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Mini Coupe v Peugeot RCZ v Audi TT

  1. Mini Coupe

    Many thought that the Countryman diluted
    Mini’s mojo, despite its evident success. Will the Coupe rekindle the passion?

    Words:
    Sam Phiip
    Photography: Lee Brimble

    This article originally appeared in the November issue of Top Gear magazine 

  2. Mini Coupe

    Is it a helmet? Is it a baseball cap? No,
    you haven’t wandered onto the pages of What Sporting Headwear Monthly?.
    This is TopGear, and this is important: what, exactly,
    is that strange growth atop the Mini Coupe?

    See, when the Coupe was first shown at the
    Frankfurt motor show in 2009, Mini’s design director, Gert Hildebrand, who is a
    German, proudly revealed its, er, unique roof design was inspired by his
    teenage son’s habit of wearing a baseball cap back-to-front. 

  3. Mini Coupe

    Shortly thereafter, someone in Mini head
    office who may or may not have been named Helmut, decided a spotty adolescent’s
    tribute to Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst wasn’t an image they wanted
    associated with the sportiest model in the Mini line-up, instead rebranding the
    Mini’s unique roof as a ‘helmet design’, which is obviously far more difficult
    to make childish jokes about.

    Whatever you
    make of its hat, parked up in a deserted shipyard beneath Middlesbrough’s big
    blue transporter bridge, there’s no denying the Coupe looks fresh and
    different. Then again, the seagull-pecked carcass of a long-dead herring would
    look fresh and different here.

  4. Mini Coupe

    A couple of years ago, Middlesbrough was
    ranked as the worst place to live in the UK
    – presumably only because the researchers never saw my second-year student flat
    – and
    it provides a backdrop that would make even the Ssangyong Rodius look
     appealing.

    Unfortunately for the Coupe, we’re judging
    it against rather stiffer competition than a couple of rusty cranes. More
    specifically, we’re judging it against the Audi TT and Peugeot RCZ. That’s some
    mean opposition: the RCZ is the best-looking, best-driving Peugeot in a decade
    (no ‘best singer in Jedward’ jokes, please) and our reigning Coupe of the Year,
    while the TT needs little introduction. Forget the tanning salon vibe of the
    original 1998 design: now in its second generation, the compact Audi is a
    proper driver’s car.

  5. Mini Coupe

    For its first-ever UK test, we’ve got the
    most potent Coupe in the range: the top-of-the-pile John Cooper Works version.
    This is the fastest-accelerating production Mini in history, capable of hitting
    62mph in 6.4 seconds, courtesy of its 211bhp, 1.6-litre turbo engine. That’s a
    near-perfect match for the entry-level TT – which boasts exactly the same power
    output from its 2.0-litre turbo – and just a nose ahead of the top-power RCZ:
    the Peugeot’s engine, closely related to that in the Mini, develops 200bhp.

    The
    Mini isn’t quite an on-the-nose rival for the TT and RCZ: while both the Audi and the Peugeot sport a tiny pair of rear chairs, the Mini is, to use the
    obligatory prefix, a strict two-seater (as opposed to what? A lenient
     two-seater?).

  6. Mini Coupe

    In fact, if you discount the super-limited
    JCW GP hatch of 2006, it’s the first production two-seater in Mini’s
    50-and-a-bit-year heritage. Behind the driver is a space for a couple of coats
    or a dachshund stored transversely, then a whacking great lump of plastic
    cladding separating cabin from the 280-litre boot (bigger than the Clubman’s,
    no less). 

    The hat-wearing Coupe is certainly a
    more… challenging piece of design than the sleek Audi and curvaceous Peugeot
    (though, while we’re on the subject, when is Peugeot going to graft the 508’s
    far more palatable nose on to the RCZ?).

  7. Mini Coupe

    From certain angles in the red-on-silver
    spec of our test car, it resembles a giant plastic tongue draped fleshily atop
    a standard Mini recently employed as a bar stool by an elephant that’s let
    itself go a bit. You’ll have your own views on its looks: possibly strong and
    shouty views.

    We will simply say this, though: after a few days with the Coupe,
    we developed a begrudging affection for its cartoonish lumpishness (but then
    again, we’ve always had a soft spot for the gurning Lancia Hyena, so take
    anything we say with a pinch of salt), but there was never a point at which its
    strange shapes suddenly clicked into place, never a moment when we thought,
    “Ah, so that’s what the designer was trying to do…”

  8. Mini Coupe

    So, yes, the Coupe is
    an unashamedly weird thing to look at, but at least it’s small. After a dubious
    venture into definitely-not-mini territory with the Countryman, this is Mini
    returning to its heartland: compact, front-drive, lightweight.

    Only, the Coupe isn’t
    especially lightweight. In fact, despite being shorn of two seats,
    the JCW Coupe weighs 25kg more than its hatch cousin, thanks to a bunch
    of chassis reinforcements borrowed from the JCW convertible. Still, with a
    lower centre of gravity than the hatch, it’s billed as the most involving Mini yet. Let’s find out…

  9. Mini Coupe

    The roads of the North Yorkshire Moors are a chassis engineer’s nightmare. Narrow, surfaced with a grim patchwork of
    crudely stitched bitumen, endlessly buckled and cambered, they subject every
    aspect of a car’s suspension to a waterboarding-style interrogation. Threading
    along these unforgiving tracks requires a healthy dose of concentration and, if
    you want to make rapid progress, some mild bravery.

    There’s no telling what
    you’ll find mid-corner: a devious pothole, a six-inch-high crease of tarmac, a pile of gravel or, most probably, a dopey sheep eyeing its impending death with
    baleful gloom. Climbing through
    scrubby pastures and riotous purple heather onto the lonely sweep
    of Blakey Ridge, the Mini is indeed involving.

