Let’s get something important out the way. The diesel Mini is no where near as good as the Cooper, S or even the One. But a small diesel will never (well maybe not never) be as good as a petrol equivalent so that’s not a fair comparison. Importantly, is it better than other small diesels – or even lesser petrol-powered small vehicles, and is it better than the old D? The answer to those questions is a resounding yes.
The standard Mini is an awesome motoring achievement. It looks almost exactly like the older BMW-made incarnation but is somehow much better looking due to some minor tweaks in proportioning, especially around the headlights and rear wings. It’s also built far better than the old one.
The Mini – both old and new – has always placed fun at the heart of the motoring experience. Chuckable, assured, sexy in a strangely British sort of way and offering a drive that always seems faster than the reality, those are the hallmarks of Mini driving, and even the diesel offers this. Well, except for the last one.
The noise of the diesel is the problem. There’s either not enough insulation or the 1.6 diesel under the bonnet runs on coal and razor blades. It can actually be very intrusive on the motorway, while at higher revs and lower speed – when you want a bit of noise – it’s slightly too burbly to sound aggressive.
But remember, that while you lament the assault on your lug holes, you will be driving the BMW Group’s cleanest ever car. You get 110bhp at 4000rpm but emit just 118g/km of carbon dioxide and return combned economy figures of 64.2mpg. An overboost function also boosts torque, which offers a very impressive 260Nm at 2000rpm, and that – if you’re interested – means that coupled with the car’s low weight you get a lot of acceleration grunt. Still, the 60mph drag is a slightly disappointing 9.9seconds.
Performance ain’t bad at the top end, at least, with 121mph available should you feel the urge to drive very stupidly.
Other than these figures and the fact that you put the black nozzle in the hole rather than the green one, everything else is as we described the new Mini earlier this year. Inside, things are also much improved from the old one. Some of the less desirable elements of the quirky design have gone, which means cheap-feeling plastics have been replaced and everything just feels that bit more special.
You get some nifty touches such as variable colour mood lights above the seatbelt point and on the centre ceiling console, which may sound silly but make you feel rather special.
The signature half-hoops separating switches remain, as does the basic layout - you still get a whopping speedo dead centre and the rev counter above the wheel. Unfortunately, the layout of all the other switches for stereo control and air-con is way too confusing and it'll take a while to get used to the set-up. The fuel gauge could also do with being more prominent.
Thankfully, all round the new diesel Mini is ten times better than the old D, which just felt like BMW had just chucked in a tar burner because they felt they had to. This one does at least feel like it was made to be a diesel, and it’s been deliberately crafted to be sporty. While it can’t compete with the petrol ones it is significantly better than all the Citroen, Peugeot, Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Vauxhall superminis that fall in to the same trap as the old Mini D – none of them feel right.
It’s hard to make a small car into a diesel because the way you have to drive one just doesn’t suit urban motoring conditions – the natural habitat of the supermini is, afterall, the school run and supermarket par park. The Mini Cooper D is never tiring and never feels wrong, and that is its trump card over the opposition.
Problem is that isn’t enough. It suffers chronically on the practicality front and it isn’t cheap. It’s hard to see why anyone really buys a small diesel. On a low mileage car, the savings on petrol just won’t ever be fully realised. Sure, it’s relatively clean but not radically greener than some of its rivals. Where it really can make sense is in the company car arena. For someone with a relatively small allowance who’s going to rack up lots of motorway miles and doesn’t have any kids, it’s actually a pretty sensible choice.
TECH SPECS: Mini Cooper S
Engine: 1.6litre in-line four-cylinder diesel
Max power: 110bhp @ 4,000rpm
Top speed: 121mph