Cooper SD vs Ibiza FR TDI

Sparks fly as latest version of retro star takes on our favourite hot diesel supermini

It could be the car that hot diesel fans have been waiting for. But the new MINI Cooper SD won’t have everything its own way, as the supermini sector already has a stand-out contender in the SEAT Ibiza FR. 

The two models have plenty in common, with identical power outputs and sporty reputations. But they couldn’t be more different to look at.

The MINI’s retro-inspired shape has become one of the most recognisable on the road, and the Cooper SD comes with an array of sporty details to set it apart from lesser versions. 

A bonnet vent, mesh grille, roof spoiler and twin exhausts are joined by 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome side vents and subtle badging.

Our test model featured the Chili Pack, which adds bigger 17-inch rims, front foglamps and xenon lights. But the hot diesel looks the part in standard trim and, as always, comes with a huge range of personalisation options.The SEAT doesn’t have the same heritage, but proves conventional superminis can look great, too, with its sharply creased body and slanted headlamps.

The five-door in our pictures has a clear advantage in terms of practicality, but you pay the price cosmetically. If you don’t need the extra versatility, you can save £410 by opting for the three-door SC, which has more rakish lines. And even without the extra doors, there’s more rear legroom than in the MINI, and the 250-litre boot is a full 90 litres bigger with the seats in place. 

Genuine hot hatch fans will be more interested in the driving environment, and the Cooper SD takes some beating. While both cars have height-adjustable seats, which allow you to enjoy a low- slung driving position, the Brit feels more special, with its large central speedo, toggle switches and upright windscreen. 

In the Ibiza, the leather-trimmed wheel is tactile, and the textured dash is smart. It’s well built, too, but after a trip in the MINI, it’s uninspiring.

The same argument can be levelled at the driving experience. In isolation, the Spanish model is capable, with lots of grip, sharp steering and surefooted handling. However, the Cooper SD has more feel and agility, better dynamics and a greater sense of fun. 

The trade-off on both models is a firm ride, but the MINI’s optional 17-inch wheels picked up more surface imperfections at speed, and tyre roar dilute the refinement further.

Unlike the lesser One D and Cooper D, it’s powered by the same 2.0-litre engine as in BMW’s 1 and 3-Series. The unit is silky smooth – but it’s the performance that will get enthusiasts really excited. 

Even though it produces the same 141bhp output as the Ibiza, the Cooper SD sprints from 0-60mph four-tenths faster, in only 7.7 seconds. 

And despite a 15Nm torque deficit, it stamps its authority on this test with its storming in-gear performance. 

For example, the MINI was 1.4 seconds quicker from 50-70mph in fifth, with an impressive time of 5.1 seconds, and it outpaced the SEAT by an even bigger margin in sixth. 

So it delivers effortless and genuinely swift performance. Plus, on dry roads at least, traction is good. Only over rutted surfaces does the steering wheel tug from side to side under power. 

The snappy shift action of the six-speed gearbox is another plus point, as is the fact that all this performance doesn’t come at the expense of efficiency. Standard stop-start helps the MINI deliver strong economy and the lowest CO2 emissions of all the cars in this test. During our time with the Cooper SD, which included high-speed laps at the test track, it still averaged a solid 42.1mpg. 

The SEAT recorded a very respectable 40.6mpg, but as it trailed the MINI for pace, this result isn’t as impressive. Plus, the FR puts out 9g/km more CO2, at 123g/km. 

So although it’s cheaper to buy and has more standard kit than the MINI, the Ibiza falls behind in other areas. Class-leading residuals and the competitive, fixed-price tlc servicing deal make the SD a great ownership prospect, while those lower emissions ensure it’s a cheaper company choice.

Yes, there’s not as much equipment, and the price can spiral if you get carried away with options. But exercise some self-control, and the MINI has all the hallmarks of a winner. The Cooper SD could well be the new star of the supermini line-up.

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