Opinion: Coupe Confessional

Owning a MINI Coupe has been quite an experience so far, and the news that the Coupe and Roadster are finished this month leaves this Coupe owner looking back, and confessing that he is feeling good about the future. 

My first confession is that I didn’t like the look of the Coupe at all when I first saw it in print. I wanted a Roadster and started saving for one. It wasn’t until after I saw a glistening black JCW Coupe with its Chili Red top and stripes on the showroom floor that it struck me what a massively cool car the Coupe is. My Motoring Advisor described it as “stout” as he shook the roof vigorously and the car barely rocked back and forth. Seeing it in person made all the difference in the world for me. I decided quickly that the limited rear visibility I experienced on the test drive wouldn’t be a deal breaker given all the other factors.

Speak to any Coupe (R58) owner and you’re likely to hear some stories. Mostly stories about what other people think about their car. From the moment the Coupe appeared as a concept, people didn’t know what to make of it. It wasn’t Aztek-ugly but it wasn’t exactly the legendary, square design that is a hallmark of MINI’s history. To some it looked weird; to others it looks racy, yet for some it was perfect.

MINI Coupe, 2012

Forgive me for I confess to having paid more than anyone should for a FWD compact car — or so the comments on Car and Driver’s site would lead one to believe. What inspired me to purchase the Coupe were a string of specific things I was looking for in a car. I wanted front wheel drive because it snows like mad here in New England and, as a California native, I don’t find RWD driving to be fun in snow and ice.

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It had to have MINI Connected because I wanted to have the latest connectivity options and technology in the car (this ruled out the GP for me).

It had to be small and easy to park in case I drive into Boston or New York.

With no kids, no dogs and nothing to haul, rear seats weren’t important at all to me – in fact, I didn’t want them.  The bulk of my driving is just me going to work and back, and more seats just makes it easier for me to end up being the de-facto taxi for lunch at work.

I wanted my new car to be unique and eye-catching in style because I don’t want to drive the same car everyone else has — one of the things that attract people to the MINI brand in general.

It had to be quick and nimble, which the JCW treatment met with flying colors.

It had to get decent mileage over 30 MPG, which it does, and the Ford Focus ST did not.

Since it was going to cost as much as a luxury sedan, I wanted luxury amenities like a leather dashboard and premium seats and sound. The JCW checked all the boxes for me like no other car could, but it also tipped the scales with a hefty price tag that would leave most people scratching their heads wondering who in the world would pay that much for any FWD compact car? The answer to that for me was simple: exclusivity. They discontinued Laguna Green before I could place my order, but that’s now an extra rare Coupe color, as is the silver on silver option that someone in New England ordered during the brief window that was possible.

Laguna Green

The Coupe wasn’t selling well when I bought it and I knew that. This was a plus for me. I paid a premium for all of the niceties I had ordered, but also for a bit of exclusivity. I must have waved to hundreds of MINI motorers since I purchased the Coupe, but only a handful of times have I ever run into other Coupes. Now that production of these cars is over, their numbers will dwindle in coming years and the MINI Coupe will be even more rare than it is today. Those with a limited-time color have pretty rare cars. I’d like to find out how many JCW Coupes were sold in total. (If anyone knows, feel free to post in the comments below!) All of this said, the Paceman may end up being the most rare of modern MINIs given its short run, but I believe the Coupe will remain the most attention-grabbing MINI to date, even for those who find it unattractive.

Say what you want about the polarizing styling, the experience of pulling up to a gas station or even just parking in a lot in the R58 is usually over-the-top positive for large numbers of Coupe owners. For me, reactions have ranged from, “What is that?” to “Is that thing half as fun to drive as it is to look at?” to “Oh my gosh, what a cute car!” Nothing short of a puppy could be this much of an attention-getter. So why is it that the R58 gets so little love from some MINI owners, yet turns heads and garners thumbs up from others? It’s all in the styling — people love it or hate it with few finding themselves in-between.

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The top of the car is definitely the conversation piece. Most Coupe owners I’ve heard from repeatedly are asked, “Does the top come off?” This question is asked so frequently that Coupe owner, James Day, created and sold t-shirts with the Coupe on the front, and the words, “No, it doesn’t come off” on the back. If people don’t think it comes off, they often think it is a hardtop convertible that tucks into the back somewhere. Regardless, the Coupe’s lid is an iconic design that has caused numerous journalists to describe it as, “ugly” or “a backwards baseball cap.” It even landed the Coupe on at least one list of the ugliest car of the year.

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Ownership tells a different story. It seems the polarization extends to ownership as well. Some Coupe owners traded in their new car because they found the ride too harsh. Other Coupe owners are fiercely proud of their purchase and wouldn’t trade the ride for anything, although trading the run flats for some softer summer tires seems to be a popular and fun mod for Coupe owners.

So what does the future hold? Personally I believe, and hope, the Coupe will become a sought-after model many years from now after a period of depreciation. MINI enthusiasts who had kids at the time they were shopping for their first MINI, who found the Coupe attractive but too impractical will eventually be empty nesters. If they remain fond of the MINI brand they may seek out this model because they couldn’t buy it back in the day. Of course, predicting when a car will become a classic is like predicting earthquakes — it’s easy to be wrong. And no, by “classic” I don’t mean classic in the way the Shelby Cobra has become, but rather a classic among MINI enthusiasts. Only time will tell how history treats the Coupe and its Roadster sibling.

The next time you see a Coupe owner, give them a wave. Just don’t ask them if the top comes off.