less really is more

mini cooper diesel loses a cylinder for better economy and performance

4y ago

There’s an App on my phone that tells me I’ve walked, driven, trained and taxied a total of 2,638 miles over the past week. which seems quite a long way. In fact I’ve checked and had I gone in a straight line I could be writing this from Azerbaijan....Although according to the latest Foreign Office travel advice, I’d probably have a bit of difficulty as I’d likely also be chained to a radiator in a basement with pillowcase over my head. Still, could be worse. A straight  line that same distance in the opposite direction would arrive me in "Trump Nation". Anyway, as I haven’t left England at any point, relative to where in the world I could have ended up, I suppose it could be said that I have in fact been going round and round a tiny piece of the globe in an even tinier circle.

Far from being in vain though, these past 5 days’ meanderings have given me time to make a few observations of which here are just three:
1. If you’re clearly 20 something and trying to pass yourself off to a train ticket inspector as being a child, probably best to check first you’re not sitting in a carriage full of Police people on their way to a conference.
2. Driving a Renault Kangoo up a hill with the back doors not actually closed is likely to lead to an insurance claim from the person in the car behind you. 
3. The current Mini Cooper Diesel is really rather good….ish.

Now, you may remember some months ago I reported the new turbocharged petrol Cooper S to be rather loutish. Quick? Yes. For me? No.
So it was with some trepidation that I pressed the big red starter button in the centre of the dash of it’s cheaper, oil burning cousin on Monday. 

There seems little point in wasting too many words covering once again that which we all already know about the Mini. So let’s get the givens out of the way quickly - The Mini’s got quite a bit bigger - It’s GoKart like handling's been passed down the bloodline like DNA from the first cars of the ‘60s - Compared to other cars of similar proportions, it seems on the surface at least to cost rather a lot of money. Oh, and one new thing - Those multicoloured disco lights around the bit in the middle of the dash where the speedo used to be are annoying and distracting. And with that little lot dealt with, what’s this diesel engined version like?

As with their 1.5 litre petrol engine, BMW Mini have lopped a pot off the traditional number having gone for a 3 cylinder 1.5 litre diesel which in the Cooper version produces 116bhp, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But it also produces 270 torques, and anyone who know what a torque is, will know that that's quite a lot for such a small motor. For the rest of us who don't know and don't care to find out, it’s how engineers and those with adenoids scientifically report a car’s “Oomph”. 

0-60 appears in just on 9 seconds, which is not particularly slow and neither is it particularly quick. It is however satisfactory. If it’s really of any interest to you, the top speed is 126mph, although even in Germany, all the restrictions and congestion on autobahns these days makes the top speed of anything almost academic. Unless you're a trackdayist, in which case, I can't imagine a diesel engined Mini is high on your wish-list.
What’s becoming more of interest to me, is the time it takes to get to legal speed limits and the impression the car gives the driver of its rapidity, rather than how fast it’s actually going. If when looking at the dial the initial impression of speed turns out to be an illusion, then that’s almost OK with me. It was still fun not getting there quicker. In that respect, the Cooper Diesel it turns out, is a great big bag of contradictions. 

Start it up with the door open and there’s the familiar clatter of a diesel engine. Seal the rest of the World out though and you’re left with that feint “thrum” common to 3 cylinder motors. Presumably through an awful lot of sound proofing between the bulkhead and the front compartment, BMW seems to have managed to engineer one of the most refined, quiet driving environments I’ve ever encountered, not just in a small car. But in any car. It really is quite impressive. Even the wipers sweep across the screen in relative silence. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s more refined than more expensive BMWs from which much of the Mini's underpinnings are borrowed. But all of this padded silence causes other issues - Perhaps it’s just my ears, but an issues I find with 3 cylinder diesel engines is judging without looking at the rev counter whether or not I’ve given the throttle too few beans, or whether expensive bits of the engine are about to punch their way through the bonnet. The total serenity inside the Cooper D's cabin exacerbates the issue.

As a consequence it took me a while to figure out where the power was in the its little motor, but eventually I found it. Not before a couple of heart stopping moments on familiar roads heading towards corners with such speed, that lesser brakes and handling would have ended in my becoming overly familiar with a fence and the field of sheep beyond. The trick seems to be to try to keep the car below 2,500 to 3,000 revs in a all gears. Given that 60mph in 6th equates to about 1,700rpm, that’s not as hard as it sounds. 
The resulting impression is one of being sat on top of a constant wave of power. Driving like this won’t give you big jolts in the back. More of a feeling of being progressively and gently surged forwards. But the soundproofing plus the low revs means you’re in total peace. And that’s the rub. This is after all a Cooper. 
Even in Sport mode, the engine's almost silent at speed. The only time its note intrudes is thanks to a clever little piece of tech also found on the BMW M2 that blips the throttle as you change down through the gears. If you’re braking at the time this is means it helps you heel and toe - The enthusiast and the adenoidal will likely claim this is "yet another interference which takes choice away from the driver" or some such. Either way, I doubt it does much for fuel consumption.

On the plus side, keeping the needle so down the dial means far fewer trips to the forecourt. Indeed BMW says it manages an astonishing combined figure of 80MPG. That's more than 700 miles between refills despite having a dolly’s teacup where the fuel tank should be. This means you can drive all the way from London to Berlin without having to learn “The diesel on pump 2 please” in any of 3 different languages. 
The Cooper D’s peaceful cabin combined with far more compliant suspension and steering than those of the Cooper S I drove earlier this year means it'd likely be a pleasurable trip too. Not least because after pressing many, many buttons, I can reveal there is a way of turning off those stupid disco lights circling the dash display. 

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