It seemed like a good idea at the time – take a MINI Cooper D to the world’s greatest tollroad… oh, and do it on a very tight budget. Keith Adams motors to the Nurburgring, and tries to prove you can have plenty of fun for a ton
The idea of taking a daytrip to Nürburgring Nordschleife has always appealed. It might be the world’s greatest toll-road, a 12.9 mile ribbon of tarmac that winds its way through the Eifel Mountains in Germany, but it is also a destination that thousands of car enthusiasts from across Europe head for. Actually, it’s more than that, it’s a pilgrimage.
It may be 260 miles from Dover, but thanks to the Eurotunnel the age of rapid and pain-free Channel hopping is well and truly with us and a daytrip to ‘The Ring’ should actually be rather easy. Possibly too easy, and that’s why I decided to add some spice to the proceedings by keeping the budget below £100. And that’s for everything: train tickets, fuel, and track tolls.
The PSA-powered MINI Cooper D recently dominated the What Diesel group test (February 2008), and seemed the perfect choice. Following a freshening-up of the range last summer to incorporate a fully integrated stop/start system, while putting out a saintly (and Toyota Priusmatching) 104g/km of CO2 emissions, I reckoned I couldn’t lose. No one else saw it that way, though.
AND WE’RE OFF
The daytrip was going to be a long one. It was also something of a hardcore option. Buy an offpeak day return on the Eurotunnel for £44, do a couple of laps of ‘The Ring’, then head home. All in one day.
With a large chunk of the budget gone on simply getting across the channel, and the need to put aside £22 for a two-lap Nürburgring ticket, things were looking a little tight. My plan to do 500-plus miles and some tyre squealing for less than £40 began to seem a little optimistic.
Disembarking at Calais with a full tank of fuel, I considered taking the safe option of slotting into the long-striding sixth gear and wafting along at 55mph. But that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the challenge, as well as being utterly boring… So, as France, Belgium and Germany beckoned, I did the only sensible thing, and dial-in 75- 80mph, to match the rest of the traffic and head east. It’s striking just how good the Cooper D is on a long run. Although it is considered a minisized shopping car, it is remarkably composed on the motorway, and more than once I found myself wondering why anyone would need anything larger than this.
You rarely see more than 2,500rpm on the tacho, wind noise is well contained, and the car feels bolted to the road. As the miles roll by, the supportive seats, excellent driving position, and generous forward visibility do their best to help you fend off tiredness. Also, our Chili-pack MINI is equipped with a very effective trip computer with instantaneous – and average fuel read-out. As the miles rolled on, it was interesting to see those numbers climbing.
To keep the distance down, I chose to avoid the Autobahn once in Germany – it’s always tempting to turn up the wick on those de-restricted sections, and with 121mph to play with, it would have been interesting. However, the Nürburgring Nordschleife is centrally located in one of Germany’s most beautiful regions, and sticking to the three-lane blacktop means you see the Eifel Mountains, but don’t truly experience them. Besides, I need to challenge our Cooper D, which had stubbornly refused to use much in the way of fuel, with the trip computer read-out remaining reassuringly north of 60mpg. Into the hills and the MINI just gets better. The steering is incredibly direct and pinpointing it on any piece of road is not only easy, but a real pleasure. As the corners get tighter, confidence actually grows, and by the time the 60-mile A-road odyssey into the mountains ends, I’m convinced.
ONTO ‘THE RING’
My arrival at the Nürburgring came too quickly, and I was itching for more fun. Before joining the track, a quick £16.62 fill-up in the nearby village of Adenau couldn’t help but raise a smile. The MINI had been averaging 58.9mpg. And I thought I’d been driving hard…
On the track itself, the Cooper D didn’t disappoint. ‘The Ring’ might be one of Europe’s last remaining celebrations of speed, where anyone with a few Euros in their pocket can push their car to its limits, but it’s also a great leveller of machinery. I might be surrounded by some of the fastest cars money can buy, but on the corners, the MINI definitely holds its own. Being a diesel, it’s best to stick in the higher gears and use torque rather than revs to pull you out of the exits, but once acclimatised, the speed comes and the lap time drops below 11 minutes. Before I know it, the two laps are over, and it’s time to head home. Retracing my steps through the Eifel Mountains and onto the motorways beyond, the lingering smell of hot tyres and brakes serve as a reminder of how good the Cooper D is on the limit. It also brings me back down to Earth. How badly will the fuel consumption have been affected?
It wasn’t until Calais, about four hours later, that the horrible truth emerged. A quick splash ‘n’ dash added £17.32 to the daytrip’s bill. Okay, that’s an impressive achievement considering it was only £1 more than the out-bound leg, but it had ramifications for the budget… Yep, I blew it by a whopping 9p. Perhaps if I’d lifted off a little sooner on the approach to the Karussel corner, or not been quite so playful in the mountains, things might have been different…
The MINI Cooper D certainly proves it’s possible to have fun for very little money. It sipped juice, was fun when it mattered, and cruised exceptionally well on motorways. The ‘economy’ run was interesting and proved once and for all that the MINI is a very special car, designed very much with driver enjoyment in mind. It also shows that thanks to the delights of diesel, it’s possible to be adventurous with your daytrips, and still be back in the office the next day with your wallet barely dented. It might have been an early start, but it was worth it.
One question lingers, though – would the trip have been even more fun, if an original Issigonis designed Mini had been used? The jury is still out on that one.