First Drive: Mini Cooper SD

Mini’s high performance diesel model adds a new dimension to the hot hatch genre

Mini’s high performance diesel model adds a new dimension to the hot hatch genre

In little over a decade Mini has gone from producing one car to offering buyers a wide range of equally attractive models. So much so, that company executives are ken to stress that Mini isn’t a car but a brand.

Alongside the continual tweaking of the technology behind the cars, expansion appears to be the main game at Mini. So much so, that there’s something for everyone – well, almost.

Until now a hot diesel variant wasn’t really an option. That’s in contrast to the John Cooper Works sub-brand, which offered a heady mix of hot hatch enjoyment from a highly tuned turbo petrol motor.

The Cooper SD moniker is, according to company bosses, the diesel equivalent and it’s not restricted to just the three-door hatch; convertible, Clubman and Countryman can be selected with the all-alloy 143bhp, 2.0-litre turbo engine.

For now it’s probably best to focus attention on the Cooper SD hatch. It’s more likely to be chosen by converted petrolheads than the other models thanks to its compact dimensions and better agility.

2011 Mini Cooper SDIf you think 143 horsepower is a bit stingy in the world of 200-plus horsepower hatchbacks, remember that because it’s a diesel the Cooper SD packs a substantial torque punch – 225lb ft of the stuff, which is more than the petrol JCW models.

In practice that contributes to the car’s extremely flexible nature; you can trickle around town with ease yet be ready for a quick burst of acceleration in an instant. Motorway cruising is also a straightforward experience, as cruising in a high gear at low revs is not only kind on the ears but also good for your wallet.

Mini, and parent company BMW, have been enthusiastic proponents of fuel saving technology in recent years, so it’s no surprise to learn that the Cooper SD models come with the now familiar package of engine stop-start and brake energy recovery systems. Over the course of the car’s life you can expect to make modest but valuable savings, while the on-paper figures for the hatch (65.7mpg, 114g/km CO2) show how far the industry has come in a few short years.

With such impressive figures it’s easy to lose sight of the Cooper SD’s performance potential. Holding on to a gear for longer or pushing harder on the throttle soon makes you forget about green motoring, though.

For all the JCW references in reality the Cooper SD has more in common with the petrol-powered Cooper S when it comes to set-up. More forgiving than Mini’s flagship hot model, the Cooper SD’s ride is on the right side of firm – corners can be confidently attacked with considerable enthusiasm, while poorly surfaced roads won’t have your fillings falling out of your mouth.

2011 Mini Cooper SDYou sit low down in the Cooper SD, which adds to the theatre of the performance experience, and the car’s responsive steering allows you to make precise inputs with confidence. Combined with the slick manual gearshift – an auto ‘box is optional – and the well-spaced pedals, all the ingredients are present to deliver an engaging time behind the wheel.

For anyone still not convinced by the concept of a diesel hot hatch, the Cooper SD is a car that’s likely to change some minds. By it’s very nature it doesn’t emulate the screaming, rev-happy character of a petrol rival, but you can reach similar speeds having exerted considerably less effort.

That 2.0-litre diesel engine positively gushes torque from low down the rev range, and makes accelerating and maintaining a brisk pace extremely easy. So much so that fewer gearchanges are needed, but more attention has to be paid to the speedometer for obviously reasons – you can be approaching a corner faster than you think. At idle the engine might be a little vocal but its stealth-like nature at speed is a welcome attribute.

Mini’s Cooper SD models aren’t the first to demonstrate the potential of a tuned diesel motor, however the package as a whole is a compelling one. If you want a Mini with a generous slug of power but don’t fancy the prospect of funding a serious performance car habit by way of fuel and insurance costs, in SD trim the hatch delivers in spades.

Model: Mini Cooper SD from £18,750 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 143bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 134mph, 0-62mph 8.1 seconds.
Economy: 65.7mpg.
CO2 Rating: 114g/km.

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