A mix of grunt, economy and low emissions might make this the perfect 21st century Mini. It's a shame it's not as lively to drive as some.

What is it?

This is a Mini Cooper with a difference; it sips diesel rather than petrol, making it the first sporty version of the new Mini to draw its fuel from the black pump.

In base form, the new Cooper D is pretty well specified (especially for safety) with 16in alloys, a colour-contrast roof and a similar tailgate spoiler. It lacks only air-con, which can be added in the £1000 ‘Pepper’ option pack along with the excellent leather steering wheel, front fogs, trip computer and exterior chrome trim.

What’s more, the servicing deal is an absolute steal. Five years and 50,000 mile servicing is just £150. You can extend that to eight years and 80,000 miles for a total of £530. Amazing value, that.

Under the bonnet is the new BMW-PSA 110bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel motor. It twists out 192 lb ft of torque on overboost and has a particulate filter, so it’s not only frugal (64.2mpg combined) but it’s clean.

What's it like?

Slam the very solid doors and it’s obvious the new Cooper D is as great a place to spend time as any of the new Mini Coopers. The high-backed seats are wider, with sensible bolstering and an excellent adjustment range. The dash is more solidly built than the last Mini's, the cupholders will accommodate a Starbuck's coffee and there are now useable door bins.

There’s no doubt that the Cooper has some excellent control weightings. The steering feel at low speed, the indicator stalks and pedals all bleed with precision. The shift action is first-rate, too.

Despite having just 582 miles on the clock, the engine we tried had decent pace, too. Although it’s not too quick off the mark, it has enough overtaking muscle in the mid range to make swift progress easy to achieve. I felt the car was a little tardy in changing direction compared with other Coopers, although that might be due to the added weight of the diesel engine.

The chassis is pleasingly stiff, though again it’s slightly less electrifying in a series of bends than you sense it might be. And the whole car can suddenly be unsettled laterally on the wrong surface. Even so, it can be stroked along B-roads with a rising sense of satisfaction, helped by the first-rate brakes.

On the motorway, however, there was too much swooshing wind noise around the windscreen, and our test car was blighted by tyre noise from the optional 17in wheels. Avoid them.

Should I buy one?

Overall, this particular Mini is a satisfyingly brisk machine, with impressive 'legs' for longer journeys. However, every time I've driven the new Mini I've been unable to shake off the feeling that it has lost something in transition to its second generation. Perhaps this car is just too logically executed, too much a lab-grown product tended by men in white coasts with clipboards.

BMW's first Mini was touched by genius. It was an expensive car to build but deep in its core you could sense where that money had been spent. The new one is an altogether ‘better’ Mini, and the Cooper D’s combination of pace, sub-120g/km emissions and 60mpg frugality is also a convincing pitch in the face of the climate change onslaught.

But for me, the Mini is now one perilous step closer to Euro-normality. Style, branding and individuality are now all that stands between this tiny machine and more practical Golf-class cars – no longer does any new Mini bristle with dynamic character - and the Cooper D seems particularly inert to drive next to its livelier forebears.

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