2010 MINI Cooper D Road Test Review
IT'S THE MOST ECONOMICAL car sold by parent company BMW, and one of the first in its class to utilise an economy-boosting start-stop system.
It's the MINI Cooper D; a pint-sized hatch that blends a sensible approach to fuel-efficient engineering with a generous dollop of fashionability.
The pre-facelift diesel MINI was never released into the Australian market. So, as the first oil-burning model to join the range here, does the transition to 'truck fuel' lessen or broaden the Cooper’s appeal?
Outwardly, there’s scarce evidence that the engine beneath the bonnet burns diesel. In fact, save for a black ‘Cooper D’ badge on the tailgate, a unique lower grille mesh design and a more prominent bulge on the bonnet, the diesel MINI is identical to its petrol-powered counterpart.
Styled after the classic BMC Mini, BMW has done well to preserve the original’s proportions and design cues while giving the new car its own distinct flavour.
Chrome-ringed light clusters, cutlines that mimic the classic Mini’s distinctive rain channels and a two-box shape with jellybean curves hark back to the 1960s-era original.
Modern touches include blacked-out pillars, black plastic fender-flares, a hatch (rather than the original Mini’s trapdoor-boot) and substantially larger dimensions.
The wheel-at-each-corner stance pioneered by the first Mini is carried over, and unlike that other famous retro remake, the VW New Beetle, the current-gen MINI does the spirit of its ancestor proud.
For a lower-spectrum model, the Cooper D looks pretty flash. Its basic shape will always turn heads, but the ample application of brightwork on the front grille, lamp clusters, door handles and beltline trim give it a classy air.
A set of 15-inch alloys are the standard rim, but 16 and 17-inch rims can be optioned. As with the rest of the MINI range, the opportunities for personalisation are virtually limitless.
Our tester came with a pair of racy black bonnet stripes, foglights and a chrome exterior trim package.
Wilder graphics packages, roof spoilers, additional headlights or even the national flag of your choice emblazoned on the roof can be found on the MINI’s extensive options list. Want valve caps painted with the Union Jack? They’re on the list.
It may be small, but the Cooper D stands out for all the right reasons. “Retro” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “unimaginative”, and, visually at least, the new MINI is a fitting homage to the much-loved original.
The retro design cues continue into the cabin. Here, however, the execution is a bit 'hit and miss'.
A large central speedometer is the most obvious throwback to Minis of yore, but its placement is too far from the driver’s field of view to be properly useful. Despite being large and easily readable, checking your speed requires an unnatural movement of the eyes away from the road ahead.
The analogue speedometer also contains the radio display and trip computer controls, a layout that MINI says helps slim down the centre stack and improve legroom. Toggle switches for the power windows, foglights and door locks are arranged below the ventilation controls, and two cupholders sit at the base of the centre stack.
A tachometer is placed atop the steering column and features two inset LCD displays for the trip computer and odometer. Some models feature a digital speed readout within the tachometer, but try as we might we couldn’t get it to display on our tester.
The manually-adjusting cloth seats are comfortable and well-cushioned, but lack lateral support when cornering. Optional sport seats offer a better hold, but cost extra.
The leather-rimmed steering wheel is comfortable to hold though, and adjusts for both reach and rake. A wood-rimmed three-spoke wheel is available, and auto-equipped models can be had with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Unlike the original car, the front occupants sit quite far away from the windscreen. This delivers ample sprawling space up front, but anyone relegated to the back seat will find legroom in short supply.
Rear headroom is fine, at least, and a single cupholder and built-in armrests and storage bins mean the backseats aren’t completely uninhabitable. As the rear bench is situated between the rear wheels you’ll be rubbing shoulders with your neighbour, but they’re good enough for short hops.
Boot space measures in at 160 litres with the rear seats up. Fold the 50-50 split bench down, and that expands to 680 litres. There’s a number of tie-down points in the luggage area, and two sets of ISOFIX child restraint hardpoints are built into the rear seat squab.
Beneath the rear boot floor is an emergency tyre inflation kit – no spare is supplied.
