A sensible Mini … what are the odds?
Although purists have bemoaned the fact that the new Countryman’s larger dimensions have quite literally stretched Mini’s previously pint-sized approach to its very seams, the CAR team was still very much taken with the mid-table S model that we tested earlier this year. We were also of the opinion that, while the Countryman’s added practicality has succeeded in netting customers otherwise headed towards more conservative options, surely those looking for a diesel engine were slipping through Mini’s fingers?
It makes sense, then, that the most pragmatically packaged Mini has also become the first local recipient of one the marque’s sensible engines. But has maturity blunted the fun factor that’s the backbone of Mini’s cars?
Aesthetically, the answer is no, as it’s basically some “D” badging that differentiates this model from its peers. Otherwise, the chunky exterior and fun – if somewhat fussily detailed – interior does nothing to hint at the deceptively close mechanical relationship between this car and the grown-up BMW X1. While there’s a good deal of overlap between their underpinnings (they share the same platform and suspension setup), in many respects they feel worlds apart. We were pleasantly surprised by just how supple and absorbent the ride quality was of the 19-inch-rimmed S we tested (better than any X1 we’ve assessed), and this Cooper D continues that trend. Shod with even plumper 50-profile tyres on 18-inch rims, it served to further contrast the Mini’s well-resolved ride with that of the decidedly choppy X1.
In addition to its underpinnings, the D also shares the BMW’s B47 2,0-litre turbodiesel with the X1. Revisions have been made specifically for this Countryman, ensuring that it doesn’t tread on the toes of the X1 sDrive20d, essentially detuning the engine from its 140 kW/400 N.m application in the BMW to a milder, but still healthy, 110 kW and 330 N.m. The combination of compact car and four-cylinder turbodiesel usually doesn’t bode for refined progress, but the sound and vibrations of the D’s unit are well suppressed and its coupling with the well-resolved Aisin torque-converter auto ‘box means that it never feels under strain.
In many instances, drivetrain-select systems do little more than change the interior lighting or make the gearbox a spot more frenetic, but in the D there’s a palpable difference between the three presets on offer. With the maximum torque present in a satisfying 1 750-2 500 r/min spread and fairly relaxed throttle response, the default mid setting feels strong but progressive in the way it delivers the goods. There’s a smile-inducing punchiness in the sportier preset, as the D becomes noticeably alert to throttle inputs. Knock the drive selector into the fuel-saving green preset and the communication between accelerator pedal and engine goes from synaptic to “via postcard”, but your progress promises to be at least a bit more fuel efficient.
That said, while the petrol-engined S model was hardly what you’d call thirsty, returning a 7,7 L/100 km average on our fuel-consumption run, the D posted a reasonable 6,3 L/100 km on the same route; falling short of our 5,64 fuel index figure and some way off the admittedly ambitious 4,7 NEDC claim.
Dropping a diesel into the Countryman’s nose has done little to diminish its dynamic capability. The S’s 60:40 front-to-rear weight distribution has been carried over to the D and, in a bit of an engineering about-turn, it’s actually a bit lighter than the petrol model we tested. Consequently, you’d need an especially sensitive inner ear to detect any nuances in the D’s handling. Both feel suitably nimble and progressively track their noses wide when thrown into bends in a less gentlemanly manner. Such aspects as the weighty but responsive steering, composed body control and a pointiness that, although not in the same league as the hatch, still eclipses other crossovers in its bracket ensures that the D adheres to the entertaining-to-drive proviso expected of Mini’s wares (albeit in a more demure manner than its livelier petrol brethren).