I traded in my GTI for a Mini Cooper S. I was, at first, skeptical of my purchase. I wasn’t used to a small car, and hated rattles and flimsy trim as much as I do screaming children.
Thankfully there hasn’t been a day I regretted the purchase. So far months of trouble free motoring (more than I can say for my GTI), and a car that is very individual in looks.
Once you join the Mini family, it’s somewhat of a cult. You spot them everywhere, looking at variations and colours. Needless to say I was fairly excited at the thought of a Mini Coupe. This said, I didn’t really understand the point as the Cooper S is about as much of a Coupe as no rear seats will allow.
I haven’t liked the Coupe’s styling since I first saw pics of it. That “backwards cap” roof looks as bad as it would on a gangly teenager, and the front is indistinguishable from the standard Cooper. What’s the point there folks? So from the outside we’re already on the back foot. Speaking of the back, there’s a automatic “wing” that should help with downforce at speed, or with “douche” rating in parking lots.
Get in, expecting anything but the standard Mini and you’ll be … well … right on the money. Nothing has changed, except those back seats are now gone, and the roof is a lot closer. Claustrophobia sets in, and fast. The view out the back is similar to that from C-Max prison cell. Numerous tiny little windows make up the view out the rear and that folks, means there are lots of little plastic bits. Lots of little plastic bits means lots of rattling, and lots of rattling means screaming children. SO much so, that I thought there was a box of rocks loose in the boot. The view really is too restricted, I got slightly panicky trying to pull out of the petrol station because no matter how much neck turning happened I couldn’t see the other cars. You sit (what feels) even more low down in the Coupe, and the tiny windows make for an interesting time in traffic. It’s just too impractical like that if your’e driving it every day. That said the boot size is actually bigger. Meh.
I drove the S, in automatic, without paddles on the steering wheel. Not a fan of the auto, a mini should be manual, end of story. Without flappy paddles, even worse.
I pull out the gas station, gun it into a tight right hander and that oh so familiar Mini smile returns. Here’s the crack coccaine people. Wider track, stiffened suspension and that familiar 135kW turbocharged engine. It is a considerably different drive from the normal Cooper S. You feel like the whole car works better together, instead of the front pulling things around, now the back feels like it too is playing a part, with a more planted feel. This said, as IF it could get any better. It literally feels like it’s cornering on rails. It feels like the chassis could definitely do with some more power. So the JCW would be a welcome addition.
Luckily I got the chance to take the JCW Roadster (that’s the Coupe Cabriolet – 2 seats and no roof) around Kyalami in the recent #MiniYourNight event. A fantastic night time driving event surprise around the track. Cutting straight to the errrm… chase … the JCW version is the hottest model of the Roadster range, producing 155kW from the same engine with some technical and electronic mods. 0-100km/h in 6.5seconds means it’s the fastest Mini Roadster and the only spec you should purchase. Taking off and you immediately notice the difference in exhaust note from the JCW, also the suspension has been stiffened even more. The optional wind deflector was fitted which keeps wind noise to a minimum and found that the interior wasn’t rushing with wind, which was a good sign.
Unfortunately the cloth roof isn’t electrically operated and needs manual operation to put up and down. Oldschool. The JCW pack also features an aerodynamic body kit which include larger rims, front and rear aprons and side skirts. Most importantly, due to the increase in power, the Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDL) is standard on the JCW and helps keep maximum power to the front wheels when cornering. Around Kyalami it was heaps of fun – just enough power and heaps of grip, the Roadster was easy to control, getting right onto the red and white, and made for exciting driving through the slalom track devised on the straights. With a slightly longer wheels base the car felt a lot more composed than the standard Cooper S, and even with the roof off, most drivers would not notice the stiffness sacrifices on the track. The 6 speed manual gearbox was typical mini stuff (a joy to use) and overall the JCW kept big smiles on the faces with easy turn in ability, an eager engine and heaps of grip through the corners. Had a smile on my face all the way round.
Sadly, as with the Coupe, the Roadster’s windscreen rack had quite a few rattles, and made the view through the rear view mirror rather blurry. A problem with a lot of convertibles, but again something that they couldn’t overcome in the Mini. Where the Roadster does claim a win is in the looks department. With that cap off, and the roof down, it’s definitely a more balanced look, and considering the back seats are out you get more space in the boot, and that makes it a real roadster… better than a tiny 4 seater convertible in my books.
Would I buy either of them
For R335K Cooper Coupe S Steptronic, pre options – the claustrophobic interior, rattling rear, and what looks like a normal Cooper from the front, I can’t see the point. Yes it handles better than any other Mini, but the sacrifices for that joy is giving too much compromise considering you can get what is a more balanced vehicle in the Cooper S.
If it’s open top motoring you’re after, I’d probably recommend the Roadster over the Cooper S Convertible, considering the more focused 2 seater approach, and it being a much better looking car – it is however pricey over R400 000 for the JCW edition (again pre options).