WHAT IS IT?
Mini has introduced a tech-focused update to its Cooper range that sharpens up the official fuel use figures – under pressure from new Euro-driven fuel economy standards – and adds a layer of connectivity to make it the most advanced version of the British drop-top.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
The focus on exhaust emissions hasn’t changed the performance of the F57-based turbocharged 2.0-litre Cooper S, but an extra gear ratio and a new wet-clutch gearbox linked to the front wheels has the potential to tip a bit more of the traditional Mini DNA into the brand.
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THE WHEELS VERDICT
Dumping the six-speed auto in favour of a more performance-focused seven-speed dual clutch version adds an extra element of fun to what already is an enjoyable package. The loss of rivals such as the Holden Cascada and the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet make it a go-to destination for sun-loving drivers. However, after ripping almost $5K out of the drop-top’s price at launch in 2016, the price of joining Mini’s open-air club has crept higher.
Read next: 2018 Mini Cooper review
LIKES: Timeless styling; balance and dynamic poise; rapid-fire gearbox; reversing camera now standard
DISLIKES: Poor roof-up rear vision; lack of rear legroom; interior ergonomics; expensive options
THE WHEELS REVIEW
A STRAW poll of Mini owners told BMW that in the main, they’re pretty happy with the way this modern-day interpretation of the last-millenium motoring icon looks. So, for this significant update ahead of tough new Euro emissions regulations due in a few months’ time, much of how the Mini Cooper Cabrio’s looks has been left alone. Instead, the focus has been on under-skin changes.
This includes enhancements to the heart of the Cooper S range, the turbo 2.0-litre that still makes the same 141kW/280Nm for the same 7.1-second 0-100km/h sprint benchmark, but improves fuel economy by 0.1L/100km to 5.7L/100km. That was brought about by measures including shaving 8kg of weight over the nose via a split cooling system that helps with lowering emissions generated during cold starts, and a lighter crankshaft.
Outside, there’s more funky LED headlights and Union Jack-patterned LED tail-lamps, and inside the Cabriolet gains the same tech-focused interior makeover as the 110kg lighter hatchbacked version, including a centre armrest that interferes with enthusiastic driving if it is left down. Of note, though, is that the Cabrio-specific Always Open timer introduced in the previous generation remains, logging how long you drive the rag-top with the roof stowed.
But integral to this change is bumping the previous version’s six-speed torque converter automatic for a sharper, smoother seven-speed dual-clutch auto with gears cut shorter than for entry-level Cooper. It also retains the electronic diff lock that helps with carving corners by dragging the brakes on an unloaded wheel to help rotate the car.
Those last two points are a recipe for more driver enjoyment. And that’s exactly what the Cooper S Cabriolet delivers.
It may only be a sliver of time faster than the car it replaces, but the dual-clutcher in the Cabrio adds a whole new level of engagement. Rapid fast in its changes, obeying the Cooper S’s default steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters up to a point (gears will automatically shift up slightly early as the large tacho needle sweeps towards the redline) and introducing a symphony of crackling overrun under a trailing throttle in Sport mode, the DCT gearbox does what the displaced six-speeder struggled to do – make the decision to walk past the six-speed manual and get an automatic Mini Cabriolet a whole lot less painful.
Mini has resisted the trend to introduce neck warmers that draught hot air from the seatback, which meant our roof-down drive of the Cooper S Cabriolet in wet conditions west of Brisbane was a pretty cool experience even with the heaters on full blast (we also didn’t have the optional fold-out windbreak fitted across the back seats that minimises the amount of breeze swirling through the cabin). But with a warm, sunny day, the appeal is sure to increase exponentially.
The extra lard that the Cabriolet carries for extra rigidity and strengthening doesn’t appear to take any of the shine off the experience compared with the 50kg lighter Cooper S five-door – the least-Mini Cooper in the now more simplified line-up – we also drove at the facelifted model’s launch. However, roof-down there is a little of that subtle lack of body control and shudder over rougher sections of road that the Cabriolet form can’t disguise.
That said, the Mini’s driveability still makes it deliciously engaging. Grip from the 205/45 R17 Hankook Ventus rubber is good, and the tied-down, wheel-at-each-corner layout leaves the soft-top sitting flat through corners. Kludgy use of the throttle will induce a small bit of wheelspin while launching out of tight corners, but the electronic diff will quickly haul things back into line.
In a straight line, with the exhausts howling and the rush of wind filling the cabin, the rapid-fire dual-clutch auto makes the Cabriolet feel much quicker than it is.
As always, Mini has an exhaustive list of options that will allow users to individualise their rides. Metallic paint is an $800 option, while a decent Harman Kardon 12-speaker stereo – this car is more about lifestyle, remember – is part of a $2200 package that pitches in voice control recognition, a head-up driver’s display and a couple of RFID tags that will alert you via a smartphone if you leave behind whatever they’re attached to.
Read next: 2018 MINI Cooper S performance review
However, this update is more about the virtual connectivity than the substance of how the 2018 Mini Cooper S Cabriolet drives.
Likewise, the new dual-clutch transmission is more about helping Mini to meet new emissions targets than it is about improving the driving experience.
That it does improve the experience is a bonus.
Model: 2018 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Engine: 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 141kW @ 5000-6000rpm
Max torque: 280Nm @ 1350-4600rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, FWD
0-100km/h: 7.1sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 5.7L/100km
On sale: Now