  10. Mini Coupe

    Then again, so is
    sharing a sauna with a family of tetchy scorpions. Stiffly sprung and prone to turbulent torque steer, its
    active spoiler bobbing cheerily up and down behind the rear screen, you wrestle
    this thing along a B-road rather than drive it.

    The Mini is so responsive to
    mid-corner bumps that you’re forced to manically wind the steering on and off
    as you tackle a bend at speed, feeling for grip, scrabbling wildly to keep the
    nose aiming the right way.

  11. Mini Coupe

    In the TT, by contrast, you simply point
    the front end where you want to end up and let
    the Audi’s forgiving damping deal with the rest. Our test car is equipped with
    Audi’s magnetic ride (a £1,175 option), and even in the sharpest setting, the
    TT – which, interestingly, weighs just a few kilos more than the smaller Mini –
    smooths out the Moors’ rumpled patchwork with a sophistication the Mini can’t
     match.

    On paper, the Audi is the quickest car here, pipping the Coupe a couple
    of tenths to 62mph and the RCZ by an extraordinary second and a half, and it
    feels it, planting its power on these storm-sodden roads where the Mini
    frenziedly spins its tyres. The Audi makes a lovely noise, a crisp rasp that’s never intrusive or pantomime, but just steely enough to
    remind you that
    you’re driving a proper sports car.

  12. Mini Coupe

    The RCZ offers up a more languid GT
    experience, these tight roads bringing out a softer, more placid character to
    the buttocky Peugeot. Though sharing much DNA with the Mini’s engine, it’s far
    less rev-hungry, ambling towards the red line where the Mini charges headlong
    at it with a turbo rasp and a flicker of the traction control.

  13. Mini Coupe

    Involving it may be,
    but, on the worst roads, the Mini’s incessant skittishness begins to grate,
    like a toddler replying “Why? Why? Why?” to every explanation you give. We’ve
    come to expect such fidgety behaviour from hot Minis, but more of a surprise is
    something else the Coupe shares with the hatch: its seating position.

  14. Mini Coupe

    Even with the seat
    ratcheted down to its very lowest point, you still sit on top of, rather than
    within, the Coupe, your ankles down below your knees, not out in front. It’s
    not terminally bad – the stock Mini has a decent driving position, and this is
    no worse – but as you slot comfily into the dark confines of the TT, cranking
    the seat lower and lower until your view through the windscreen is of nothing
    but sky and passing crows, you realise how much more hatch than coupe the Mini
    really is.

  15. Mini Coupe

    Unlike the RCZ. Its pedals aren’t quite so
    perfectly placed as the TT’s, but the Peugeot still cocoons you in deep,
    leathery, coupe comfort. With its classy detailing and shiny bits, the RCZ
    pushes into sharp focus how unoriginal the Mini’s cabin really is. Yes, its
    windscreen angles more steeply towards your forehead, but beyond that it’s all
    too familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the regular three-door Mini.

  16. Mini Coupe

    Though I’m sure the marketing men refer it
    to as a ‘core brand signature’ or some such nonsense, couldn’t Mini have
    ditched the giant central speedo for once? Not only does it serve no function
    as a speedometer unless you drive with your head tipped into the middle of the
    car, it also makes the cabin feel open and tall, rather than low and intimate.

  17. Mini Coupe

    Maybe we’re being too harsh on the Coupe.
    On the right road, it’s a fighty, frenzied ball
    of fun. If you’re up for a scrap, of these three coupes it’s the Mini that will
    smear the widest smile across your face, chuntering and hissing as it slews
    cheerily down a country lane. As with the JCW hatch, you fight the wheel like a
    Pikes Peak hero, glutei tensed, waiting for the nose to make its next bid for
     hedgerow.

  18. Mini Coupe

    If you want a two-seater with Mini
    manners, and you can handle the whole helmet/baseball cap thing, you’ll love
    it. And, arguably it’s actually more practical than the hatch: no one has ever
    bought a three-door Mini for its usable rear seats, so why not give up any
    pretence of ever transporting more than a single passenger, and marvel in the
    luxury of being able to fit big pieces of fruit in the boot?

  19. Mini Coupe

    Matching the RCZ on price almost
    pound-for-pound, the Coupe undercuts the equivalent TT by some three grand. But
    the Audi is simply in a different league. Pugnacious though it is, this
    top-spec Coupe is too obviously a descendent of the basest Mini hatch, a car
    less than half the price. Where the Peugeot and Audi hide their donor organs
    under original designs, the Mini doesn’t feel special, different enough to
    justify its premium price.

  20. Mini Coupe

    Here’s the thing. An entry-spec Mini Coupe
    – especially one with a less divisive colour scheme – could be a cracker. The
    naturally aspirated 122bhp petrol Coupe starts at just over £16,000,
    undercutting the cheapest RCZ by more than five grand and the cheapest TT by
    over ten grand.

  21. Mini Coupe

    That car would go head-to-head with the
    Renault Wind and Abarth 500 rather than these cruiserweight coupes, a battle
    the Mini would come out of far better: we’ve always found the base-spec Mini
    ‘One’ hatch to be one of the most enjoyable, and the Coupe’s cut-and-paste
    cabin and vertiginous seating position wouldn’t be such an issue in a cheaper
    car. And let’s face it: spec the Mini tastefully, and it’d look veritably
    svelte next to the Wind. But in JCW form, the Coupe feels a leap too far for the
    humble Mini. Diverting though this car is, it doesn’t quite manage the hat
     trick.

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