Green motoring has finally become cool.
- 2009 Mini Cooper D; 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six-speed manual; hatch – $33,750*
It takes several hundred kilometers to review a car properly and usually when an evaluation vehicles goes home it has about ¼ tank of fuel left in it. So you can imagine my shock as I was handing the Mini Cooper D test car back to BMW and realised that the fuel tank was still more than half full. That would've been more than believable had I not done 496km!
On the whole I am not a big fan of fuel efficient cars, in a way they say a lot about the mentality of the automotive industry today, with manufacturers desperately trying to be environmentally conscious and promoting their green image, meanwhile keeping the passion and performance aspect alive at the same time. There is a lot incongruent with that idea.
Fortunately though, the Mini Cooper D is a little different to the rest, for a start it’s a Mini so it instantly has some cool factor attached to it. Additionally, it’s not powered by some super complicated electric hybrid engine that requires half the planet to get involved in its construction.
Of course, then there is the drive factor, it drives like a proper car, you can push hard into corners and you can drive up a twisty mountain and it won’t complain, it won’t make you feel like you’ve sold your soul just to save a few trees.
Best of all though, it’s not incongruent, it’s not confused, it knows exactly what it is. Mini call it Minimalist design even though the car is relatively well equipped.
I collected the Cooper D from Brisbane BMW in Fortitude Valley and headed into peak hour traffic, BMW had decided that since I’m going to be driving it around for a week, it may as well use the car as an advertising billboard. Two giant stickers each side made sure of that, one side read 3.9L/100km and the other side read 104g co2/km.
I was driving around in a beacon of the green movement in peak hour traffic, hippies waved, men in BMW M3s frowned as they sped past. Alas, I am open minded, so what if it helps save the planet, it can still be cool, it’s a Mini! Plus if you buy one, BMW promises to take the stickers off.
On the first set of lights in the middle of Brisbane CBD, the car turned off. Oh dear, had I stalled the car? Had the car broken down, could this get any more embarrassing? For a good 30 seconds there, I started wondering how I was going to end up on the 6 o'clock traffic helicopter with the tag line reading “Hippy in eco friendly car stops Brisbane traffic”.
I looked down, the car was in neutral, how could it possibly stall? It hadn’t, the Mini is so smart it had decided to turn it self off similar to hybrid cars that turn off their petrol engine when stopped. Perhaps if I had paid more attention to the lady explaining the car’s ins and outs 10 minutes ago the Mini’s start-stop system wouldn’t have come as a surprise.
With the system on, the Cooper D will turn itself off (safely) everytime you’re stopped in traffic, even if its for 10 seconds, when you press the clutch in, it will turn back on instantly. Now if you’ve never experienced a car with Start-Stop technology, it may seem like a gimmick, something that might slow you down, however it’s quite a brilliant system.
The idea is that instead of the engine running while you’re not moving, it simply turns off for the duration of your stop to save fuel. To the outside world, it may seem like you’ve gone mad with the ignition switch (or are incapable of driving) but it’s all very seamless and after a few days you get used to it.
Start-stop aside, there is a lot more to the Mini that makes it fuel efficient, it’s powered by the BMW/Peugeot designed 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine. With 80kW and 240Nm of torque, by no means is the Cooper D a performance car, but nor is it slow. It will go from 0-100km/h in about 10 seconds but somehow BMW have managed to bring fuel usage down to just 3.9L/100km (equal best fuel rating on the market). It does help that the car only weighs 1090kg.
To put that into perspective, the new third generation Toyota Prius with all its ultra-modern technology, electric drives, batteries, hybrid engine and what not can only manage the same fuel rating.
For a car that costs $33,750 you get a lot of underlying technology to go with the good fuel economy. Mini’s famous driving dynamics apart, the Mini Cooper D comes with pretty much the basics, the chilli variant ($37,350) gets a rear spoiler, uprated interior, 16-inch alloys (as oppose to 15), front fog lights and a better stereo system (10 loudspeakers and a digital 8-channel amplifier).
Safety wise you can’t expect anything less than five-star these days and the Cooper doesn’t disappoint. With airbags all around and a five star rating from Euro NCAP Crash Test the Mini also comes with Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Automatic Stability Control Traction (ASC T) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC).
During the week I drove to the Gold Coast, around town and even used the Mini to move some furniture. If you’re like me and don’t have any kids, it’s hard to argue against the Mini’s practicality.
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper green car if it didn’t have a few gimmicks, for example the Brake Energy Regeneration system helps charge the car’s battery whenever the driver brakes or the car is coasting in traffic.
In the manual variants, there is even “Shift Point Display” that works out what’s the best gear to be in and prompts the driver to shift up or down via arrows in the rev counter.
For the low to mid 30s there are a few other alternatives on the market, Volkswagen, Peugeot, even Fiat make similarly specified cars for around the same or lower price. So the question you have to ask yourself is, and if I may use Toyota’s marketing department genius for a minute, are you a Mini person?
What makes a Mini person? Being a little different, as much as I love the Volkswagen Golf diesel (and it’s a brilliant car), it’s not exactly a unique car and as much as I want to recommend a Fiat to anyone, resale and reliability come to mind with all Italian cars. So for me it comes down to the Peugeot 207 and the Mini Cooper D.
The only minor downside that is worth mentioning is the stereo, it’s just not what I expected from a car of this caliber as it seems to be lacking much needed bass and clarity. However if you go for the Chilli variant that won't be an issue.
Handling and performance wise, there should really be no need to explain as the 1.6-litre diesel is the fastest 1.6-litre diesel in Australia (0-100km/h) but it also handles rather well despite its tiny 15-inch wheels (16- on chilli). Steering response is typical go-kart like as with all Minis and the pedal position feel makes for an easy drive.
You have to remember the Mini Cooper D can travel 1,025 km from a single 40-litre tank - and that’s no small feat. Yes it's a little more expensive than its other European rivals, but being cool has a price.
If you’re looking for a car that is green but still keeps its cool factor whilst being extremely fuel efficient, it’s really hard to go past the Mini.
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