MINI COOPER D - A CAR FOR THE HEAD AND THE HEART.
It was only ever going to be a matter of when, rather than if, BMW would join the ranks of those making diesel-powered performance hatchbacks with its MINI.
As it happens, BMW wisely decided to wait until the second generation of this remarkable machine was launched, just before Christmas, if only because the diesel used in the first car was a rather nasty piece of work.
But now armed with its own designed and built 1.6 turbodiesel it is able to make a car for the head and the heart in the form of the Cooper D. The aim was to make a package that contains all the fire, verve and value of the Cooper (my favourite of the range) and combine it with a tax-efficient, fuel-sipping diesel. I'm delighted to say that it has done so brilliantly, but there again, given that we are talking about BMW there was really never very much doubt about that.
But this is more than just a diesel, because the very latest versions now coming off the assembly line at Swindon have the very latest eco-technology, such as Stop Start that cuts the engine in traffic. This and a raft of other fuel-saving devices means the car can average more than 70 mpg and emits just 104 g/km.
It's worth going back a bit to look at this new MINI which to the casual glance may look remarkably similar to its predecessor but is in fact quite different. Quite apart from a whole new family of engines, the chassis is new, the steering and suspension are new and inside there is even slightly more room in the back.
Stood side by side the new car is noticeably bigger and higher at the front in response to the tighter regulations on building cars with more forgiving front ends in the event of a collision with a pedestrian but it is instantly recognisable as a MINI albeit it seems a little more grown-up.
It's the same inside where you still find the centrally-placed speedo, put there in homage to the original Mini but with today's ergonomics I was also pleased to see a digital speed display in front of the driver. Porsche has a similar system and it is essential in these times of roadside cameras. The now-famous toggle switches are still there and the interior looks and feels much as before which, compared to more mass-market hatchbacks, means it is a very special place to be.
On the road the diesel is so much nicer and better than the rather crude lump of its predecessor. I always thought BMW was rather embarrassed by using that, given its reputation for being arguably the world's greatest engine builder, but this new unit is excellent.
Being made from aluminium rather than iron makes the car lighter helping it attain its remarkable fuel economy. It used to be the case that iron was used for diesel engine blocks because it absorbed the vibrations better than alloy but with recent advances this is no longer necessary.
Having lightweight aluminium in the nose of the car rather than a big lump of iron helps the car tick the last box, that of handling, because it makes it so much more agile and responsive. Honestly, it delivers all the driving fun someone buying a Cooper would expect and look for.
With six ratios and prodigious torque made even better by the extra power afforded by the over-boost facility which delivers an extra 20 Nm of torque for overtaking which coincidentally takes the output to 260 Nm, the same as the Cooper S, the acceleration is strong. Forget the 9.9 seconds of the 0 to 60 time, it's the mid-range oomph you want and the Cooper D has plenty yet the extra cog also allows relaxed, economical motorway cruising with 70 mph needing just 2,000 rpm.
The MINI Cooper D is a little car with a big heart, one that provides the driving fun expected of the brand but adds a modern diesel which makes financial sense. It's around £1,250 more than the petrol Cooper so you need to do the arithmetic to make sure it pays, but dynamically it need make no apologies.
Our thanks to Knights MINI for the loan of the car used in preparing this article.