First Drive : MINI Cooper SD

Richard Aucock

MINI Cooper SD

MINI Cooper SD

MINI has officially done what aftermarket tuners have been doing for years: fit a big-capacity motor to a car which still competes in a small capacity sector. No Honda VTECs for this baby, either: in true BMW engine-engineering ‘that shouldn’t be possible’ style, the firm has fitted a 2.0-litre turbodiesel to the MINI Cooper S – creating the MINI Cooper SD.

The engine is taken straight from the BMW 118d, so is the single-turbo version of the BMW N47 motor. This engine, tantalisingly, is available in much more powerful derivations, not least the ubiquitous twin sequential turbo 204hp version seen in the BMW 123d.

You know how this is going to go: in years to come, BMW engines transplanted into MINI Coopers are going to become THE aftermarket conversion to make (complete with all the driveshaft-bending torque problems that’ll come with them). Why will they be tempted to go for more? Because of the brilliance of the new MINI Cooper SD, which is already in showrooms and has just been treated to the attention of a BMW GB press launch.

Don’t think a MINI diesel could ever be worthy of the Cooper S badge? Think again. This is one deeply impressive car, a fascinating new addition to the MINI range that shows yet more of the smart thinking that’s keeping the MINI brand alive and kicking.

Driving Impressions
Big engines in small cars are always winners. They’re becoming increasingly rare nowadays, as manufacturers downside and fit tuned-up turbo motors instead. Power to BMW, then, for bucking the trend and fitting a motor 400cc larger than any in a new MINI so far (and 130% larger than the original).

It’s what makes the MINI such a remarkable performer. No MINI has ever had this much torque, which is felt from the off. Surging pull is there immediately, almost from tickover rpm. It has a big-engined feel that gives it huge muscle, buoyed by the drive from the turbo which gives it an added kick at higher revs.

There are two distinct phases: it’s all muscle at lower revs but, over 3000rpm, you really feel the power start to take over. This means it drives towards the red line (at just under 5000rpm) and rewards you for revving it so: it’s a rare diesel that’s entertainingly sprightly at high revs, not just punchy at low ones. A diesel that begs to be driven hard and used to its full potential? You bet.

The new gearchange (BMW describes the gearbox as super-light, weighing 22.8kg) is precise and fast – so fast, there’s virtually no lag when changing gear. You don’t have to wait for the turbo to come back on song as it barely has time to go off it. This is key to dynamic performance on the road: surge is spread wide and almost never drops away, for a large-capacity train-like feel that transcends even the bald 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds.

Sound effects? It starts with a bit of a shudder and is more gruff than the 1.6-litre, even at idle (but you’d expect that). When revved, there’s no ignoring the diesel clatter-chatter and combustion noise, either – it’s in direct contrast to the high-tech whoosh of the Cooper S. It’s not unrefined, nowhere near so, but more ‘raw’ than the petrol model. In being so, it’s actually very ‘original Mini’ and more authentic because of it.

You’re even more aware of the high-capacity diesel engine from outside. It’s pretty clattery and sounds rather mechanical, maybe because of the sheer size of the engine in the MINI-sized engine bay. You suspect clearances between engine and body are pretty tight in there: the fan does seem to cut in rather a lot after a run…

Handling is MINI-spec: crisp, tidy, fast, agile, tiptoes-responsive and immaculately honed. The wide track feel duals with the big wheels to give bags of grip, and it’s only during sharp direction changes that you’re really aware of the diesel engine’s extra weight – the front end seems to roll that bit more than the Cooper S due to the extra mass.

There’s some torque steer but it’s not the fighting-wheel-fright it could be: last year, BMW installed electronic torque steer-limiting software. The MINI Cooper SD also uses the enhanced DTC system from the Cooper S, with differing levels of leniency and a Sport mode that weights the steering, speeds up the throttle and makes the exhaust louder.

The only real complaint are the brakes: the MINI Cooper SD is such a force under acceleration, you expect the anchors to show similar heft when slowing down. They’re OK, but you expect better, leading to a slight lack of cohesion.

