The latest MINI Cooper D Hatch aims to hit that sweet spot of pace and parsimony. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Mini Cooper D Hatch offers a slightly more relaxed feel with a characteristically sporty Cooper look. The engine cranks out a fairly modest 116PS, but that's enough to get it to 60mph in 9 seconds, so it'll never feel slow. With 270Nm of torque on tap and the ability to return 76.3mpg, this one's going to carve out a useful niche for itself.
Why would you buy a diesel MINI Cooper? That seems quite a fair question given that the Cooper is all about agility, response and perky performance. Even advocates of diesel engines must surely admit that here is one car that is unquestionably better with a petrol powerplant. Or must they? Because if you look at MINI's sales figures to date, a sizeable proportion of British buyers clearly think that a diesel engine works in a Cooper-badged car.
This latest third generation MINI is bigger and better-finished than ever before. In Cooper guise, it's powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine developing 116PS, which sounds about as sporty as Sunday morning with Eric Pickles but, as is often the case with MINI products, there's more to this car than meets the eye.
The Cooper D is all about torque. There's 270Nm available from just 1,750rpm, which means that you won't have to rev the engine hard to extract meaningful performance. Peak power arrives at 4,000rpm which is relatively high for a diesel engine, but you'll probably have shifted up before you get there. Both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic gearbox are offered and there's an optional sport auto available as well. Stick with the manual transmission and you'll find a rev-matching mode on downshifts, making the shifts smooth and sporty-sounding. 62mph arrives in 9.2 seconds en route to a top speed of 127mph.
The suspension layout is retained, with struts up front and a multilink rear end, but everything has been toned a bit with the option of switchable active dampers. The spring rates are firm, so try it before you buy it and check to see what wheels the car is riding on. For ride quality, smaller is better, although the standard 15-inch alloys may well be sacrificed for cosmetic reasons. The steering system is electrically-assisted and there's a whole suite of safety systems. In addition to anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and cornering brake control with brake assistant, the stability control system in the new MINI includes a drive-off assistant, brake dry function, fading brake support and dynamic traction control. This latter system permits controlled slip at the drive wheels so as to facilitate driving off on loose sand or deep snow.
Design and Build
There have been one or two grouses about this latest MINI's styling, with some saying that as it's got bigger, this generation MINI has become a bit ungainly, especially around the front end. You will notice a little more front overhang on this car which gives it a slightly chinnier look, the headlights units are raked further back and the grille structure looks markedly bigger than before. It's still clearly and unambiguously a MINI though and, to this eye, still looks pert and poised.
The interior features sports seats and black chequered interior surfaces, with piano black and dark silver highlights. The plectrum-shaped starter is a very nice touch and while I love the fact that the speedometer has been moved to a position in front of the driver, there are other ergonomic glitches such as the fact that you can hardly move the infotainment controller when you're parked with the handbrake on. Materials quality has improved no end, however, and there's even a bit more space in the back. The boots a little bit bigger as well, with total capacity rising to 211-litres. There's also more interior stowage space, with additional cupholders and storage cubbies.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £16,500 for the Cooper D three-door Hatch, with the automatic version increasing that figure to just under £18,000. Some may well question why you'd pay around £1,100 over the price of the petrol-engined Cooper to land yourself a slower, heavier car, but while you are sacrificing a considerable 1.6 seconds in the sprint to 62mph, the Cooper D is a more relaxing car to drive. Don't think of it as a sports hatch per se: the Cooper SD is going to make a better fist of that role. Instead, think of this car as a relaxed and refined diesel hatch with some sporty trimmings.
Equipment includes hip-hugging black cloth sports seats, a DAB stereo, a three-spoke sports steering wheel, air conditioning, Bluetooth and keyless start. This being MINI, there's a huge amount of personalisation options, so you might well indulge in body stripes, a John Cooper Works spoiler, contrasting mirrors and LED headlights. You can also choose from technology such as a head-up display, the MINI Navigation System, MINI Connect infotainment gadgetry and traffic sign recognition. Standard safety fittings include front and side airbags, as well as curtain airbags for the front and rear seats, automatic passenger airbag deactivation and front and rear ISOFIX child seat mounts.
Cost of Ownership
The big payback for diesel customers would appear to come in terms of fuel economy and it's certainly hard to sniff at a figure of 80.7mpg which translates to an emissions return of some 92g/km. That's quite a bit better than the 62.8mpg you'll see in the petrol-engined Cooper. You won't need to pay for road tax in the Cooper D, which always engenders a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the petrol-engined car only costs £20 a year to tax, so it's not a huge saving there. In fact, you'd need to drive around 100,000 miles in the Cooper D to start realising its price premium over the Cooper back in terms of fuel savings.
So what's the point, I hear you ask. Well, it's a different car, as we touched on earlier. A car with a more relaxed vibe: a model that's a rangier and leggier thing. Some people like that, and like the convenience of a vehicle with a longer range and lower day to day costs. This Cooper D includes the MINIMALISM suite of environmental technologies which include a shift-point display function on manual cars, brake energy recuperation and need-oriented control of the fuel pump, coolant pump and other ancillary units.
If I was asked which was the better car from a technical standpoint, a MINI Cooper or a Cooper D, I would unquestionably point to the petrol-engined model. It's lighter, more agile and it's almost as economical, on paper at least. If asked which of the two cars I'd prefer to live with for a year or two, I know I'd plump for the Cooper D. It's a more mellow partner, it'll ask less of you and I'd wager that you're going to get a lot closer to its quoted fuel consumption figure in daily driving conditions than you are in the petrol car.
MINI has always been about offering customers choice. Choice of body styles, choice of engines, choice in how they personalise their vehicles. The Cooper D is a car that delivers the same look as the sporty Cooper but with a very different feel. It's an interesting option and one that's a little more nuanced than the always-on petrol models. It'll certainly find a niche.