Every time I got out of the 2012 Mini John Cooper Works Coupe, I looked back in amazement. It wasn’t the Mini’s thrilling performance that got my attention, but the fact that I was so comfortable inside this diminutive affordable sports car. At 6’1”, I had plenty of leg- and shoulder room, as well as adequate headroom, and most passengers liked the Mini Coupe’s comfortable, supportive seats.

However, the interior isn’t all gumdrops and pony rides. While the dash layout is stylish, the first thing I noticed was that the Mini Coupe doesn’t like you to drink coffee and use the windows at the same time. Toggle switches for the power windows, fog lights and door locks are located on the center stack, directly in front of the cupholders. Bring a beverage and it will block the switch for the window. This seemed like a huge ergonomic misstep to me, especially since there’s plenty of space to mount switchgear on the doors.  

My test Coupe also had a squeak coming from the tiny side window behind the driver’s seat, which meant the noise was directly at ear level. The Mini Connected system with navigation looked nice and Bluetooth synced with my iPhone easily, but I couldn’t play music. Mini Connected normally comes with a special cable for Apple devices, but it was missing from my test car. Additionally, the optional stereo lacked the clarity I expect from something that’s branded as a Harmon-Kardon system.

Then there’s the large, centrally-located speedometer – my dad would love this. Roughly the size of a small pizza, the speedo would make it way too easy for him to kvetch about how fast I’m going. On the flip side, its location means the driver has to look to the right, requiring deliberate glances away from the road. Fortunately, all Mini Coupes come with a tachometer mounted above the steering wheel, which also displays mph digitally.

These complaints may be deal breakers for some car shoppers, but I still love the John Cooper Works Coupe. On my first drive, I was impressed with how nimble the Mini was, but thought that it lacked the performance I expect given my test car’s $37,950 sticker price. Then I found the Sport button. Everything gets better when you put the Coupe into Sport mode. The throttle response quickens and the steering becomes heavier and more precise. These tweaks make the JCW Coupe a truly engaging car.

In many ways, I thought the Mini Coupe was a practical alternative to the Nissan 370Z. Both are two-seat sports cars that are incredibly fun to drive, but the Coupe’s excellent fuel economy, larger cargo bay and front-wheel drive might make it a better fit for a number of car buyers. The Z has a distinct power advantage, but the JCW Coupe’s 208-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine was more than enough to keep things entertaining.

With the exception of the 370Z, opting for the John Cooper Works trim makes the Mini Coupe pricier than most affordable sports cars. Starting at $31,900, the JCW Coupe isn’t cheap, but base and Cooper S models start at $22,000 and $25,300, respectively. At those prices, you’ll give up some power, but the Coupe might still be fit to rival cars like the Mazda Miata. Hopefully, Mini sends me another one so I can find out.