Styling and Interior

MINI Cooper SD

MINI Cooper SD

All the Cooper S cues remain in tact – bonnet scoop, beefed-up front bumper, twin central rear exhausts and massive tailgate spoiler, plus the option of unique roof combinations and alloy wheel finishes. The side indicator surrounds also get an ‘SD’ motif, as does the tailgate.

Yup, externally, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the Cooper S: the interior is the same too, meaning the same sports seats are fitted. Making this another MINI to at last get a set of seats worth of its performance.

After all this, though, comes the serious side. Despite its vibrancy, the MINI Cooper SD still manages to dazzle on fuel economy. A stop-start-aided 65.7mpg combined is pretty staggering, as are CO2 emissions of just 114g/km – way under the 120g/km benchmark now accepted to constitute a ‘green’ car. MINI Cooper S? 48.7mpg: impressive, but simply not in the same league as the SD…

The MINI Cooper SD smacks of a BMW Group ‘after hours’ project: the sort of intra-company enthusiasm that brought us the BMW Z3 M Coupe and original E30 3 Series Touring. Here, they’ve created another flight of fantasy, successfully enough to see it make production – and how we should be pleased they did.

This is the most intriguing, amusing, charismatic and plan damn fun new MINI there is. It’s the most expensive mainstream MINI too, granted, but it’s such a one-off, it’s not hard to justify if you’re already looking at a Cooper S. Remember that, as the car world continues to downsize engines, a version like this may not even be feasible in the future. Thus, enjoy what could become the first and only 2.0-litre MINI there’s ever been while you can: it’s a cracker.

Price and Specs

Price: £18,750
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
Power: 143bhp
Torque: 224lb ft
0-62mph: 8.1secs (claimed)
Top speed: 134mph (limited)
Economy: 65.7mpg
CO2: 114g/km
Equipment: 16-inch alloys, air con, 6-speed gearbox, alarm, DAB ratio, chequered cloth upholstery, Cooper SD roof spoiler in roof colour, electric windows, electric mirrors.

Posted in: First Drive, MINI
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

42 Comments on "First Drive : MINI Cooper SD"

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  1. 406v6 406V6 says:

    An interesting write-up but I’m completely baffled by Richard Aucock’s reference to the “new gearchange (BMW describes it as super-light, weighing 22.8kg)”. I reckon that, if the gear change needs the effort of lifting 22.8kg, I’ll stick to my self-shifter thank you.

  2. Alex Scott says:

    Diesel engines are certainly getting impressive these days – many of the Utes here in New Zealand hop along with quite respectable performance these days (they’re probably quicker up to 100km/hr than my XJ40 4.0-litre) so why not? The fuel consumption figures look attractive too.

    I guess the only question is will the engine be quiet enough in a small car? There is, at least, room for sound dampening in a bigger car.


  3. Dr Bobby Love says:

    Look out… Here comes the Skoda Fan Boy.

    The VW Group has been putting the 1.9-litre TDi in its smaller cars for aaaaggggeeesss now. The Seat Ibiza Cupra TDi was a 1.9-litre putting out 160bhp. The 130bhp variant was in the Skoda Fabia vRS and the VW Polo GT.

    I do have to agree though – we are not seeing that so much now. However, you can still get an Ibiza FR 2.0TDi and, as Richard Aucock says in the article, the BMW 1-Series still has stonking diesels, doesn’t it?

  4. I’m a bit puzzled by the admiration for BMW’s ability to fit a 2.0-litre engine into a car of this size.

    The Montego had a total width of 1709mm and the MINI is 1690mm i.e. the MINI is 19mm narrower. 2.0-litre engines in the Montego weren’t seen as anything of a notable achievement.

    I think this just underlines how successful BMW’s marketing has been in persuading us that the MINI’s a small car.


  5. Leslie says:

    When are we going to see the cars shown in the photographs accompanying MINI’s Press Releases wearing UK number plates?

  6. DaveH says:

    I don’t think that the MINI Cooper SD is particulary quick – my Volvo S60 D5 2.4-litre pulls 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds and it’s a considerably larger car.

  7. MattH says:

    Well, it makes a change to see a manufacturer going down the small car-big engine route, when most other manufacturers offer “at best” a 1.6-litre in diesel form and, in the case of the MINI up until now, the the PSA 1.6-litre unit which I’m not fond of.

