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Click to view picture gallery“Thinking about
  buying a MINI?
  Then stop! Don’t even
  go there until you’ve
  driven the MINI One D.
  Combining all the Fun
  of MINIs with Frugality,
  it’s a sharp-handling
  package that will
  delight even non-MINI
  enthusiasts...”

JUST FOUR SHORT weeks after we put the John Cooper Works Cooper S through its paces we found ourselves taking delivery of a MINI One D. Coming, as it did, hard on the heels of the explosively exuberant Works car, it would be easy to think that the One D wouldn't be able to hold a candle to its breathtaking brother in the entertainment stakes.

But, no. Half a day into our week's test — after embarrassing a hot hatch on a particularly challenging twisty section of our usual test route
we rediscovered the MINI's biggest secret. Its competent and user-friendly chassis. Sure, the Euro IV compliant D only has 88bhp to play with. But its well-spaced set of six ratios (taken from the Cooper S) are nicely matched to a generous helping of torque 141lb ft at 2,000.

A skilled competition driver once told me that the best car in which to learn to drive was a Fiat 500. Why? Because you have to maximise all of its abilities to make progress. Master the trick in a tiny Fiat and you'll be able to feel out and exploit the strengths and weaknesses of every subsequent car you drive, be it a bog-standard hatch or a 600bhp road-racer.

This brings us back to the One D, the fourth model to make it into the MINI family. With one in three new cars now diesel-powered, it was hardly surprising that MINI should field a diesel-drinking player in its team. The MINI diesel has been available since July 2003 but the latest version that appeared in September 2005, as tested here, is a more powerful and livelier car
a serious alternative to its petrol-engined brother.

Externally it's not much different from its siblings, with only a stylised 'D' on its boot to let you know which pump to pull up at. Not that you'll be doing much of that, as even caned rather hard it still manages to sip rather than slurp the diesel. Officially, it's good for 48.7, 58.9 and 65.7mpg respectively for town, combined and touring driving. We don't doubt that less devilish owners than us here at MotorBar will match BMW's official figures on longer journeys with 50mpg in town and a touring range of over 600 miles easily achievable. Put another way, that will get you from the Isle of Skye to the Isle of Wight on a single tank of diesel.

Even during our hard-charging road test, MINI One D delivered an overall combined figure of a credit card-friendly 50.4mpg with a best of 57.6mpg. Hard-charging in a diesel? Well, yes. The unit in the One D is both happy and willing enough to propel it from standstill to 62mph in 11.9 seconds (it feels quicker!). And on to an unstrained maximum speed of 109mph. Of course, it's helped by an efficient turbocharger.

The One D exhibits the same family dynamics of all the other MINIs. Okay, so it's not a Cooper S
but it's still eminently chuckable. And the sporty feel, wieldy go-kart handling and steering responsiveness are all present and correct in the diesel model.

And there's no skimping on the kit, either. Standard items include smart low-slung cloth seats, electric front windows and door mirrors, power steering, radio/CD with 6 speakers, a tyre run-flat indicator, rev-counter with outside temperature display, tinted glass, remote locking, ISOFIX child seat attachment, height-adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel, automatic 'drive off' central locking, 'follow me home' delay headlights, a rear wash/wipe and an easy entry function for quick access to the deeply-sculpted 50:50 split folding rear seats that really do accommodate two adults.

Neither has MINI been sparing with the safety equipment. One Ds are fully paid-up members of The Self Preservation Society with ABS (and discs all round, ventilated at the front), an Automatic Stability Control and Traction system, Electronic Braking Distribution, Cornering Brake Control, a crash sensor and front as well as side airbags for the driver and front passenger all as standard along with a four-star Euro NCAP safety rating. You have to agree, that's a fair serving of kit for an on-the-road price of 12,225.

Run flat tyres, a head airbag system that extends from the A- to the C-pillar and Dynamic Stability Control are all available as options.

Being a MINI, it's taken as read that it's an appealing car. It looks as dapper as any other MINI, with Cooper S side sills, roof in body colour and matt black door mirror housings, a larger air intake in its front bumper for the intercooler and quality feel chrome-plated external door handles. If you want proof, just watch the faces of total strangers as they pass by and you'll see that quick smile of pleasure that MINIs tend to generate wherever they go.

Also the same is the by now iconic MINI interior. Some might favour the simpler look of the One D's fascia over the busier look of the higher specified models, with its centrally-mounted speedometer and rev-counter immediately ahead of the driver on the steering column
a reminder that driving enjoyment isn't all about top speed, but also well-timed gear shifts and available power. The standard anthracite finishes to the dashboard, centre console and door panels look particularly smart.

Start up, and from inside the cabin there's no real giveaway that under the clamshell bonnet beats a diesel heart. The all-aluminium four-cylinder 1.4-litre powerplant is a sweet little number with enough gusto to vividly recall 'The Italian Job' when driven with a determined right foot. Second and third provide real 'zip'.

Cog-swapping can be kept to a minimum, thanks to the torquey engine that delivers maximum pulling power between 1,800 and 3,000rpm. And the gear shift's smooth and positive change quality is good enough for changing gear to be an important part of the fun. They say the acid test for a diesel is whether you know you are driving one. From behind the MINI D's chunky leather-rim steering wheel you can't tell. And I didn't think I'd say that when we were waiting for it to arrive.

While it's at home wherever its driver may take it, the One D is a particularly good motorway car. Thanks to a tall
effectively an overdrive sixth gear, journeys are composed and relaxed as well as economical. The ride is supple even on poor-ish blacktop and town driving is a doddle, thanks to the MINI's inherent agility. Plus there are four seats with the option of usefully increasing load space (from 150 to 670 litres) simply by folding one or both of the rear backrests.

All of which makes the D a practical
as well as a thoroughly entertaining car to own. For a great number of drivers, a MINI One D in the family will be a match made in Heaven and Thoroughly Usable in every sense of the word.

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MINI One D
| £12,225
Maximum speed: 109mph | 0-62mph: 11.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 50.4mpg | Power: 88bhp | Torque: 141lb ft
Visit MINI's website Click to go there now

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- MINI One D