2012 MINI John Cooper Works Coupe
It's quick, but...
But what about handling? Has the transition to the Mighty Helmet and a dash of aggro costumery done anything to futz with MINI's well-deserved rep for front-wheel-drive prowess? Of course not. If anything, this is the best MINI I've driven, and I've driven them all--except the Countryman--to submission in numerous autocross and road course settings.
The Coupe, perhaps owing to its slightly better rearward weight distribution (an artifact of its more complex rearward construction), is more ready to provide the initial rotation you need as you enter a corner at speed. It also maintains this yaw angle with ease, never feeling like it's about to spin around and carom off into the weeds, cones or walls, even with all of the electronic nannies fully disengaged. Perhaps best of all, it may well be the most difficult front-drive car to ham-fist into "terminal understeer," a term bandied about too readily by many car writers, but nonetheless a real thing. Except in the case of very sophisticated, highly tuned, and largely unstreetable racing applications, once a front-wheel drive car transfers enough weight to its outside front tire in a turn to lift the inside rear wheel, it's very hard to prevent the car's trajectory from devolving into an ever-wider, often pavement-departing, arc.
The MINI Coupe stolidly refuses to do this, even when deliberately provoked. It will, in response to truly wild and belligerent gesticulations by the driver, eventually enter a state very near to terminal understeer, but even then, a suitable application or removal of throttle can shift enough weight rearward to re-seat the floating corner and return handling back to more predictable zones.
The MINI Coupe is, simply, very fun to drive.
You might notice I didn't append any qualifiers on that declaration of fun; no hanging "for a front-driver," nor a dangling "as far as hot hatches go,"--not even a passive-aggresive, "for a car under 300 horsepower." That's because it needs none. The fun of rear-drive, 300-700-horsepower, properly pedigreed coupes is no secret. Nor should the fun of a well-engineered, properly-tuned, and eminently balanced little MINI be one, either, any more than it should require a shameful appendage on a declaration of genuine enjoyment.
There is, of course, a whole lot more to know and learn about the 2012 MINI Coupe, but I only spent a handful of active hours with it over the course of a 36-hour whirlwind trip. I could tell you that it readily adapts to rain and fog; that plaid-wrapped Appalachian bluegrass string bands jar against its primary hues; and that despite being the MINI-est MINI of them all, ours readily gobbled up well over 12 feet and 400 pounds of overfed automotive writers--plus their gear--before asking for dessert. But the details will have to wait until I've spent a full week or more in the car.