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Road Test: 2012 Mini Cooper S coupe

The 2012 Mini Cooper S coupe starts at

The 2012 Mini Cooper S coupe starts at $24,600. Credit: Handout

The 2012 Mini Cooper S coupe is a tiny vehicle designed for the tiny group of people for whom the Mini Cooper was not already small, impractical and expensive enough.

This British budget-buster does bring some goodies to the table: charming looks and telepathically responsive handling. Not enough to justify prices of more than $32,000, though.

The Mini Cooper coupe is the two-seat derivative of the Mini hatchback. It looks very small, but it's a hair longer than the more practical Mini hatchback.

The Mini coupe's passenger compartment provides plenty of head- and legroom but not enough storage space for sunglasses, phones, CDs and other gear.

The big, central instrument display is marvelously readable, with speed around the outside and a large central space for navigation and other information.

A little joystick mounted behind the shifter controls phones, audio and navigation. It's an interesting variation on the iDrive rotary controller that Mini's corporate parent BMW uses. Though intuitive and easy to use, the joystick is so small that it's hard to operate in a moving vehicle.

The 9.8-cubic-foot trunk is useful and has a small pass-through. Don't be fooled into thinking the Mini coupe will work for ski weekends, though.

The coupe is quick, easy and delightful to drive. The tires grip curves as if they had claws. The electric power steering is fast and precise, with good on-center feel. The car is quiet at highway speeds.

The six-speed manual transmission has short, fast throws and a slick, easy mechanism.

A small spoiler pops up out of the trunk lid at speeds over 50 miles per hour. The S coupe accelerates to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, 0.1 second faster than the S model of the Mini hatchback.

The coupe's fast windshield is a departure from Mini's traditional upright styling, but the shapes of the headlights, taillights and grille and optional racing stripes make the car immediately recognizable.

A little spoiler at the back of the roof gives the car a jaunty look, like a kid wearing a baseball cap backward.

The Mini Cooper S coupe is a bit like that backward baseball cap. It's a statement of style with few concrete benefits. That limits its appeal sharply in a market with many attractive, sporty, efficient and affordable small cars.

 

MINI COOPER S COUPE

Base price: $24,600

Price as tested: $32,450 (excluding destination charge)

Engine: 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, turbo-chared with direct injection

Power: 181 horsepower at 5,500 rpm

EPA fuel economy rating: 27 mpg city; 35 highway

Wheelbase: 97.1 inches

Length: 147 inches

Width: 66.3 inches

Height: 54.5 inches

Curb weight: 2,679 pounds

Bottom line: Handling and looks are reasons to buy, but shortcomings are price and a lack of interior storage.

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