Had a test drive Monday. Before I get on to my thoughts, a little background…

I owned a Mini Cooper 2002-2005, then a Cooper S from 2005-2006. I got rid of the Cooper S due to running expense and I was sick of having to go to the petrol station every 10 minutes I was also sick of seeing Mini Coopers EVERYWHERE! Seriously, throw a stone from my window and I can hit hit ten of them.

So, from my personal standpoint of bitter disillusionment with Mini I moved to a Suzuki Swift. Cue much verbal sparring and derision from the Mini faithful but me being a lot better off in the wallet. I’ve kept an eye on the second generation (R56) Mini’s as they were released and despite always having a soft spot for Mini’s I could never find a compelling reason to buy. Until now…

The Cooper D was announced. I was interested. Then the revelation that due to me being self employed, 100% of the cost of a low emission car (such as the Cooper D) could be off-set against my earnings. Nice! Back that up with frugal MPG figures and a chance to get back driving a car that for me just always feels ‘right’ and I knew I would at least have to take for a test drive.

However, I was not without a little trepidation. I have driven a few diesels in small cars in the past and I have rarely been impressed. My usual feelings are that they are noisy, sluggish and dull. The Cooper D proposition seemed too good to be true…

I haven’t tried any of the R56 models so don’t have that comparison to make. First thing that struck me was that the R56 interior isn’t nearly as bad in the flesh as it appears on pictures. The buttons and knobs have definitely lost some of their tactile feel and I REALLY miss the lights on the end of the switches. However, there is the reward of flick switches on the roof so I can at least pretend I’m a helicopter pilot when no-one is around Once I had soaked up the cockpit it was time to get down to business.

The test drive…
Jumped in, key in, hit the start button (start buttons: the way forward) and the diesel leapt into life. It was a little noisy to begin with and chugging around in first and second on the way to the open road I was a little unsure about the cabin volume. However, as soon as I opened up a little I can honestly say I was no more aware of the engine noise than I am in any other car. The best thing for me was I literally forgot it was a diesel. Plenty of pull, the brakes are fantastic and really cut the speed off (I’ve missed great brakes as the Swift only has drums at the rear!). Handling wasn’t quite up to the likes of my previous Cooper S but in fairness, this Diesel, although running 17″ wheels, was minus sports suspension. As an aside, having ridden in a Mini without sports suspension again, in the balance, I would personally leave the sports suspension if I order another and enjoy the slightly comfier ride. Age gets to everyone!
There was some vibration noise in the cabin but no obvious rattles – a factor that blighted my first Cooper. The ‘feel’ of this Cooper for me was spot on. Although it didn’t have whince inducing speed or acceleration, given its other credentials it makes all the right trade offs. It certainly felt just as fast as my Cooper and the actual ‘pull’ sensation when at the right revs felt just as good as the Cooper S. Handling was nearly up there with my two previous R53 Minis but as has been much documented in the press, there really is some tiny bit of ‘mojo’ missing from these new Minis. Just a little pinch of magic that hasn’t made the build list.

The bottom line – it’s a great car to drive. It has plenty of power and pull. Acceleration (thanks to great torque) feels aggressive despite not enjoying the high end poke of a Cooper S. The low emission credentials are a big deal to me fiscally (despite me being more than sceptical about man made global warming) and mean in terms of total cost of ownership this is by far the most attractive Mini on the market today for me. Want to buy a Suzuki Swift?

P.S. I still wish others would stop buying Minis – it’s making them dreadfully uncool!