Overall rating: 4/5
It won't convince the MINI doubters, but this new diesel engine is simply brilliant and the new MINI Cooper D, once you become acquainted, is every bit as good to drive as the old.
In the Metal:
It's clearly a MINI - there's just no mistaking it. BMW has obviously decided that a decade and a half's success means that there's something about the way the MINI looks that people like, so why change it now? Still, you'll easily spot the new model thanks to bigger headlights that include an LED daytime running light ring on the outside. There's a bigger, more prominent grille too and larger rear lights. Other than that, it's as you were. Just be careful how you spec it. To these eyes, the new MINI looks better the simpler the outside is kept. Some models have a very fussy, unattractive body kit that is possibly best avoided.
Inside, you will find a massive jump in quality over the outgoing car, which was hardly too shabby. All surfaces look and feel impressively slick and there's a suite of optional tech that runs the gamut from a heads up display all the way to a €2,300 navigation and infotainment system that can plan your journeys, talk to your smartphone and jog your memory to pick up the shopping.
It's not all successful though. Although rear seats space has been improved a bit, the MINI is still very much a 2+2 and not a proper four-seat car. Boot space has been increased by 51 litres too, but again space is a little tight at times. And then there's the speedo. I know the old MINI's big, central speedo was an affectation. I know that almost all owners just use the little digital display set into the rev counter. But why take it away altogether? The big circle in the centre of the dash now houses a satnav and infotainment screen (a square one, somewhat incongruously) and a ring of LED lights. These pulse and change colour as you rev the engine, adjust the heating or alter the driving mode between Sport, Mid and Green settings, but it all just looks a bit pointless when there's no big speedo to give sense to the layout. Worse still, the new speedo up behind the steering wheel is too small and difficult to read accurately, so you just end up using the digital display again. Ah well, at least it's comfy in there.
Driving a MINI should be about one thing and one thing only - fun. And this one, pleasingly, sticks to that script. It's just that, as with many sequels (we're looking at you, The Hobbit) it kind of meanders around a bit before getting to the point.
How so? Because BMW has done a terrific job in making the car more refined. It's quieter (albeit with a touch too much tyre noise at times) and it rides better (still firmly though). The steering too has been to elocution lessons - it's far smoother and less prone to kickback than before, but the downside to that is that you must look harder to find the feedback and feeling.
Once you do, the new MINI is every bit the blast the old one was though. It's still terrier-like through a series of challenging corners, still agile and endowed with loads of grip, still a lot of fun.
The star of the show is not the chassis though - it's the engine. The outgoing MINI Cooper D's 1.6-litre engine is a decent unit, but it's quite noisy. This new (and it is completely new) 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit it something quite special. It's refined for a start (early cold start clatters aside) and should prove spectacularly economical. MINI quotes a whopping 80mpg on the combined cycle for this engine, and seeing as the old 1.6 does an easy 65mpg, I'd say you might just match that figure. Can't verify it for now I'm afraid - the twisting, looping mountain roads of the island of Mallorca were too tempting to be hanging about. That did show up the engine's other great characteristic though - its willingness. Peak torque (270Nm) arrives at the same time as the old 1.6's, at 1,750rpm, though to be honest you really need to keep it spinning above 2,000rpm to get the best from the engine (ignore the economy minded gear suggestions and instead enjoy working the Mazda-MX-5-like slick and snappy six-speed shift). Once there, you get a lovely bungee-cord-attached-to-the-front-bumper feeling as the engine effortlessly surges you along. In fact, so sweet an engine is it that the 5,000rpm cut-out arrives as something of a rude interruption. Just pick another gear and start again...
What you get for your Money:
MINI prices start from just over €20k for the new MINI One and standard equipment levels have gone up across the board. You now get air conditioning, Bluetooth and a USB stereo interface no matter which MINI you're buying. Residual values should be excellent too - MINI is predicting a 53 per cent retained value after three years, which should keep PCP finance prices nice and low. Just examine the spec sheet carefully. As before, it's very easy to start ticking boxes and send the price of your MINI spiralling.
Some minor observations remain. The optional sports seats are a little snug if you're on the chunky side. Bigger wheels mean a firmer ride and more tyre noise. The optional Cooper S-style front air dam is just plain ugly. And while the Cooper D's CO2 and economy figures are impressive, it's worth noting that the new 136hp petrol-fuelled MINI Cooper (which also uses a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine related to that used in the new BMW i8 supercar) is only €10 a year more expensive to tax. Better still, spec the new 190hp 2.0-litre turbo Cooper S with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifts and it's a Band B car, costing just €270 a year.
BMW isn't breaking any new ground here; the MINI remains distinctly MINI-ish. That means you must endure the same compromises as before (firm ride, tiny back seats and boot, pricey options), but it is still terrific fun to drive. And now it has a diesel engine to match the best powertrains from any other brand.