First Drive : 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.
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
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
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
Torque: 224lb ft
0-62mph: 8.1secs (claimed)
Top speed: 134mph (limited)
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.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.