WITHOUT wishing to come over like a marketing person, when the "new" MINI was first unleashed on to an unsuspecting public, pitching the car as something fun to drive was at the core of the sales push.

History has shown that the BMW bods were spot on with their campaign, but there was something missing: a diesel. Missing was the operative word, as when the One D did emerge it was certainly frugal but it also lacked the other F-word: fun.

In time it did receive a modest power upgrade, but it never quite lit people's fires.

With the new MINI diesel sporting a Cooper badge, it's clear that priorities have changed. Out has gone the solemn approach to economy motoring and in has come an altogether more feisty personality.

And there's more good news; for all the car's frugal habits the Cooper D, as it's called, is no slouch on the road.

The Cooper D's on-paper stats are pretty impressive. The car's new 1.6-litre engine pumps out a respectable 110bhp, and pulling power (torque) is a considerable 177lb/ft available from just 1,750rpm. This all translates into a top speed of 121mph and a more-than-acceptable 0 to 62mph sprint time of 9.9 seconds.

This combines with an average fuel economy of 64.2mpg and a C02 rating of 118g/km, which means VED tax band B.

It's fair to say this Cooper D is something of a pleasant surprise. On the one hand you've got the now familiar format of cheeky looks plus the refined and fun driving experience that's shared with all the MINI variants, and the added bonus of a willing and flexible diesel engine plus the associated low running costs.

Just for good measure, the on-paper qualities of the Cooper D also make sense in the real world. If you're not a fan of over-firm riding cars, the Cooper D strikes a happy balance between conventional supermini and all-out Cooper S. Even if you opt for a large wheel size, you can be confident in the knowledge that such a decision won't destroy the car's ride quality.

Then there's the performance, which in simple terms is way more than adequate. The car's torquey little diesel lump pulls strongly even from only a few revs, making stop-start town driving less of a chore - as does the car's short, snappy manual gearshift.

Chasing gaps in the traffic is now more enjoyable as you don't have to wait for anything to happen: just keep the car in a low gear, squeeze the throttle and you're already there.

Away from the constraints of the city limits, the Cooper D proves to be a fun companion.

It might not have the outright pace of the flagship Cooper S, but you'll find yourself stirring the stubby gearshift less often and enjoying the diesel engine's flexible character more.

Even motorway cruising is a doddle, further adding to the car's all-rounder credentials.

Some people haven't been terribly kind towards the car's redesigned fascia, specifically the larger, dominant speedometer. And yet, when you're cracking on you'll be glad it's big enough to poke your eye out because the combination of the engine's refinement and power mean's you'll be surprised how far round the needle can go All in all, the Cooper D is something of a revelation. Granted, so long as BMW keep building them people will buy MINIs, but until now the diesel option was the only one you felt you had to make excuses for. Not any longer: it's punchy, quick and most of all frugal with it. As for a compromise, it's difficult to spot one anywhere in experience.

There are options galore, from simple equipment upgrades to a plethora of exterior paint and decal choices to make your car stand out from all the others.

Could this Cooper D be the pick of the MINI range? It's certainly a serious contender for real world honours.

The Cooper S might be the performance driver's choice, but this diesel variant has at last come of age and is perfect if you're seeking something distinctive yet want to keep running costs to a sensible level.

At a glance

Model: MINI Cooper D, from £14,175 on the road

Engine: 1.6-litre diesel unit developing 110bhp

Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels

Performance: Maximum speed 121mph, 0-62mph 9.9 seconds

CO2 emissions: 118g/km

Economy: 64.2mpg.