Equipment and Features
The Cooper D ships with power windows, power mirrors, air conditioning and cruise control, along with a trip computer.
A simple single-CD AM/FM tuner is the standard audio system, however a 10-speaker Harmon Kardon premium stereo and a USB input for external music players are available as options.
Satellite navigation is also offered on the Cooper D’s option list, and resides within the centre of the giant analogue speedometer.
Bluetooth phone integration is available and was fitted to our tester, however pairing it with our own handset was a frustrating exercise.
The list of optional equipment is extensive: this includes automatic climate control, rain sensing wipers, auto-on headlamps, a sunroof, TV tuner, heated seats and xenon headlamps.
Safety equipment is good, and incorporates ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control and BMW’s cornering brake control system.
In the event of a crash, dual front and side airbags along with full-length curtain airbags cushion the occupants, while three-point safety belts are fitted on all seats.
Despite its small stature, the MINI boasts excellent crash survivability. In testing conducted by Euro NCAP, the MINI Cooper scored a 5-Star crash safety rating – the highest score possible.
The crux of the Cooper D’s appeal lies within its compact engine bay. A Peugeot-Citroen sourced 1.6 litre turbodiesel resides beneath the bonnet, and employs a range of tricks to boost its efficiency.
Common-rail injection and a variable-geometry turbine are conventional solutions to making a diesel more efficient, while an electric water pump, variable-flow oil pump, switchable alternator and regenerative braking do their part to lessen energy-sapping drag on the engine’s crankshaft.
Power output peaks at 80kW, while maximum torque of 240Nm is available between 1750 and 2000rpm. By progressively increasing boost pressure as rpm rises, the MINI’s engine continues to deliver strong torque all the way until redline.
For situations where more grunt is needed, an overboost function is activated when the accelerator is fully depressed and squeezes out a further 20Nm from the engine.
The Cooper D’s engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed tiptronic automatic, however only the manual receives the fuel-saving auto start-stop system. Start-stop works by shutting down the engine when the car is at a halt (say, while sitting at traffic lights), automatically re-starting as soon the clutch pedal is pressed.
Getting used to the sudden cut-off of the clattery diesel may take some getting used to, but the shutdown and start-up of the diesel motor doesn't interrupt the audio system or ventilation fan. The engine automatically restarts itself if the airconditioner is needed, the battery gets too depleted or the outside temperature is too hot or too cold.
Combined fuel economy is claimed to be just 3.9 litres per 100km for the manual, and 5.0 l/100km for the auto. The exhaust system is fitted with a diesel particulate filter, and CO2 emissions are kept to 104g/km for the Cooper D manual and 134g/km for the automatic.
With a 40 litre fuel tank, the Cooper D has a theoretical maximum range of 1025km.
The suspension uses the same basic geometry as the petrol-powered Coopers, albeit with retuned struts and springs to compensate for the different weight distribution of the diesel. MacPherson struts are utilised at the front, while the rear suspension is a multi-link design.
Drive is taken to the front wheels only, and equal-length driveshafts help reduce torque steer. Beneath the car, aerodynamic undertrays cut drag and lower wind resistance.
Braking is taken care of by ventilated discs up front and solid discs at the rear, each clamped by sliding calipers. As with all post-facelift MINIs, power steering is now electric rather than hydraulic.
The MINI Cooper D is without doubt a great city car. Its compact dimensions make it easy to slip in and out of traffic, and although the car’s size limits the utility of its interior, most commuters never have more than one passenger in their car anyway.
The 1.6 litre diesel is a fairly tractable one, and it loves to rev – a somewhat surprising trait for a diesel. It redlines at 5000rpm, and in first gear, you can quickly have the tacho needle banging against the fuel cut-out.
It moves the Cooper D with enough urgency to deal with the peak hour cut-and-thrust, and it sounds good in the upper reaches of its rev range. Down low, it emits a typical diesel clatter.
As an economy model, the Cooper D is designed to be driven more sensibly, and with the wick turned down it exhibits a very different personality.