    Anyway, now we get the N47 which is surely an evolution of the M47 fitted to the 75/ZT (and others). The MINI SD strikes me as being the modern ‘equivalent’ of the ZR TD 115 – right down to the noise intrusion.

  8. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    Never, I would think. This is the BMW Group’s way of reminding us where the owners live, even if the cars are built here…

  9. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    Your wish is my command, so to speak.


  10. Kieran says:

    22.8kg would be quite light for a gearBOX though. Well, a FWD transaxle anyway.

  11. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    Yup – a typo, which is now fixed. :)


  12. David 3500 says:

    Chris Cowdery :
    I’m a bit puzzled by the admiration for BMW’s ability to fit a 2.0-litre engine into a car of this size.

    The Montego had a total width of 1709mm and the MINI is 1690mm i.e. the MINI is 19mm narrower. 2.0-litre engines in the Montego weren’t seen as anything of a notable achievement.

    I think this just underlines how successful BMW’s marketing has been in persuading us that the MINI’s a small car.


    The Maestro also had a narrow engine bay too, yet Austin Rover Group managed to shoehorn the 2-litre O Series lump together with Honda K6AO gearbox into it. That was clever back in 1984.

    I think Richard Aucock’s description of the engine is meant to read as M47 not N47.

    The fitting of foreign number plates onto MINIs for press photo and sales literature purposes is a common trend that BMW Group has been doing for a number of years and it does irritate me too – especially when you have to edit a British road test for a publication and illustrate it with press photos of a left-hand drive car sporting German number plates.

    Many manufacturers are guilty of doing this, not just BMW Group. However, try telling that to most motoring journalists, who have become increasingly more reliant on using press photos these days rather than taking photos of the actual test car themselves.

  13. Dear all,

    Glad to see the story is getting interest: it’s a fascinating car that, somehow, with its combustion rattles and neck-jolting torque, is just that bit more ‘real Mini’, as said in the piece. The usual boggling BMW diesel economy, too, for an added bonus.

    Agreed – a 22.8kg gearshift would make it somewhat (!) meaty… the engine is an N47, though. It’s the new-gen BMW diesel introduced in 2007, as a replacement for the M47. The 143bhp version is actually one of the oldest: the family ranges from 116bhp (BMW 116d) to 204bhp (BMW 123d). Corking motor it is, too.

    What really struck me was, visually, how tight things are in the engine bay. The MINI’s nose is pretty short and stubby: to get a 2.0-litre in there is going some. Wonder if it’s a challenge on the production line, too? I’ll have to follow that one up…

    Always good to read comments on stories from guys as knowledgeable as you, so do please comment away and I’ll reply, if I can, to any questions you may have.

  14. Marty B says:

    The MINI Cooper SD’s engine looks like it is going to be an absolute sod to work on. Changing an alternator belt looks like half the engine bay has to be stripped out. Not good…

    What is the CO2/VED Band for this though?

  15. Marty B says:

    Oops my mistake, but I don’t believe those emissions for one jot. They get them from the engine being on a dyno and not in the car. The same goes for all manufacturers. It’s also a four year old engine so not exactly ‘new technology’.

    I wonder what the handling would actually be like without any electronic nannies given the heavy 2.0-litre lump at the front?

  16. Landyboy says:

    The CO2 numbers are determined from testing a complete vehicle on a chassis dyno. This has to be done to an EU-mandated test procedure. This is in the interests of repeatability and consistency between manufacturers. It’s engine power figures that are taken with the engine on a test bed.

  17. Two R8s says:

    BMW should use UK number plates because they want the cars to have Britishness. Perhaps it shows how they really don’t understand branding.

  18. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    Keith Adams :

    Your wish is my command, so to speak.


    Much appreciated, Mr Adams!

  19. Rrr says:

    An excellent article on an important car.

    Hopefully, the diesel version won’t have the engine problems that bedevilled early R56 Cooper Ss.

    Incidentally, regarding the ‘plates’ question, I notice nobody complains when Jaguar uses Italian-registered cars for reviews.

