Monday 27 February 2017

Sorry . . . this MINI falls short

MINI COOPER'S'COUPE RATING 67/100
MINI COOPER'S'COUPE RATING 67/100

I'm sorry, I really am, but I have to disagree with a lot of people this week. I do seem to be at odds with some consensus or other on the new MINI Coupe. I've had a female garda stop to ask me about it (makes a change). I've had people of my own age (30-somethings of course), elderly ladies, bright young things, executives and some colleagues. It stirred interest alright.

I wouldn't have blamed that nice garda lady if she requested me to pull over and ask me what I thought I was doing in that 'yoke'. For a second there I wasn't sure. Instead she loved it.

But no, I'm sorry I just didn't take to it as a concept when I rolled it out for a number of drives.

That's just the way I am. To me -- and it is a singularly subjective viewpoint -- it looks a bit on the bizarre side. (Oh! I can see all this coming back to haunt me.)

What is this MINI Coupe when all is said and done?

Good question. It is a two-seater coupe. A first for the modern MINI. It has a crescent, sawn-off shape as opposed to that more puppy-sitting-on-hind-legs look of the iconic hatchback, for example.

Anyway, the MINI people say it is a major advance in how they have approached designing a car -- they can say that again.

This is virtually the same size as the great little MINI hatch but, significantly, it is a bit lower.

And that contributes to excellent handling, undoubtedly. In my view, however, that doesn't compensate nearly enough.

The suspension in my 'Cooper S' is so sportily tuned it created a new meaning for the word 'feedback'. I felt intimately connected to every metre of road covered. That was grand over good surfaces, but anywhere bumpy or coarse strayed into distinctly robust territory. Some people like that. I don't.

And, maybe it is my myopic imagination, but they seem to have made that bloody great Big Ben of a 'speedo' in the middle of the dashboard even larger.

What a waste of space when you consider they have had to place everyday switches all over the place. You'd need the memory of a Mastermind contestant and the arm of a basketball player to reach some of them.

Sorry. I'm ranting a bit now. You see I love most of the MINI versions -- a lot -- and I think some of the others are excellent for what they set out to do. But I think they might have tried to make too much of a good thing with this one.

The cabin is tiny, with nothing like the adjustment on the seats you'd want. And there was a lot, I mean a lot of road/tyre noise.

So it doesn't do well on the practicality test. In fairness it was not designed to. Yet there is, relatively speaking, a large boot (280 litres -- or 20 litres larger than the MINI Clubman).

The plusses come on the driving side, as I said. The Cooper S version I had on test simply screamed to be let out of the traps. For a 1.6-litre petrol engine it had enormous power (184bhp) and startling straight-line acceleration.

And in fairness they have lots of clever bits here and there, such as the twin pipes at the centre of the rear. By the way, there's an active rear spoiler that rises up to give you more down-force when you cross the 80kmh threshold, something ridiculously easy to do in this.

What a fine piece of work that engine is. Great pulling power and lots of squirt. The extra grip it gives can be important. Gear change was fine. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, I have to say.

But that's okay for me, isn't it? What about you? Would you part with €27,000 or so for a two-seater with such unusual looks?

If you would, more luck to you. Maybe -- just maybe -- the now-famous 'go-kart' feel and sensation of driving this is worth it. And maybe, maybe if times were different, I could find more leniency in my heart. After all it is a MINI and it does try to be different.

But I can't make that sort of case for it. Sorry.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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