August 21, 2008 5:00 AM PDT
By Richard Truett, Automotive News
DETROIT--I'm cruising south on Interstate 75 at a steady 64 mph. If the fuel economy gauge in the car can be believed--and there's no reason that it shouldn't--I'm burning one gallon of fuel every 74 miles.
I'm not limping along in some wimpy gasoline-electric hybrid. I'm not drafting behind a semitruck. And I'm not relying on any of the dangerous maneuvers that hypermiling eco-geeks use as they try to extract every inch of distance out of a gallon of gasoline.
Nope. I'm in a 2007 Mini Cooper D, and I am driving it normally. The D stands for diesel. It's a version of the popular hatchback that isn't available in the United States--yet.
Here's a car that lets you have your high fuel economy cake and eat big slices of it, too. Just as important as the Mini Cooper D's ultralow fuel consumption is its fun-to-drive factor. It's off the charts in this car.
The Mini Cooper D is quick. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged diesel engine propels the 2,600-pound hatchback to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds. Plus, the car is good-looking, the chassis is rock-solid, and the handling is as tight as a go-cart.
The engine runs smoothly and, if you keep the windows up, quietly. BMW did a nice job of keeping the diesel chatter out of the interior.
The Bosch high-pressure fuel injection system helps the engine run cleanly. I put my finger into the exhaust pipe expecting it to turn black from soot. It was clean. There was no exhaust residue in the pipe.
The 2001-2006 first generation of the new Mini Cooper also had a diesel engine. But that car, with just 75 horsepower, did not have the chops for the U.S. market--too slow.
The second generation, launched in 2007, has 108 horsepower and easily can run with other economy cars in its class.
BMW plans to offer the Cooper diesel in the United States when the emissions system is robust enough to allow the car to be sold in all 50 states. The company declines to say when that might happen.
Diesel engine technology is expensive. But if BMW could figure out a way to sell the Mini Cooper D for about the same price as a loaded Mini Cooper S, the car could be a big success here.
But they are a long, long way from that. For now, the Cooper D would cost at least $25,000, roughly $7,000 more than the base model.