On an ordinary day of test-driving recently, I pulled up to a branch bank in a quiet Chicago suburb. Moments after settling into a parking spot near the entry door, a woman practically ran out of the building, toward our vehicle. Oohing and aahing to an extent that we’d not seen in a long while, she quickly proclaimed that the car in which I’d arrived was the cutest ever.
Nearly all the other employees also took the time to enjoy a long look, soon prompting a bank manager to unravel a few stories of his own car experiences.
Focal point of all this attention was a MINI Cooper Coupe: the new two-seater model. Not only that, this MINI was the John Cooper Works edition with a more potent turbocharged engine than a regular Cooper S.
Those bank employees didn’t appear to care about anything beneath the hood, however. They were thrilled by the look of this MINI, which has a roofline far different from its four-passenger mates in the Cooper stable. Bold striping added to the body’s appeal.
When it first arrived at U.S. dealerships, the revived MINI—built in Britain but under the stewardship of BMW—also drew smiles, comments, and gestures of approval. But after a decade on the market, they’re far too commonplace to attract such interest anymore. A MINI Coupe, on the other hand, doesn’t even look much like the regular MINI Cooper. In overall appearance, the two-seater stands essentially alone.
What it does resemble, if anything, are some of the quirky microcars that captured the hearts of iconoclastic, nonconformist American motorists back in the 1960s. Except among enthusiasts of that subset of automobile, their names are largely forgotten: Morris Minor, Isetta, Messerschmitt, and many more—including the original Minis that were sold in the U.S. during the 1960s. What those microcars possessed was personality and character, along with a feisty nature that made them seem less like humdrum machines.
In some TV commercials recently, pedestrians have been depicted as stopping in their tracks to gaze upon a new car model rolling by, eyes open wide, mouths practically agape, nudging their companions in shared recognition. In reality, the object of the bedazzled attention is usually a relatively ordinary car or SUV, differing only in details and specific sheetmetal curves from a dozen others on the market. Despite the persistent, overzealous claims of the ad folks, few deserve a second glance.
At the other end of the spectrum, the MINI Coupe truly is different, reviving the timeworn and seldom-true axiom that there’s “nothing else like it on the street.”
In fairness, during our weeklong test drive of the MINI Coupe, nobody else fawned over it or commented about its coolness. Other than an occasional thumbs-up from another driver, we were left to enjoy the MINI Coupe independently. That’s an easy chore, in view of the Mini’s well-deserved “go-kart-like” handling talents, compelling gearshift/clutch action, and invigorating responses.
Ordinarily, consumer advocates advise against purchasing the top version—the most expensive rendition—of a given car model. In the case of the John Cooper Works edition of the MINI Coupe, that advice isn’t quite so compelling. No one truly needs that additional 27 horsepower from the JCW’s turbocharged engine; but the Coupe simply seems to deserve the best, and the most that’s available.