The MINI Cooper SD is a tantalising proposition, offering proper hot hatch pace with the sort of fuel economy that you'd expect from a feeble citycar. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Mini Cooper SD delivers 170PS and 360Nm worth of grunt for around £20,000, comes with either a manual or a Steptronic automatic transmission sending drive to the front wheels and will zip to 62mph in just 7.3 seconds. You get all that and 70.6mpg to boot. While the engine doesn't feel immediately sporty, as a low impact, high reward way to cover ground, this one takes some beating.
Life is all about making trade-off; compromises if you will. You either have the starter or the dessert. You either upgrade the car this year or you take the kids to Disney. All too often, 'or' is the biggest impediment to having fun. Wouldn't life be a whole lot more enjoyable if there was less 'or' and more 'and'? Well, just once in a while we get to indulge in something that delivers on many fronts. Just such a car is the latest MINI Cooper SD.
Here's a sports hatch that doesn't make you choose between performance and fuel economy, which offers great build quality and which has proved to be a bit of a winning formula to date. The latest model is smarter than ever and delivers a bigger bang for your buck too.
Some numbers on the car the Cooper SD has replaced first. That model was powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel good for 145PS which would skittle it to 62mph in 7.8 seconds and then onto 134mph. It was a really good car but it's been replaced by something a whole lot punchier. Power rises to 170PS, which brings that sprint time crashing down by half a second. You'll shave another tenth off that if you specify the Steptronic six-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder benefits from a pair of turbos and common-rail injection to achieve its peak torque figure of 360Nm, making the old car's 305Nm look a bit limp. Given that you can access all of those newton metres from just 1,500rpm, the Cooper SD isn't likely to be caught in a flat spot. What's more, the engine is reassuringly light (for a diesel) which reduces understeer.
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. 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, cornering brake control with brake assistant, the stability control system in the latest MINI includes a drive-off assistant, brake dry function, fading brake support and dynamic traction control. This latter system even permits controlled slip at the drive wheels so as to facilitate driving off on loose sand or deep snow.
Design and Build
The styling of the Cooper SD has raised a few questions, most notably due to the jutting, angular lower intake, which looks as if the car has a bit of an underbite issue. There's the usual bonnet intake that differentiates the hotter S variants of the Cooper and big alloys. The car weighs around 1250kg, so it's not the porker that you might expect, much of that weight loss coming courtesy of a lighter, stiffer chassis.
The interior features plenty of piano black panels and some classy touches like the illuminated chrome door handles and switches. The dinner-plate central speedometer has been binned, moved instead to a more conventional position, and in its place is a big infotainment screen. The thick-rimmed John Cooper Works steering wheel with red contrasting stitches puts you in the mood, as do the deeply-bolstered sport seats. The boot's even a little bit bigger than before, with total capacity rising to 211-litres.
Market and Model
Okay, so the asking price is around £19,500 for the manual car and just over £21,000 for the automatic. Before you scoff at the notion of a three-door MINI with an auto box, think again. The Steptronic transmission actually suits the somewhat lazy, elastic power delivery of the Cooper SD's engine. Paying twenty grand for a diesel supermini might strike many as a bit of an extravagance, but what is a typical MINI Cooper SD buyer going to cross-shop? An Audi A1? There you'd be paying much the same for a car with 143PS rather than the MINI's 170PS. Even if you went for the sensible option for your next fast diesel and upscaled to something like a SEAT Leon FR TDI with 184PS, you'd be paying a couple of thousand pounds more for the privilege.
The Cooper SD includes standard equipment such as 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 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
There aren't too many other cars that can combine a sprint to 62mph of less than 7.5 seconds with a combined fuel economy that tops 70mpg. Apart from hyper-exotic stuff like the Porsche 918 Spyder there's not a lot in the real world that can touch this blend of pace and parsimony. As a result, you can virtually guarantee cast-iron residual values as used buyers join the queue to have their cake and eat it.
Some numbers? The manual car returns a combined fuel figure of 70.6mpg with emissions rated at 106g/km. Go for the auto and you get exactly the same economy figure but carbon dioxide emissions are rated at 104g/km, which seems a bit odd. If you want sub-100g/km numbers, you'll need to look to the more modest Cooper D instead. The SD includes the usual 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.
The MINI Cooper SD is an interesting thing. For all its straight line speed and racy styling, it never really feels like an up-and-at-'em hot hatch. In fact, it feels like a much bigger and more languid vehicle that's been miniaturised. While it might not be the car of choice for the penny-pinching track-day enthusiast, it makes a great choice as a car that just works in the real world, as long as you don't need a lot of luggage space or room in the rear seats. It's relatively simple to achieve around 55mpg without trying too hard, there's that effortless overtaking punch when you need it and the interior feels special.
The key problem with this car is the temptation posed by the options list. We found that we were easily specifying cars in what we thought were definitive and far from OTT specifications and the numbers coming back at around £25,000. That's quite a fair whack and at the end of the exercise, most thought that a bare bones MINI One D at £10,000 less with the balance spent on a tidy old BMW M3 would be a preferable option. Still, if you do need a one-car solution, the Cooper SD poses some questions its rivals find impossible to answer.