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MINI Cooper D

Click to view picture galleryOffered a drive of the revolutionary
-powered million buck MINI
the MINI E — Iain Robertson didnt
  hesitate. And, keeping to the eco-
  spirit of the event, he chose to drive
  to Munich instead of fly. So what
  better choice of eco-wheels for his
  mad, 48-hour Munich-and-back dash
  than the latest eco-friendly MINI
  Cooper D

MY FIRST REACTION to the invite to the once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive the revolutionary electric-powered 'million buck MINI' in Munich* was an air-punching 'Yes' almost immediately followed by the far less appealing thought of the usual 'Heathrow Hassle' followed by an uneventful CO2-rich Channel-hop aboard a German-bound jet. *Click to read the MINI E review.

But why fly when you can drive? Instead, why not drive to Munich from my Lincoln home and back? And the vehicle of choice? What more appropriate, in these stringent economic times, than an eco-friendly car — which is how I came to find myself at the wheel of the latest specification Mini Cooper D en-route to Germany.

Departing Lincoln at 04:15 on a Tuesday morning, my navigator/photographer and I reached the Ferry Port of Dover in time to catch the 07:45 P&O ferry for the 90-minute crossing to Calais. Despite a slight reduction in headroom due to my test Cooper D being equipped with the optional twin glass sunroof, the MINI remains an excellent driving package for two people. Our arrival at Calais, in glorious winter sunshine, was bang on our predicted ETA of 10:15am.

Driving north towards Belgium, and knowing that we would be too late on the return trip, a brief shopping pit-stop was called for at Adenkirke. Our journey continued at midday, past Brussels and on to a snow-blanketed Aachen (Holland) and then into Germany (near Cologne) to make our tally of five countries by mid-afternoon a reality. Germany, happily, is still home to several non-restricted autobahns, where the full extent of the Mini Cooper D's performance could be legally exploited.

While the MINI is renowned for its agility, poor Belgian road surfaces did generate some head-jarring suspension-crashing moments. However, once on the Germany motorways, the MINi was quickly cruising at a comfortable 90-100mph while returning a still-outstanding 47mpg from its diesel engine.

Last year, MINI's owner BMW took advantage of its relationship with the French PSA Group to install both its petrol and diesel units beneath the clamshell bonnets of its cars. That fitted to the Cooper D I was driving is the same, excellent 110bhp unit that powers the Peugeot 207 1.6 HDi and is, consequently, not disadvantaged in any way.

So good is the rate of progress that — apart from the very slowest of overtaking trucks on the two-lane stretches of the German autobahns — I scarcely needed to shift out of 6th gear for most of that country's well-maintained roads. The torque delivery (177lb ft) of the 1.6-litre unit is so strong from little more than 1,200rpm that downshifts were unnecessary. Travelling at 100mph equates to a little less than 3,000rpm, which means that refinement is not a negative issue. I did, on a few occasions, touch the maximum. Yet the engine never felt less than willing and the economy figure did not drop below 45mpg (against the official combined cycle figure of 72.4mpg). For the record, the MINI D is said to return 60.1 on the urban cycle and 80.7mpg touring.

When you consider that the unit emits 104g/km of CO2 from its tailpipe (Band B and a 35 annual road tax charge), my test MINI transport was not only one of the lowest running-cost motorcars sold in the UK, but also among that class of low-CO2 runners that have become exceedingly popular, particularly during the current economic downturn.

Rather astonishingly, despite the sub-zero temperatures, not even a severe snowfall in the hilly Eifel Region had much impact on our progress and we reached Munich in the south of the country by 21:00pm.

An interesting attentiveness to winter motoring can be seen in the use of tyres across Europe. While our MINI slithered and felt slightly edgy on some snow-covered roads, some ordinarily less stable cars seemed to breeze past us without problems — due to our Euro-cousins thinking 'Winter' at this time of the year and replacing their summer-time alloy wheels with a set of alternative (usually steel) rims clad with Winter-spec tyres. Although looking broadly similar to summer covers, a change of rubber compound and self-cleaning treads (these eject any build-up of snow/ice in the blocks) means that they are better suited to wintry weather and there are far less issues blighting progress — as tends to happen in the UK, with our usual first snowfall of the year inevitably bringing the nation's roads to a standstill. About time we Brits started taking our winters as seriously.

After testing the MINI E, the return journey proved equally uneventful, although torrential rain accompanied us across Europe for almost 450 miles. Even so, the economy figure crept up to 48.9mpg — a measure of our slower and more safety conscious progress. However, despite departing Munich at around 14:30, we still reached Calais at 23:00 in time for a short wait because 'rough seas' had delayed the P&O ferry crossing back to Dover.

The Mini Cooper D never missed a beat. Its wipers cleared immense quantities of water from its screens front and rear and its 17-inch, 45-profile tyres gave no cause for lost grip concerns during most stages of the trip. Despite its premium-economy leanings, the MINI Cooper D served up decent performance (0-62mph in 9.9 seconds/121mph) and, when we re-emerged from the car, 1,860 miles later back in Lincolnshire at 04:00am on the Thursday, we were tired but, more than anything, impressed! — Iain Robertson

MINI Cooper D
| 14,120
Maximum speed: 121mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 48.9mpg | Power: 110bhp | Torque: 177lb ft
CO2 104g/km | VED Band B 35 | Insurance group 8