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2012 Mini Coupe: Like driving a bullet

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CHICAGO – I drove a Mini John Cooper Works Coupe here to attend the auto show and I was really impressed with the little car.

The Mini Coupe is the first two-seat Mini in the market. It is also the fastest accelerating Mini ever and it has the highest top speed. That power and those middle names were derived from a 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbocharged direct injection four cylinder engine that generated 208 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

The car could get from a standstill to 60 mph in a scant 6.1 seconds and it had a top speed of 149 mph. That sort of quickness and that sort of speed in the 2,701 lb. Mini Coupe is like driving a bullet. A rear spoiler automatically deploys at 50 mph to optimize air flow and helps keep the car on the ground.

Even though the Mini had electric power steering and front-wheel-drive the car felt like it was glued to the pavement. Turns were precise; it even had a steering system that would automatically center itself, if I loosened up on the steering wheel at the end of turns. That’s when I felt the car’s go-kart like handling the most.

The Mini Coupe is, like every Mini, a subcompact car. Overall it was 147 inches long, 54.5 inches tall and it had a wheelbase of 97.1 inches. The point is that in a car with those dimensions the ride simulates the pavement. Smooth pavement smooth ride, undulating pavement undulating ride, rough pavement rough ride; and so on. In other words, if you’re looking for a cruiser the Mini Coupe is not the car for you.

However, if you want to be one with the road, feel exactly what the car is doing as it relates to the pavement under it, then driving the Mini Coupe can be exhilarating.

But if you’ve got kids, then a Mini Coupe ought to be a second or third car. Two seats actually means two seats. Like every Mini the coupe was distinctive: round headlights, short wheel base and flat sides.

That leads me to my lone quibble with the Mini Coupe. The windshield was raked and when you’re in a place like Detroit where the street lights are hung over the intersection it’s difficult to see the traffic lights. I had to duck down or look out the side glass to see the light. It wasn’t a problem in the Windy City where the street lights are atop pedestals on the corners.

Anyway, although it was a subcompact car, me and a childhood friend (two grown men) got in the Mini Coupe and had plenty of space. I never felt cramped in the passenger cabin, my sight lines were good and the car had a bunch of creature comforts.

Bluetooth telephone connection, satellite radio, auxiliary and USB jacks, CD player, HD radio, a navigation system, voice controls and Xenon headlights were among the options. Other than power door locks, side mirrors and steering, the seats were manual, there were no automatic dimming rearview or side view mirrors and no automatic climate controls.

The instrument controls of a Mini are different. The huge round speedometer is in the center of the dash board. In its center is an information display that includes the navigation system, audio controls, vehicle settings, etc. Thank goodness they put a digital MPH readout in the odometer which is above the steering wheel in front of the driver. Without that readout the Mini Coupe would be a speeding ticket on wheels.

Still, the car was awfully slick. The Mini Coupe had an EPA rating of 25 MPG in the city and 33 MPG on the highway. Translated into the real world, that means I got the car on a Friday drove around Detroit until Monday when I headed to Chicago, about 275 miles. Once here I did some more driving and didn’t gas up until Tuesday morning. I’m back in Detroit, it’s Friday and I found no need to head to the gas station.

My test vehicle had a base price of $31,200 and with a $700 freight charge the total was $38,850.

Frank S. Washington is managing partner/editor of AboutThatCar.com.

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