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Mini coupe JCW


I’ll understand if you see it as simply another variation on a very familiar theme. Cue groaning sound. After all, the Mini coupe is built on exactly the same platform as the rest of the range and utilises as many bits (including most of the interior architecture) as possible from the existing models.

That's how platform sharing works – without it, these days carmakers couldn't justify interesting niche models like this.

However, the coupe does represent a few firsts for the brand: some significant, some silly. It's the first of the new Mini range to have just two seats and the first to sport what's called a 'three-box' body shape. Which means that it has a boot. Every other Mini is a two-box design, either in hatchback or wagon style.

It's also the first Mini – probably the first car ever, to be honest – that has a roof design inspired by a baseball cap worn backwards. Make of that what you will.

Now's probably a good time to tell you that you pay handsomely for this new Mini. It's $7200 more expensive than the JCW hatchback, topping out at $62,990. Well, not quite topping out, because there's a huge options list as well.

Not impressed? That's okay. On the surface it does seem like too much fashion and not a lot of function. But drive the coupe and you can't help but be impressed. All Minis are fun, but the chunky body structure and smaller glass areas of the coupe mean that it's 15 percent stiffer than a Mini hatch. It's 29mm lower too, which means a superior centre of gravity.

You can have your coupe in a variety of versions. Our test car is the flagship: the John Cooper Works (JCW), with an uprated 155kW/260Nm 1.6-litre turbo engine, six-speed manual gearbox (there's no automatic option for the JCW) and rock-hard suspension.

Note the red lid. All coupes with the red roof are JCW versions, although not all JCWs have the red roof. Coupe fact! All coupes have the boot-mounted rrear spoiler, which raises automatically at 80km/h (it goes down again at 60km/h) and is claimed to actually offer some downforce. Yeah right.

To drive? Absolutely mad. The JCW is quick but not extreme, with 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds. But it always feels much faster, because you're sitting inches away from the road and surrounded in mere slivers of glass.

It's pretty furious through the corners. The stiff body and even stiffer suspension mean that the JCW really does handling like a slot car – except imagine that your slot car's tracks run over a typically bumpy New Zealand backroad.

It's hilarious but sometimes hairy: you can feel like you're hanging on for dear life. It might be too focused for some, but they can always opt for the less furious Cooper S version, which comes with a bit less power, a softer ride and even an automatic gearbox if you want it.

A manic driving experience you were probably expecting. But did you know that the Mini coupe is a lot more practical than the hatch? Because by losing the rear seats, which are pretty much useless for adults, you gain an extra 80 litres of cargo space: open the huge hatch (even though it's allegedly a coupe) and you have 240 litres total. Not massive, but no longer laughable compared with other superminis.

Okay, you still have to be a fashion victim to want one of these, especially at the price. But if you do, I think you gain more than you loose compared with the JCW hatchback.

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