Our tester was equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, which also brings with it a small gearshift prompt in the tachometer’s lower LCD display.
It tells the driver which ratio they should be in to maximise fuel efficiency, and indicates whether a downshift or upshift is required. Following its instructions keeps rpms very low and performance feels noticeably blunted, but, then again, this curbs Cooper D’s frugal thirst. Significantly.
MINI claims it does 3.9 l/100km on the combined cycle, and, as our testing showed, we’ve no reason to doubt those figures.
Over the first five days of (fairly hard) driving, we netted an average of 4.7 l/100km. Not bad, but well north of the claim.
But on the sixth day, we zeroed the trip computer and drove a carefully laid out route from Melbourne’s suburbs to the heart of the city and back – once with start-stop deactivated and a second run with start-stop switched on.
The route comprised five kilometers of suburban streets, 20 kilometres of highway, 10 kilometres of bumper-to-bumper traffic and then a smoother return journey. We didn’t baby it either: the route included one 0-80km/h blast, two full-throttle highway onramp runs and two significant inclines.
Without start-stop activated, the Cooper D achieved 4.5l/100km at the end of the trip. With start-stop switched back on, the little hatchback consumed exactly 3.9l/100km.
With traffic levels identical on both runs and driving style unchanged, the key difference was the auto start-stop system.
Although some may be sceptical of its claimed benefits, start-stop delivers tangible savings in fuel economy when driven in heavy traffic, even though the engine was sometimes stopped for only a couple of seconds a time.
Even at its thirstiest, the Cooper D sipped diesel with impressive restraint.
It handles well too. Petrol-powered Coopers have drawn praise in the motoring press for their ability to dispatch corners with ease, and the Cooper D is no different.
The electric power steering imparts a precise feel to the wheel, and the front suspension geometry keeps torque steer in check. The Cooper D feels a little nose heavy when pushed hard, but that’s perhaps a result of the diesel’s beefy engine block and turbo hardware.
The suspension feels kart-like in the way it responds to steering inputs, and it's a pleasure to sling it from corner to corner. It's nowhere near as satisfying as the Cooper S or Cooper JCW, but it's certainly a fun car to drive.
Is this as exciting as diesels get? In the light car segment, quite possibly.
There are some problems though. Aside from the aforementioned speedometer visibility issues, the form-over-function approach to the Cooper’s interior layout may get on the nerves of some drivers and the tight rear seat packaging may discourage others.
Tyre noise is also an issue in the Cooper D. The skinny Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tyres give impressive grip, but transmit a lot of roar into the cabin over coarse tarmac.
There are many reasons to like the MINI Cooper D, and there are a few reasons to think carefully about whether it’s the right car for you.
Drivers looking for a fuel-efficient daily driver would be well-served by the Cooper D, as would those searching for a more fashionable alternative to Toyota’s Prius (which has the same claimed fuel economy as the MINI).
There are however some compromises that you will have to accept. Poor rear seat room is one, as is a small boot. The retro dashboard looks great but isn’t the most functional design. And that centrally-mounted speedo should really have been left back in the 20th century.
Of course, the Cooper D should be judged for what it is: it's chic, that's 'a given', and it delivers hybrid-equalling fuel economy through simple technology like start-stop and low-drag engine ancillaries.
But it’s not the greenest light car on the block: Ford’s just-launched Fiesta Econetic has a claimed fuel consumption of 3.7 l/100km on the combined cycle. It also has two extra doors, decent rear seats and, arguably, looks more dynamic than the Cooper D.
The Cooper D starts at $33,750 for the manual, which makes it more than ten grand pricier than the Ford.
Not only does the Ford offer some serious competition, but Volvo is preparing to launch its start-stop equipped C30 DRIVe (fuel consumption: 3.8 l/100km) to the market next March, and word on the street is that it too will be cheaper than the MINI.
Is the MINI Cooper D an impressively frugal light car? Absolutely, but whether it’s worth the expense is questionable given the alternatives that are starting to arrive on the scene. Us? We’d probably save our pennies and opt for the Ford.