    I regret to see that, once again, the pettiness of the criticism towards this car and BMW plumbs new depths of absurdity.

  20. Martin says:

    Rrr :
    I regret to see that, once again, the pettiness of the criticism towards this car and BMW plumbs new depths of absurdity.

    I agree!

  21. Actually, the MINI is exactly the same width as the Rover 200 (R3), which was available in 2.0-litre turbo intercooled diesel form.

    I’d be interested to see some real-world fuel economy figures from this MINI as I don’t believe they will be as good as those stated above.


  22. Volker Weingaertner says:

    3.6l of diesel per 100 km out of a well-known 2.0-litre commonrail diesel? Hmm… Can’t believe that. The real-world figure should be in the neighbourhood of 5.5-5.8l/100km or, for you Imperial-unit folks, 42mpg.

  23. Jon Robson says:

    I have the original Cooper D from 2007 which is still a cracking car. Real-world economy is 64mpg but, if driven hard, that drops to about 59mpg. However, the best I have ever seen on a run was 71mpg so that’s not far off the official figures quoted when it was new.

    I see no reason to disbelieve the figures for the new one. I am very tempted by the sound of one of these… Must book a drive in one!

  24. Will says:

    There’s no point putting UK plates on a German hatchback which happens to have an assembly plant in the UK. No one complains if they see a Micra with Japanese plates…

    Incidentally, the Skoda Fabia vRS had the 130bhp 1.9 litre VAG TDi. No-one opened the champagne because VW put a taxi engine in the little Fabia and created a great little hot hatch. No pretentions too, unlike the trendy-Estate Agent 0.5-Series.

  25. David 3500 says:

    @Chris Cowdery
    I have got the MG ZR turbo-diesel version with the 112Ps tune L-Series unit producing 260Nm of torque. The best economy I have got out of it on a gentle 70mph run from Devon to Birmingham is 56mpg. I have never got nearer than this to the quoted extra urban figure of 67mpg.

  26. We discussed the Fabia vRS in the office the other day: great as the new 1.4 TSI vRS is (and it IS great – just like the Polo GTI), we still miss the torquey diesel…

  27. Old Fashioned Gentleman says:

    “Would you buy one?”


  28. Dr Bobby Love says:

    The Fabia vRS has the same “just enough” braking issues.

    A lot of owners install the larger setup from its big brother the Octavia vRS which is the same as fitted to the Audi TT and Volkswagen Golf GTI etc.

    Do the quicker BMW 1-Series have larger brakes which will bolt straight onto the MINI?

  29. Simon Hodgetts says:

    @Old Fashioned Gentleman
    Hear, hear! I used to have a green Mini – a 1989 Mini in Racing Green – and, unless it’s a Mk2 Cooper S or a Paul Smith, any other MINI just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry.

  30. Dr Bobby Love says:

    I’ve just paid attention to the pictures… I love the way they’ve used the air box to cleverly make the engine look even bigger! Lol!

  31. DeLorean’s Accountant says:

    I don’t know why everyman and his dog thinks that diesels are greener than petrols. Diesels may be more efficient in combustion but they chuck out far more pollutants than petrol. NOx are typically 20+ times that of petrol and particulate emmisions are higher too. Mind you, petrol isn’t that good for the environment either – they’re both poor really.

  32. @Dr Bobby Love
    I hadn’t realised many Fabia vRS owners did that: a smart benefit of platform/component sharing! The MINI Cooper S (and SD) actually have larger brakes than standard – 294mm front discs, rather than 280mm – but the John Cooper Works’ are bigger still, at 316mm. Maybe there’s the answer?

  33. Tom says:

    @DeLorean’s Accountant
    Remember that, as a brand new car, this will have a Diesel Particulate Filter. These reduce NOx emissions by (so I’m told) around 80%.

  34. Dr Bobby Love says:

    Richard Aucock :
    @Dr Bobby Love
    I hadn’t realised many Fabia vRS owners did that: a smart benefit of platform/component sharing! The MINI Cooper S (and SD) actually have larger brakes than standard – 294mm front discs, rather than 280mm – but the John Cooper Works’ are bigger still, at 316mm. Maybe there’s the answer?

    Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly the same story…

    – Standard Fabia 1.9TDi has 239mm on the front
    – The Fabia vRS had 288mm (so did the rare 2.0 8v Fabia)
    – The Octavia has a PCD of 5/100 like the Fabia and, as a result, the Octavia vRS’s 312mm setup is a straight forward bolt on job!

    I bet the Cooper SD suffers from brake fade after a few energetic stops as well then.

  35. DaveH says:

    Diesel Particulate Filters are a pain in the butt. They collect the particles while the engine is running and then burn them off when your car is running.

    However, as based on my experience with a Volvo S60, if you have cold weather and the engine does not heat up enough, the filter fails to work and the engine management system cuts the engine power! I found this out this winter and Lookers told me that this is a major problem with this system, which is on the majority of new diesel engines.

    I was told that a way round the problem is to drive for 10 miles at 3000rpm which tricks computer into triggering the burn – it works, but uses a lot of fuel. Mind you, that would still be cheaper than the £69 I had to pay Lookers to reset it. I therefore reckon that, if you drive short distances, you should buy a petrol-engined car!

  36. Dennis says:

    Well, if the engine is “straight from the BMW 118d” then surely it’s either a 1.8-litre or from a 120d? Alternatively, is it simply a 2.0-litre version of the 1.8-litre unit found in the 118d?

  37. @Dennis
    No – if you look at this BMW 1 Series Model Range Summary from BMW (UK) Limited’s website you will see that all the diesel and, indeed, petrol four cylinder engines available in the 1 Series here share an engine capacity of 1995cc…

  38. Richard Allsopp says:

    I’ve owned a Cooper SD for about six weeks now, having eagerly upgraded from an MY08 PSA-engined Cooper D.

    I’ve never owned nor driven a current generation petrol-engined Cooper S and so cannot draw any comparisons with that particular car but I can say, with conviction, that the noticeable increase in performance between the two diesel cars is huge and makes the SD seem utterly effortless in any gear.

    The Cooper SD is certainly rapid enough to feel like a genuine ‘hot hatch’ in my book and it is entirely feasible to accelerate very quickly without either having to floor the accelerator pedal nor take the engine beyond 3000rpm.

    Admittedly, before I took delivery of the car, I did have initial concerns that it might feel a touch blunted and nose-heavy with the significantly larger engine up front but, thankfully, it is every bit as nimble and darty as my older Cooper D, with more satisfying steering feel when in ‘sport’ mode.

    The icing on the cake for me is that, despite having only covered 1500 miles so far, with a combination of motorway trips, (mostly) town use and some unrestrained blasts down country lanes, I am averaging about 51mpg at the moment – I only used to get mid-50s from my Cooper D at its peak – and, hopefully, this should improve further with more miles! That’s definitely a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario as far as I’m concerned and I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

  39. Landyboy says:

    DPFs don’t do anything for NOx emissions directly and, yes, they need to regenerate, but the trade off is less than 1 mg/km of particulate emissions.

    I can’t speak for Volvos but, in around 150,000 miles of driving in mainly BMWs and Jaguars, the Landyboy family has yet to suffer a DPF regeneration related warning.

    Actually, those I’ve heard of, have been driven extensively in city traffic, but have responded to a brief motorway drive. I understand that in Germany (and maybe other places), the taxation system discourages such users from choosing diesels.

  40. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    I had one on my Golf Bluemotion… and cleared it simply enough by giving it a thrash.


  41. francis brett francis brett says:

    Note for hairdressers doing short journeys,18g of soot in dpf will usually be cleared in day to day diving,18-24g of soot content will normally be initiated by ecu-injecting diesel in the exhaust stroke to raise exhaust temp to turn soot to ash,24-40g of soot dpf light will come on or flash(dependant on make)refer to handbook a good screwing down the motorway for ten mins approx,40-45g of soot will require forced regen at workshop and over 45g of soot content means dpf replacement so all in all these diesels with dpf’s are a bloody pain and not cheap to maintain,the original R50 daihatsu designed toyota yaris diesel engine suffered no such nonsense but was slow,the new one fast but with a caveat!

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