There are a lot of thing to like about Mini's new Coupé, a compact two-seater that effortlessly distills the brand's carefully contrived character into a package aimed at the more sporty, design-conscious buyer. Arguably, the Coupé fulfils much the same function as the original Mini Cooper S did ten years ago when the" target="_blank" >BMW-helmed brand made its much-heralded comeback. That, as we all know, was a huge success. Two million Minis later, and the original halo car has been swallowed up by a range running to no less than six derivatives, all the way up to the not-quite-so-Mini Countryman. Although the original Cooper and Cooper S remain the range's best-sellers, ubiquity has slightly blunted their sporting appeal. Enter the Coupé.
Minis continue to sell strongly around the world, bucking the downward trend of the last couple of years. To paraphrase Woody Allen, a car company is like a shark - it has to keep moving forward to survive. If it stops, it dies. Ever since its remarkable rebirth, Mini hasn't ceased its constant focus on new product, from Countryman through to convertible. With the two-seater open-topped Roadster following early next year, and other models in the offing including the new Paceman, the Mini machine rumbles on relentlessly in 90 markets around the world. India is the latest target for the company (although it's a tough sell for small hatchbacks, especially premium priced machines like this).
First shown in concept form at Frankfurt in 2009, the Coupé has reached production largely unchanged. The Mini formula is well-practised and you could never mistake this car for anything else, despite the drastically altered roofline that curves down to a bustle-like rear end.
Mini are making much about this being their first 'three-box design' (bonnet, passenger compartment, boot), but this is slightly disingenuous. If anything, the rakish profile and shallow windows makes a rather too literal virtue out of the traditional lower=sportier equation.
In any case, the idea of a fastback Mini isn't new; back in the 60s, British tuning company Broadspeed tacked on a sleek tail to Alec Issigonis's original car, a swooping addition with a hint of pocket-sized Aston Martin DB6. The new Coupé doesn't share this 1960s chicness, and its thick stripes and contrasting roof colours are more about statement than style. It's a missed trick, and Fiat would do well to rush the 500 Zagato into production - a far more accomplished hatchback-into-fastback treatment.
Looks notwithstanding, Mini hopes the Coupé's customer base will come from other premium sporting coupés, think" target="_blank" >Audi TT and Peugeot RCZ - perhaps even the" target="_blank" >Porsche Cayman (optimistically cited at the press briefing). It's more likely to steal sales from hot hatchbacks, even though Mini's belief that is a more masculine car than the standard model doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Even so, this will remain a niche car in the high volume world of Mini, with the most powerful model, the John Cooper Works, pitched as the fastest car in the company's current line-up.
Inside, it's classic Mini to the fore, complete with complex option list of trims, colours and options, allowing buyers to easily add a few thousand pounds to the basic price. That retro-esque dashboard with large, circular speedometer is all present and correct; as always, function concedes rather too much to form, but the Mini's bulletproof popularity shows that the design formula is still highly prized.
On the road the Coupé retains all the best qualities of its siblings - neat handling, compact footprint and sprightly acceleration. The company held their launch event high up in the Austrian Alps, and the winding roads around the Jaufen and Brenner Passes were a pitch perfect location for sampling the car's many virtues. The tough suspension was flattered by the smooth Austrian tarmac, however - this could be a rickety ride on less forgiving roads.
Can the Coupé cut it in the more grown-up world of the small sports car? Apart from the lost rear seats, the Coupé is still a practical beast, with a generous boot and excellent economy and emissions. If you can get past the awkward looks and can keep the stick-on stripes in check, the Coupé could just be all the compact sports machine you'll ever need.