I had my own Mini adventure last week.
I was in a Mini Cooper D - my first time in any variation of the iconic British classic. I'm a big fan of the Mini movement, and there was no better Model to lose my virginity to than the £16,180 diesel.
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That may seem quite a lot to pay for a small car, but consider that its 99g/km emissions make it exempt from road tax, and that its diesel engine is one of the most frugal around, able to achieve just over 74mpg.
Since the Mini hatch's 2001 relaunch the Mini brand has again leapt to the height of fashion, with many drivers treating their choice of model as an accessory as much as a car. The Cooper D keeps the trend going, adding exterior mirror covers, chrome and more to its instantly recognisable shape.
Most of the equipment on the Cooper D is also superficial, with six-star Twin Spoke alloy wheels available in silver. Also available is beige upholstery and chrome line interior options alongside, amazingly, rear-view mirror covers (we're not sure why).
I was relieved then that the Mini Cooper D was equally as much about substance as it was style. The interior was as spacious as it was comfortable, with everything inside looking typically larger than it should be (speedometer, rev counter).
Mini's able to get away with it though, especially when driving the Mini Cooper D is such a joy. It's firm and responsive, and a great option for somebody living in the city - if they can afford to splash the cash...
Its powerful diesel, able to hit a top speed of 122mph, purrs along and performs well. More importantly it also kept me stable in high winds. I was driving on the motorway in the most adverse conditions, with my D model the David to nature's Goliath.
The Cooper D was up to the challenge as it took on the elements. Strong winds weren't too noticeable on a busy motorway, thankfully, and it managed to handle some on-the-spot aquaplaning incredibly well as I navigated my way into a flooded dual carriageway later on.
There are a couple of payoffs for driving something as easy-to-handle as the Cooper D though. I felt like I was at Wimbledon at roundabouts, and someone had put a big girder in front of me. The pillar on the driver's side is a pain - I had to jerk left and right to get a clear view of oncoming traffic.
And though it did very well in appalling conditions, rear visibility gradually became something of an issue as the rain poured down. To be expected in heavy rain, of course, but while the car boasts an enormous speedometer, the rear-view mirror is decidedly, well... mini. It's one of the few times that the car's style got in the way of functionality.
Gear changes are quite clunky, and getting the gear stick into reverse was challenging at best. But the bite's quite easy to catch making the Mini Cooper D a thoroughly pleasant driving experience. The rear's OK for two adults (though it can be tough to get into) and boot space is practical for the smaller family or single owner.
That the Mini Cooper D's drive is incredibly smooth is important, as it can't just rely on its fashionable instincts. Mini is about to be beset by a host of customisable, fashion-conscious rivals including the £13k Vauxhall Adam, the expanded Citroen DS3 range including a new Cabriolet and the evergreen Fiat 500 - now available in Countryman-size 500L.
But the Mini Cooper D is a great option for a first car, or for people that want to experience their own slice of a timeless British design. Powerful, punchy and stylish, it's one of the nicest small cars MotorTorque's had the pleasure of driving in a long time.
Available from £16,180.
Has a top speed of 122mph for manual transmission and 119mph for automatic. Diesel can achieve 112hp with a max torque of 270Nm.
Diesel - 74.3 mpg fuel consumption and CO2 emissions 99g/km.
Nimble drive and handles well in tough conditions. Road tax exempt.
Visibility can sometimes be poor, especially in heavy rain.
Written by John Meadowcroft