Mini Coupe Cooper S Review
We drive the new baby coupe on the new road to Fujairah
By Shahzad Sheikh
There’s a brand new stretch of road that stretches over to the East Coast of the UAE after cutting its way, quite literally through a series of mountains in stunning feat of road engineering. It deserved a decent drive, and we happened to have the new Mini Coupe Cooper S on hand. Perfect.
The coupe is yet another extension in BMW’s unrestrained ambitions to seed the fun-packed ‘MINI’ brand into as many niches as possible. So far we’ve had the reborn Mini itself (in hatchback guise), then came the convertible, followed a little later by the Clubman which was a sort of estate with one less door. I’ve not seen many about, but I actually found it quite practical for a small family and the extra length at the back made it a little more oversteery!
Anyway, now we have the Countryman which is a compact SUV and can handle the slighter rougher stuff, whilst still being fun to drive, plus has the credibility of siring a full-fledged WRC rally car.
And then come two new editions – a Coupe and the soon-to-follow-it Roadster. With the Coupe you get only two seats but a bigger boot, you get longer front doors but a lower roof and a more claustrophobic cabin, the seats are set lower so taller drives can be accommodated, but shallow rear glass ruins rear visibility.
Down the Emirates Road
I squeeze my big frame into the little Coupe – getting in and out is definitely more difficult than the regular hatchback though once in, it’s just as comfortable – and we head out onto Emirates Road in the direction of Sharjah.
Very quickly I have to abandon relying on the central rear-view mirror and resort to the side ones. With my taller torso my line of sight clashes with the rear roof line and you can totally forget about it once the spoiler goes up, which it does at 80kph. It actually provides 40kg of downforce when you’re flat out – which would be 224kph – although as we turn off on the Sharjah-Kalba road we creep past that and an indicated 230 would have been likely had there been fewer trucks out.
The world’s biggest speedometer – more like an old-style weighing machine, looks spectacular and is perhaps a little optimistic with final figure of 260kph but is utterly useless at that speed, as it takes too long for the eyes formerly piercing the horizon in search of an errant camel or Corolla, to try to refocus and find where the needle is on the massive dish. Fortunately you can reconfigure the digital part of the small display directly ahead of you within the rev counter to display kph in digits.
It’s about 25kg heavier, fractionally longer, the same width and obviously lower than the Cooper S hatch. With the autobox it feels quick enough, although it’s not the initial acceleration that impresses, but the strong torque further up the rev band – which obviously makes it better for overtaking and punching out of bends – though there aren’t any so far. The auto offers no paddles as standard, but you can tip the lever back and forth, which proves fun around town, but a bit pointless here. This car really needs to be a manual though – that would be so much more satisfying and grin-inducing – this car’s raison d’être after all.
Turning off onto the E84
Just before the Kalba road starts climbing up into the Mountains, there’s a new sign board for Fujairah and the E84 which swings you off the right and back around over this road to the left. Shortly afterwards you encounter a board that announces ‘Fujairah 35km’.
That’s extraordinary – because if the road is as clear, wide and fast all the way as it looks immediately up ahead, that won’t take much time at all. Whereas usually you’d have to continue to Kalba, turn left and drive through loads of towns and villages, or you would have gone further into Sharjah and cut around the mountain-scape ahead. Either way would have taken you an hour and half optimistically.
It cost about AED1.7bn ($0.5bn) to build this 40km road, most of that appears to have been spent on explosives and cutting equipment to cut through the rugged terrain. Around 13 million cubic metres of road were moved to make way for this snaking tarmac and the mountains have been cut in 10 metre steps and then netted back to stop smaller rocks and debris causing havoc in this high-speed expressway (although the official speed limit is 120kph).
It’s a spectacular feat of terra-forming thanks to the effort of nearly three and half thousand labourers, supervisors and engineers, and it’s worth stopping every few clicks to admire both the stunningly forbidding vistas and the manner in which man is able to literally move mountains.
The road is largely fast, open and free flowing, but several parts have sweeping 100kph plus curves that allowed the little Coupe to hunker down and hustle in glee. Considering this car is based not on the hatchback but actually on the convertible – the largely glass and aluminium roof has been stuck on top but is not a load-bearing structure – you might have expected some flex. But the rigidity has been built into the lower back of the car and it does feel a solid little thing.
Fujairah in under an hour
Well, we didn’t quite make Fujairah in under an hour, but then we kept stopping to take pictures and admiring the view, including a whole bridge than has been built across a valley.
Still, we’ve confirmed that it’s now remarkably easy to get over to the East Coast from Dubai, although blasting about town for a bit we got a little confused and almost missed the turning back into the new road for the return – it’s just after the new Fujairah City Centre Mall they’re building on the outskirts of the city (if you arrive at an Adnoc station you’ve gone too far and need to take the next U-turn).
So from chucking the new Mini Coupe about in towns and blasting across country, what have we learnt? Well that’s it’s obviously brilliant at both – its depth of engineering and its inherent Germanic build integrity bringing massive reassurance to every journey.
Thing is though that this car is being touted as the most Manly of Minis and the most fun to drive. I’m not sure either is the case. The love it or hate it roof – which Mini refers to as a ‘Helmet’ but everyone else more accurately refers to as a baseball cap worn backwards – marks this car out as a yoof-mobile for wanna-be hoonigans. Actually I’m neither (although some might dispute it) and yet I quite like the sleeker styling of the coupe.
However, I still think the regular Mini hatchback is just about the best-looking, most appealing city car around with a road presence inversely proportional to its diminutive size. Plus this whole thing about this being a better car to drive; honestly speaking it felt pretty much just the same, if anything it was a little more settled due to its lower height.
On top of that, as mentioned, it was difficult to get in and out of, and visibility out the back was poor – whereas it’s great in the regular hatchback. Plus you get the rear seat, which admittedly is not particularly accommodating, but at least you can carry a pair of small children. And if you did need more boot space – folding the seats in the hatch would free up even more room than the admittedly spacious Coupe’s boot.
Pricey little bugger!
And you’re paying the same money as a hatchback – both the Coupe and Hatch versions of the Cooper S with the auto are priced at AED160,000 ($43,500). It must also be mentioned that for that money, there’s certain pair of American muscle cars that will offer far more bang-for-your-bucks. Still this price even makes a regular Mini Cooper at AED125k ($34k) seem like a bargain.
And of course whilst it was a little annoying in our test car that you couldn’t play music through wireless Bluetooth connection (even a Toyota Yaris does that now) considering the target audience, there is of course a list of options and personalisation features several pages long for each owner to make their Mini their very own.
That’s ultimatly what it boils down to though. This car is meant to be fun for kids with particularly generous parents. As with all Minis, I don’t really believe this car is gender-specific, it’s all down to the colour and trim.
Thing is, if they’re gonna spend this much, they might as well go the whole way and spend another AED10k to take it to AED170,000 ($46,200) for the John Cooper Works edition with the manual box and the sportier set-up.
Me? I’d settle for the hatch version of that car, but if you like your cap peak pointing backwards and your belt buckle hanging down near your knees then go for this one. I just hope you’ll be able to fit those massive trainers into the footwell!
Price: AED160,000 ($43,500)
Engine: 1598cc Turbo, 184bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1600-5000rpm
Performance: 7.1secs 0-100kph, 224kph, 6.4L/100
Transmission: six-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Shahzad’s verdict: Cracking little car, but hatchback makes more sense
Let us know what you think of the Mini Coupe below