There seems no end to the levels of innovation coming out of the Cowley plant. The Mini started life ten years ago as a basic hatchback which once led to the suggestion that it was a ‘one trick pony’.

But this pony seems to have plenty of tricks up its sleeve as the Coupé represents the fifth vaiant on the Mini theme or the latest addition to the growing family, as parent company BMW likes to put it The Coupé is a two-seater and with its level of performance it’s safe to call it a sports car.

While the other models range from nippy to fast, this takes the little car into a new dimension in terms of speed, handling and general driving dynamics.

This is not just a modified Mini. Engineers have gone back to the drawing board and for the first time produced a car with a traditional structure comprising engine, cabin and boot.

The Coupé is also 29mm lower than the standard hatch which is tangible when you take your seat. The other instantly noticeable aspect is the steeply raked windscreen which, although fine for looking at the road, does not give a passenger much of a view.

This was noticeable while testing the car on the Alpine passes around the borders of Austria, Germany and Italy where the view was often spectacular.

But these roads proved the perfect opportunity to test the handling of the car and it did not disappoint.

While the standard Mini has always been great fun to drive, the Coupe is a real driver’s car.

Acceleration even in the new diesel version of the Cooper S model is remarkable quick while the car steered around every hairpin bend without ever losing its footing. And if you want to go even faster, the sport button forces the Mini to gird its loins still further, stiffening the suspension and making the steering even more reactive.

The six-speed gearbox is also light while the brakes are responsive, adding to the overall feeling of confidence in the car. Effectively, you know you can drive and stop quickly and safely.

And in the top of the range John Cooper Works version, you are taken to supercar levels of performance with a top speed of almost 150mph and acceleration to 62mph in 6.4 seconds — figures which make it the fastest volume produced Mini ever.

Even the ‘entry level’ Cooper version (no basic models here) can reach 127mph, making it no slouch.

It is also the first BMW-produced car to have a retractable spoiler which rises automatically at 50mph and drops again when the speed falls below 37mph.

That is a bit of fun and you can override it to have it permanently up just to pose in a traffic jam. But it does not help the rear visibility which is not great in the first place.

And the suspension with its sporting set-up is hard, so do not expect saloon car comfort, especially over uneven road surfaces.

But the seats are forgiving enough while the instrumentation with the huge central speedometer now contains satellite navigation and multi-media functions, definitely aimed at the PlayStation generation.

Unlike the standard Mini hatch, there is also plenty of room for luggage behind the seats and in the boot which is accessible from the interior.

The big question here is who the Mini Coupe is aimed at. The two seats mean it will not appeal to families, while the prices and insurance bracket mean it won’t be accessible for younger drivers unless they are capable of paying for the privilege.

That leaves the Audi TT-inspired group of 30-somethings looking for a little excitement. Whether a Mini carries quite the same kudos as a TT remains to be seen. But it is a much cheaper alternative, performs in a similar way and also provides remarkable economy for a car with such exceptional performance.

The Cooper SD, with its two-litre BMW diesel engine, returns 65.7mpg on the combined cycle. CO2 emissions of 112g/km also result in an annual road tax bill of £20, meaning the cost-conscious driver can have their cake and eat it.

BMW admits the Coupé is not for everyone. It spotted a gap in the market which it hopes to exploit, albeit predicting lower sales figures than other Mini models.

But those wanting the ultimate Mini driving experience should look no further.

Model tested: Mini Coupé John Cooper Works/Cooper SD Price: £23,795/£20,510 Fuel consumption (Combined): 39.8/65.7mpg Top speed: 149/134mph Luggage capacity: 280 litres Co2 emissions: 165/114g/km Warranty: Mini tlc — five years for £249