Drive Story : Mini Cooper D // Nürburgring for £100

The recently revised MINI Cooper D is one of the most environmentally friendly cars you can buy – Keith Adams takes a daytrip to the Nürburgring Nordschleife to prove that being green doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun…

Payment in fun…

After it's run around the 'Ring, we needed to get back home for less than £25...
After it's run around the 'Ring, we needed to get back home for less than £25...

THE green motoring revolution has been gaining momentum in recent years – if you’re not buying your low-polluting new car to eke-out the planet’s fuel reserves, shame on you. Social responsibility is all well and good, but if it’s as exciting as watching paint dry then it turns driving into a chore. And yet it doesn’t need to be. To test the theory that you can’t have fun while saving money and the planet, we’ve been issued a unique challenge – get to the Nürburgring, do some hot laps, and come home again. Oh yes, and do it all for under £100.

The Nürburgring Nordschleife is without doubt, the greatest toll road on earth – a 12.9-mile ribbon of tarmac that wends its way through the Eifel Mountains in Germany – offering a driving challenge that scares and exhilarates in equal measure. It’s also only 260 miles from Dover – and a Mecca for petrolheads from across Europe.

We’ve decided that in order to meet the challenge, we need something small, diesel powered and fun in the twisties. It’s all well and good saving juice on the way down, but what we don’t want to be is to be terminally bored once we’re let out on to the track.

The recently re-engineered MINI Cooper D fits the brief perfectly – it’s designed to go well at the Nürburgring, as well as delivering an easy 50mpg in real life conditions (while putting out a saintly, and Toyota Prius-matching 104 g/km of CO2 emissions). Recently revised, the MINI range now features an integrated stop/start system, which cuts the engine in standing traffic – ideal for the inevitable hold-ups on the way down to Dover. We couldn’t lose.

We decide to go for the hardcore option – buy an off-peak day-return on the Eurotunnel for £44, and aim to do a couple of laps of the ‘Ring before heading home, thus turning it a day trip to remember. We’ll not be using special economy driving tactics on the way down – and once on track, our MINI will be tested to its limits. After all, you don’t go to the ‘Ring just to pootle round and admire the scenery.

With a large chunk of our budget gone just getting across the channel, the need to put aside £22 for our two-lap ‘Ring ticket, things start to look tight. As we disembark at Calais, tank brimmed, it would have been easy to slot into the long-striding sixth gear and waft along at 55mph. But that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the challenge…

Instead, we dial-in 75-80mph to match the traffic and head east. The impressive thing about the Cooper D is that although it’s supposedly to be mini-sized, it’s actually remarkably composed on the motorway. You rarely see more than 2500rpm on the tacho, wind noise is well contained, the car is planted, and as the miles roll by, the supportive seats do their best to help you fend off tiredness.

To keep the miles down, avoid the Autobahn option once in Germany – the Nürburgring is centrally located in one of Germany’s most beautiful regions, and sticking to the three-lane blacktop means you see the Eifel Mountains at a distance but you don’t actually experience them.

Besides, we want to challenge our Cooper D, which so far, had stubbornly refused to use much in the way of fuel – the trip computer read-out remains reassuringly north of 60mpg. Into the hills and the MINI continues to win us over – the steering is so direct you feel hard-wired in, and as the corners get tighter your confidence actually grows. Put simply, you point; steer; laugh…

The 60-mile A-road odyssey into the mountains finishes all-too quickly – and we arrive at the Nürburgring gates alert, wired, and ready for more. Before we join the track, a quick £16.62 fill-up has us grinning – that’s a seriously impressive 58.9mpg. And we’ve not exactly been hanging around.

On the track itself, the Cooper D acquits itself extremely well. We might be surrounded by some of the fastest cars money can buy driven by the world’s most committed wheelmen, but in the corners – and there are plenty of them – it’s assured, grippy and we’re most definitely holding our own.

Being a diesel, it’s best to stick in the higher gears and use torque rather than revs to pull you out of the exits, but once acclimatised to this, the speed soon comes. And before we know it, our two laps come to an end.

Rather than basking in the vivid memory of our 11-minute-something lap over a hot coffee in Adenau, we’re already looking forward to the drive home. And as we head back into the mountains and the motorways beyond, the smell of hot tyres and brakes a reminder of how good the Cooper D is on the limit, we wonder just how much our fuel consumption will have been dented.

A great place in which to spend a 20-hour day...
A great place in which to spend a 20-hour day...

It isn’t until Calais four hours later – and early for our late night crossing – that we find out. A quick splash ‘n’ dash costs us £17.32 – less than £1 more than the out-bound leg. And on that, there’s enough to get home and do a week’s commuting…

We did blow our budget though – by 9p. Perhaps if we’d lifted off a little sooner on the approach to the Karussel corner, things might have been different…

The MINI Cooper D has certainly proved that you can have fun while going green – it sipped juice, was fun when it mattered, and played grown-up on the motorways. Our ‘economy’ run was as far from watching paint dry, as it’s possible to get. In fact, if this performance was anything to go by, the future’s bright, the future’s green – and fun is most certainly on the agenda.

The scores on the doors

How we lapped the Ring for £100

Where? Mileage Fuel Cost
Eurotunnel £44.00
Calais-Nürburgring 260 19.69 litres £16.62
Ticket (2 laps) £22.15
Nürburgring-Calais 260 20.43 litres £17.32
Total costs £100.09

Overall MPG: 57.55


Thanks to MINI (UK) for the loan of the press car.

Keith Adams

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