Mini's first diesel model is perky and driveable, but it is short on Mini-ness
B+ for Cooper D The Cooper D uses only 3.9 litres of diesel per 100km. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

If you thought a diesel-powered Mini Cooper was a bit like a vegan burger, you would be half-right.

Like the non-meat sandwich that satisfies the stomach, but not necessarily the palate, the Cooper D offers nearly as much go as its petrol brethren, but alas has no soul.

Much of the enjoyment of a Mini comes from its "rev-ability" - that heady mix of sound, vibration and speed as the engine heads towards 6,000rpm, rubber and tarmac make and break contact every nanosecond, and lamp posts zip by.

To its credit, the turbodiesel Cooper D will still happily dish out plenty of wheelspins. But its copious amount of torque, available from just 1,750rpm, makes speedy progress thereafter a bit of a non-event.

It is hard to put in words exactly the missing element that makes driving a Mini Cooper exciting, but it is akin to getting a beer buzz even before arriving at the pub.

The Cooper D feels somewhat quicker than its stated century sprint time of 9.2 seconds. And its top speed of 200kmh is respectable for a car with a 1,496cc three-cylinder engine.

That a car is powered by a three- cylinder turbodiesel is itself interesting. That it actually delivers some semblance of performance is even more interesting.

The only other car with a three- cylinder turbodiesel driven here was the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion 1.2. And it was an anaemic little thing that would shrivel up and die if a Ducati pulled up next to it.

Not so the Cooper D. It is an incredibly lively car despite its diminutive carbon- light engine. And you do not even have to strain it much. It has no problem powering ahead of the pack from the lights, or filling gaps in traffic on the fly.

Some of it has to do with the Mini's inherent strengths, of course. Like its quick steering response, relatively light weight and natural plantedness.

The choice of diesel takes nothing away from these positive traits, but it robs the driver of other pleasures. First and foremost, it sounds like a taxi. Now, it is quite alright if a Mercedes-Benz E-class sounds like a taxi because many of them are actually taxis.

But a Mini? The brand is about hip-hop, loud colours, bright lights and that YOLO (you only live once) attitude. It is as much about driveability as it is about sensibility.

A Mini that goes "tchat-tchat- tchat-tchat" just does not cut it.

So, why would you buy one? Well, the same reason why you would eat a vegan burger. It is good for you and it is good for the Earth.

The Cooper D consumes only 3.9 litres of diesel per 100km and emits only 103g of CO2 per km. That means you save a suitcase load of cash on fuel. And you get to enjoy $15,000 in carbon rebate, without which the car would be unreasonably pricey.

It is probably worth the lack of soul and sensibility, but you have to test-drive it yourself to see if you can live with that "tchat-tchat-tchat-tchat".

And if you can, see if you can live with the car's plasticky bits. While this generation of Minis are better built than the previous one, the test-car demonstrates that the quality may not be uniform across the board.

When closing the driver's door one day, a plastic cover on the handle fell off. It would be excusable if it was a hard "I'm fed up with the boss" slam, but it was actually a rather normal "I'm home" kind of closing.

And the plastic part that fell off really felt plasticky. Like one of those cheap toys you get out of a vending machine.

The upside of that episode is that it is irrefutable proof that Mini - despite being owned by BMW - is still very much a British car, and so you are assured of its heritage. No German machine would ever behave that way, no matter what fuel it uses.