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Mini Cooper Coupe: Ride in a “Smallternative”

What it is : A mini Mini, built for two.

Base prices range from to $22,000 to $31,900.

Mileage ranges from 25 miles per gallon in the city to 37 miles per gallon on the highway.

What’s worth knowing : BMW’s Mini division has pulled off one of the neatest tricks in the car business by building a lineup of six different models, all from the same chassis. The two-seat coupe, like the original hatchback and the other Minis, comes in a base model, a sporty S version and a high-performance John Cooper Works variant.

Who it’s for : People who put practicality far down their list of priorities.

What’s good : The Mini coupe has the same diminutive appeal as the more familiar Cooper hatchback, except more so. The go-karty ride is crisp and exhilarating. Mileage is good. And you’ll snag parking spaces most other cars can’t possibly squeeze into. Gadget geeks will love the retractable rear spoiler that deploys automatically at about 50 MPH, to enhance stability.

What’s bad : It has all the drawbacks of tiny cars. Visibility is terrible, even out the front windshield, which is so low you’ll need to stop farther away from traffic lights than you’re used to in order to see them. There’s precious little cargo space. Since you’re lower to the ground, the ride can be punishing on any pavement with imperfections. As with BMWs, a few options -- $250 for a center armrest? -- can quickly add thousands to the price.

How it stacks up : The toughest competitor to the Mini coupe is the regular Mini Cooper, which seats four instead of two and is nearly as fun to drive. For pure fun, the Mazda Miata is a close competitor, and a bit cheaper, too.

What to do if you want one: Test-drive it on a road with a few bumps, to make sure your back can handle it. If you’re still sold, ask yourself why two seats are better than four.

Rick Newman is the Chief Business Correspondent for U.S. News & World Report and a longtime car buff. He reviews automobiles here on a regular basis.

Follow Rick on Twitter, @rickjnewman.

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