With its headline-grabbing performance, the John Cooper Works is the flagship version of the new MINI Coupe. But if you want a coupe that offers class-leading emissions, frugal fuel consumption and is still plenty quick enough, then the Cooper SD could be for you.
The new two-seater is powered by a BMW-sourced 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. With an all-aluminium crankcase, variable intake geometry and direct injection, it’s a free revving and sporty engine with plenty of punch from low revs.
Peak torque arrives between 1,750 and 2,700rpm, so extracting the performance is effortless. The SD accelerates from 0-62mph in just under eight seconds, but it’s the scorching in-gear response that really sets this car apart.
Some purists may miss the characteristic exhaust burble of petrol versions, but the diesel is refined on light throttle loads, and has a pleasantly throaty soundtrack, especially when you hit the Sport button. Doing so also increases the weight of the steering and sharpens the throttle response, too.
The SD’s trump card, though, is its 305Nm torque output, giving it bragging rights over the range-topping JCW, which is 25Nm down on the diesel.
All that engine flexibility has allowed engineers to use a taller top gear, and this helps to make the Cooper SD an excellent long-distance machine. Whatever you do, though, don’t choose bigger alloys or the optional sports suspension – it makes the ride back-breaking over poor surfaces. Even with the standard 16-inch rims and conventional spring rates, the MINI is still fairly firm.
The trade-off for this focused set-up is superb handling. With a lower centre of gravity than the hatch and a slight shift of weight distribution towards the front axle, the Coupé takes the MINI’s dynamic ability a step
further. The steering is weighty and full of feedback, and the Cooper SD turns in sharply.
Body control is excellent, but compared to petrol versions, you can feel the extra weight of the diesel unit in the nose.
Still, this doesn’t detract from the fun factor. All the controls are beautifully weighted and few front-wheel-drive diesel performance cars can match the Cooper SD’s agility, pin-sharp reactions and traction. Plus strong brakes and a slick-shifting six-speed gearbox finish off the polished dynamic package. Inside, the dash is identical to the hatch’s and the combination of retro-inspired design and top-notch quality is hard to fault.
Crucially, despite a lower roofline and tilted back A-pillars, there’s still plenty of headroom and the low-slung driving position is near perfect. Better still, by doing away with the rear seats, MINI has given the Coupé a useful 280-litre boot, which can be accessed from the cabin though the load hatch.
Standard stop-start and brake regeneration help give 65.7mpg fuel economy – astonishing for a car this potent. And CO2 emissions of 112g/km result in an annual road tax bill of only £20. Add in fixed- priced servicing and excellent residuals, and the Cooper SD’s blend of performance, value and handling is hard to beat.