment you press the stop button, you find yourself grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Of course, the white paintwork with red roof and stripes help to give the car a real presence, but it’s much more than that. The JCW Coupé is quite unlike anything else on the road today. As I crawled through the centre of Calne during a wet and dreary school chuck-out time, it drew smiles and excited double-takes from many of those who saw that. Car design should do this. Love it or hate it, the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé stimulates debate and demands a response. Only a small proportion of new cars manage to do this.

Mini John Cooper Works Coupé Pepper White rear viewOf course, the purists will bemoan the fact that this is yet another bastardisation of the MINI vision set out by Alex Issigonis and yes, I can see some strength in their argument. But times have changed and the modern MINI is just a reflection of today’s market and I’m certain that the Coupé will be a success. Ultimately, I see the Cooper SD being the biggest seller in the Coupé range but the JCW will be a tremendous halo model for MINI.

Besides which, maybe Mr Issignonis wouldn’t be too upset with the Coupé. After all, it was his two-seater design and vision of a small car that eventually led to the development of the Morris Minor in 1948. Fast forward 63 years and, in a round about fashion, the MINI Coupé could be the realisation of his dream. You could almost say it’s a ‘Minor’ achievement.

Mini John Cooper Works Coupé Pepper White interiorOf course, the price and level of specification found on the Coupé is a world away from the original MINI. What’s more, by the time you’ve ticked a few options boxes you could be writing a cheque for close to £30k. But according to CAP Monitor, the JCW Coupé will retain 45% of its value after three years, 4% more than a Cayman. An indication that these things will sell well and be highly sought after on the used car market.

Believe me, I never expected to like the MINI Coupé, but if my 30 minutes with the car are anything to go by, PetrolBlog could have a new hero. It isn’t perfect, of course. Rear visibility is poor, some of the interior features are a triumph of style over ergonomics and as mentioned previously, the options can be pricey. You may also need to get used to defending the car’s challenging looks, but rather that than drive another anodyne hatchback, eh? Besides, the rear spoiler pops up at 50mph which in itself, manages to counter any of the negatives!

The MINI John Cooper Works Coupé. A properly fun car. Despite what people may tell you on twitter.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

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