The latest MINI Cooper D Hatch aims to hit that sweet spot of pace and parsimony. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The improved 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 74.3mpg, this one's going to carve out a useful niche for itself. And in this enhanced form, it gets smarter connectivity, standard-fit front and rear LED lights across the range and the option of an advanced dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
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.
The evised version of this diesel MINI is smarter and better-finished than ever before. In Cooper D 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. MINI says that minor changes have been made to this unit's TwinPower Turbo Technology, improving engine electronics, oil supply, intake air ducting, the cooling set-up and the exhaust system. Perhaps most significant though is the news that the brand has at last got around to fitting in a proper dual-clutch auto gearbox for those wanting a self-shifter, this now a 7-speed unit. Stick with the 6-speed 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 uses struts up front and a multilink rear end and there's 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 this 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
The styling of this revised model doesn't look all that different, but close inspection will reveal the addition of standard-fit LED front and rear lights, plus there's now extra scope for all-important personalisation. Get out the tape measure and you'll find that this MK3 design is actually larger than you might think, thanks to a wheelbase exension of 28mm over its post-2014-era predecessor. These proportions give it quite a squat, purposeful look, helped by the tapered glasshouse.
It's a touch larger than you might expect inside too - or at last it is provided you haven't been consigned to a rather cramped seat in the back: if that's an issue, you ought to be considering the alternative five-door version of this model - or perhaps the MINI Countryman SUV. Still, access to the rear isn't too bad and the rear bench seat splits 60:40. Boot volume is a supermini-like 211-litres. There's also decent interior stowage space, with cupholders and storage cubbies. Various fresh trimming options are available and a 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen and a multi-function steering wheel are both now fitted as standard.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £17,500 for the Cooper D three-door Hatch, with the automatic version increasing that figure to around £19,000. Some may well question why you'd pay around £1,000 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. Instead, think of this car as a relaxed and refined diesel hatch with some sporty trimmings.
The MINI hatch buying proposition has always been about tailoring the car to your personal tastes, so you might well indulge in extras like body stripes, a John Cooper Works spoiler and contrasting mirrors. You can also choose from technology such as a head-up display, a MINI Navigation System, MINI Connect telematics and traffic sign recognition.
The MINI Touch Controller allows you to write individual letters that the system then recognises when you're trying to input a sat nav destination for instance. You can also upgrade the standard 6.5-inch central infotainment display to a rather more special 8.8-inch colour screen. Other options include two-zone automatic air-conditioning, heated front seats, a panoramic glass roof, a visibility package including windscreen heating, rain sensors, automatic light control, a Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system and a sports leather steering wheel. You can also spend your money on Park Distance Control, electrically heated and folding exterior mirrors, and an automatic anti-dazzle function for the interior and exterior mirrors. As you can see, the base retail price is just an opening gambit.
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 74.3mpg which translates to an emissions return of some 99g/km. That's quite a bit better than the 62.8mpg you'll see in the petrol-engined Cooper. In fact though, 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.