Driven: 2008 Mini Cooper D

By Winding Road Staff

July 02, 2008

We at Winding Road and NextAutos are always eager to test the diesel offerings from global manufacturers and we were grinning with excitement when the folks at Bosch offered us the keys to a Mini Cooper with a 1.6-liter diesel engine. According to Bosch, this Mini will achieve fuel economy numbers in upwards of 50 miles per gallon, which will shame many hybrid offerings currently sold in the States.

Chris Paukert

In this business, it’s commonplace for people to pull up to you in a nice car and ask questions like “How fast does it go?” and “What’s she got under the hood?” Well, the times, they are well and truly a-changin’.

I took our Mini D into a drive-thru, and noticed that while I was waiting in line that the older couple in an ’08 Ford Focus behind me were studying it quite closely (the Bosch diesel window headers give away the oil-burning game). As I pulled away from the second window with my food, the attendant shouted “Wait! Wait!!” and waved his arms excitedly. With the start-stop diesel having already fired and me being about a half a car-length away, I literally had to back up to the window, wondering if perhaps I had absentmindedly forgotten my change or perhaps they had shorted me my salad dressing. Nope. “The people behind you want to know how many MPGs your car gets!” the employee exclaimed. Not to sound snobbish, but I’m not altogether convinced that a year ago, the average American would have even known what MPGs are. This is a change for the better.

As for the Mini itself, it was quite enjoyable. There’s no mistaking the engine for anything other than a diesel (it’s not the quietest unit in the business), but it is torquey and provides ample power for those not expecting Cooper S levels of performance. This was the first time I experienced Mini’s stop-start technology on U.S. roads, and it proved itself to be up to the suburban grind. It’s essentially impossible to catch the system napping, as it restarts the engine at stops very quickly, but the engine will also seemingly randomly fire up while stationary, perhaps to run the accessories (I actually managed to get the engine to re-fire just by activating the turn signal or adjusting the HVAC, which feels odd). As it’s a diesel, there’s a slight but noticeable shudder when the engine shuts down, which is something I imagine takes a little getting used to. Overall, it’s a nice feature to have to save fuel, but it's nice to have a defeat switch as well.

To be clear, I’m all for more diesels in this country, and I can see many people opting for a car like this over a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid for a lot of reasons: Superior handling, cheeky style, more upscale (if ergonomically messy) interior, ease of parking, and so on. But meeting tough U.S. emissions standards with a diesel isn’t cheap, and I suspect that it’s going to take a while before the cost component makes sense. Given the respectable mileage that a standard Mini gets, if diesel power is a premium of a few thousand dollars, I’m on the fence about whether enough people would opt for the oil-burner, at least at current gas prices. If they creep up a bit further, however, watch out.

Nate Luzod
Art Director

What a great weekend – Mini fun with MPGs to embarrass a Prius. Could life get any better? I drove much more than usual, reasonably fast, and used barely half a tank for three days worth of errands. Trips to IKEA, then returning months worth of recycling, then grocery shopping, then schlepping around extra junk from cleaning out my office – the Mini held so much more than we’d expect just by looking at it. But I digress, since that pertains to both gas and diesel. There was a noticeable lack of acceleration when trying to perform our typical Mini maneuvers, but the gurgling diesel sound kept us entertained nonetheless. Everything else works as we should expect, with solid steering and feel at speed, and confidence-inspiring all-around view that lets us fit in and out of places we probably shouldn’t.

As a clever fuel-saving technique the Cooper D cuts the engine automatically at stoplights. Throw it in neutral and take your foot off the clutch, and the Mini shuts down (radio and AC will continue) – almost mimicking a ‘controlled’ stall. To get going again, push the clutch in and it starts back up before your left foot hits the ground. It happens so quickly that there’s no noticeable delay– and as much as I enjoy the sputtering sound of diesel, it’s rather nice to have absolute silence at a standstill.

I don’t know that I’ve ever had as much fun in something so economical. I’d easily trade the dampened performance for the extra MPGs – it’s a no-brainer if we’re talking daily-driver. Too bad we can’t look forward to having these here in the states anytime soon.

Laura K. Cowan
Chief Copy Editor

Fuel economy in the forties without driving conservatively or using the start-stop feature is nothing to turn your nose up at. I was impressed that a vehicle so much larger inside than it looks and so fun to maneuver would be so economical. The Bosch decals on our tester drew quite a bit of attention from pedestrians and fellow drivers, so I wonder why the company didn’t add a “40+mpg” sticker to explain why diesel is so great. Some family friends thought the car was adorable but lost interest when they realized it was a diesel, saying, “Those of us who owned diesels in the Seventies and Eighties won’t be buying one.” I guess diesel still has a ways to go to prove itself to Americans. There was a slight lack of acceleration in our diesel Mini Cooper, but it was nothing I would trade for worse fuel economy. The car has enough power to do whatever you need, it just has an engine note that’s a little silly.

Steven J. Ewing
Production Assistant

I really, really like this car. The direct-injection 1.6-liter diesel is a perfect fit in the Mini Cooper and the power figures are more than adequate for a car this size. The base gas-engined Cooper is certainly no slug, but the extra torque boost from the diesel-engined Cooper proved to be really nice, especially during highway passing situations. I could easily leave the Mini in sixth gear and have plenty of power to zoom around eighteen-wheelers without having to push too hard into the throttle. Over the past week, I put around 2700 miles on a U.S.-spec Cooper S and though it was a ton of fun, I kept wishing for the diesel’s smoother powerband and generous fuel economy.

The interior is standard Mini fare all around. I must say, though, that the large speedometer is growing somewhat tiresome. This design scheme was a cute addition in the Mini’s first couple of years, but now I feel that the speedo’s large space requirements could be better merchandised. Better stereo controls and larger HVAC buttons would be nice. As is, I don’t like that the volume control is placed below the CD changer. During my time in this car, I reached for the knob in the middle of the radio unit and became increasingly frustrated when it would occur to me that I’d have to reach a bit lower for volume adjustment. If outfitted with the optional navigation system, the big speedometer is pretty much obsolete. I’d prefer a much cleaner dash arrangement overall.

All in, though, this car is a complete winner. If the United States can become better adapted to small diesel engines, I think that the Cooper D has a good chance of survival in this market.


Engine: Inline-4, 1.6 liters, 16v
Output: 108 hp/177 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-62 MPH: 9.9 sec
Top Speed: 121 mph
Weight: 2601 lb
Fuel Economy, city/hwy: 50/67 mpg
(Based on European figures)