Friday, February 17, 2012
A new twist in the story of the highly successful second generation Mini is the creation of a fuel miserly diesel version offering the same measure of driving pleasure, as its petrol powered siblings.
I believe this modern take on the iconic original Mini, a product of the BMW stable, ranks as one of the biggest small car success stories of the last decade. Plenty of other similar retro models have pressed their claims with buyers over this period, but few have done it as convincingly as the Mini and for over eight years. You have to wonder whether the novelty of the modern Mini will ever wear off. If it does, it is probably going to be rather slowly like its predecessor from over 50 years ago, that clocked up more than 30 years on the market.
BMW are astute enough to understand Mini mania has a use by date and have made evolutionary changes to this model since the original was launched in 2002 to help extend that use date. This has included adding new and interesting models to the Mini line-up including a diesel. Five Mini variants are sold here starting with the recently introduced entry level Mini Ray at just $27,995. At the other end of the price spectrum is the range topping turbo charged Copper S 6-speed automatic with a price sticker that stops just a handful dollars short of $50,000.
Only offered with a 6-speed manual shift the Mini Copper diesel sells for $42,990. However, the model supplied for this road test was loaded with nearly $5,000 of options. The most expensive were the light-alloy 17 inch wheels costing an eye watering $3,590. Even though the look good that still represents mighty expensive footwear! Rain sensing wipers added another $260 to the options tab and heated front sets a further $650. Many owners may feel that the glow this latter features puts in their cheeks on cold frosty morning make it money well spent.
A 1.6 litre 82Kw diesel pushes the Mini Copper along at lively pace with an impressive, well at least for diesel of this modest engine capacity, 270nm of torque providing the low speed muscle that makes this a remarkably flexible motor. Its ability to hold and comfortable so, 5th gear on long and what should have been energy draining hill climbs was something of a revelation. This is one of the quietest small diesels I have driven, at both around town and open road speeds, even when idling it is nearly as silent as a petrol engine. I have yet to drive another diesel of this size that comes close to matching the extraordinary smoothness and refinement of this little gem.
Helping to make the Mini Cooper diesel such an enjoyable drive is a short throw six-speed manual gearbox that is the ideal companion for this outstanding engine. The only dislike I have with the manual transmission is the fiddling and coaxing that is often required to find reverse. After a couple of days with the car it became a little easier to find my way along a sometimes torturous path to reverse.
Passenger and luggage, space if you are extremely charitable just ranks as modest. The car seats four adults at a squeeze, a tight one if are unlucky enough to draw the short straw and end up sitting in the back seat. Using a mix of careful planning and the strategic application of a bit of old fashioned brute force, there is enough of room in the pocket sized boot cavity for a couple of reasonable sized over night bags, but only just!
The Cabin design shows plenty of the smarts in the way it has captured the essence of the original Mini and given it a clever 21st Century twist. A good example of this is the centre mounted almost headlamp sized speedometer that is a steal from the old Mini, with a steering column mounted tachometer, similar to those found in performance version of the very first Mini.
With a low centre of gravity, wide track suspension and reasonably long wheelbase, the Copper Diesel hugs the corners with real intensity. An almost bottomless bucket of grip is provided by the 17 inch wheels shod with meaty tyres that help to lock the car to the road. Communicative steering allows the driver to change direction quickly, accurately and with total confidence, knowing both the steering and suspension are on the same page to make this happen. Ride quality does not hit the same highs as the handling. Its efforts in this area are hampered to some extent by the cars low profile tyres and stiff spring and damper settings. This leads to the driver and passengers feeling at speeds below 70km/h more bumps, corrugations and other variations in the road surface than they should.
What is the verdict? Despite a fairly steep price tag it is a fun drive and literally runs on the smell on an oily rag.