Ugly bug set to have a ball!
By David Morgan
BEAUTY may well be in the eye of the beholder – but there's no getting round the fact that I see MINI's Coupé SD as the Ugly Betty of the motoring world.
Setting aside my aesthetic doubts, the SD is one of the most interesting of the quartet of Coupé models. It's a Cooper S with an oil-burning soul – and it goes like the wind.
It's one-and-a-bit up from the base Cooper with its 122bhp 1.6-litre petrol heart at £16,640 and closely aligned to the £19,780 Cooper S with its 184bhp 1.6. Just above the Cooper SD is the wild John Cooper Works model with 211bhp from its blown 1.6 and a price tag of £23,800.
As soon as I climbed aboard the Cooper SD I switched off the hated, pointless tree-hugging stop/start system that works best only in heavily congested city traffic – and not in the Highlands.
Everyone's at it, not just MINI. I find the system irritating and frankly do not believe it will make a cupful of difference's worth at the end of the car's life.
But it's a sign of the times. Like the absence of spare wheels, lightweight body construction, aerodynamic tweaks and low resistance tyres, the addition of stop/start is part of the overall environmental propaganda we all have to shoulder – while all the time the huge tankers and car carrying ships that bring us our oil and vehicles from around the world are spewing out pollution fit to choke a saint.
Believe it or not I'm all for the environment – just against cynicism and propaganda.
But back to the plot.
BMW engineers have delivered an amazing amount of technology in the SD diesel. Its power delivery is decidedly sporting with a peak at 4,000rpm while 225lb.ft flows in from 1,750rpm and stays constant to 2,700rpm before gradually tailing off. Not that you'd notice much. By the time you're through the max torque band the Coupé is bowling along and turning in a genuinely delightful grand touring performance.
There's nothing quite like the tug you get from a diesel when it's slotted into a well sorted little car like the MINI Coupé. Despite having just two seats, this front drive sports coupé is no featherweight. At the kerb it registers 1.25 tonnes and with two up, a full boot and a brimmed tank will not be all that far short of 1.5 tonnes.
That's a lot for a 3.73-metre-long fixed head coupé, but the SD turbodiesel simply shrugs off the weight.
Acceleration from rest is brisk. It takes under eight seconds to pass 62mph and the pull through the close-ratioed six-speed manual transmission's intermediate cogs and continued to hustle the little Scarab along. It's a great little performer with the reincarnated MINI's classic front-drive handling that's neutral for the most part with just a hint of understeer through a corner if you feed in the torque too soon. And to aid stability at higher speeds a trendy rear deck spoiler automatically deploys at just after 50mph and retracts again around 40mph.
The further I drove the more I liked its agility, its driver feedback and its fun factor.
The car's dreadful road noise knocked the edge off a 300-mile round trip run from Moray to Oban – but that's the price you pay for road-hugging good looks and grip.
The interior is a stylista's dream. The huge central speedo is an anachronistic throwback from the original Mini, but works well. And there's something special about the rack of mid-height dashboard toggle switches to control features such as the powered windows and other ancillaries.
The radio is a work of electronic art with a 6.5-inch screen that's integrated with the main speedo dial. It's easy to use thanks to the MINI Coupé's own version of BMW's excellent iDrive remote media control technology that also manages items such as sat-nav. It's intuitive and quick.
Standard equipment includes an active rear spoiler, a puncture repair kit (but no spare wheel) and lots of eye-catching trim – but to add that little bit of extra panache many buyers will want a £1,865 chili pack that adds a multifunction steering wheel, lights package, 17-inch black eight-spoke alloys, uprated MINI Boost radio and CD, xenon lights, Bluetooth with USB Audio, a cloth/leather combination, chrome line exterior, velour floor mats, sport seats, extended storage, front fogs, automatic climate control, and an on-board computer.
That's good value but only one of several add-on packs MINI offers for the Coupé buyer to bring individual character. They will cost between £695 for an adaptive lighting package to a heady £3,255 for the individualistic MINI avenue pack.
But the great point is that you can take your pick to make the Coupé your own – and that just adds to the MINI adventure.
There's no doubt that the Coupé SD is fun. It's strictly a two-seater with minimal space behind the comfortable seats for a soft bag or jackets. But it has a surprise round the back. Under its substantial tailgate there's a sizeable boot – usable space of 280 litres in addition to clever underfloor storage and, on my chili pack model, a large through-load hatch for longer items such as skis.
Ugly Betty it may be in my eyes, but even with its rumbly tyres, Scarab looks and bizarre retro dash, I was sorry to part company with a car that is fun in every respect.
It's an extrovert on wheels – and we're all the better for it.
FINAL THOUGHT: Aesthetically challenged two-seat fixed-head coupé is a great drive, despite its appearance. The two-litre SD turbodiesel at its core is an outstanding BMW engine that delivers excellent performance and economy. Extrovert and packed with character – but owners may need a thick skin to fend off nasty comments about its "style".
MINI Cooper SD Coupé
- Price: £20,510
- Capacity: 1995cc
- Power: 143bhp
- 0-62mph: 7.9seconds
- Maximum speed: 134mph
- Economy: Combined 65.7mpg, Urban 55.4mpg
- Motorsnorth average: 51.7mpg
- CO2 emissions: 114g/km (VED C)
- ESP: DSC Standard
- Insurance: Group 22 (new 1-50 Grouping System)