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Driven: MINI Cooper S Convertible 2018MY. Image by MINI.

Driven: MINI Cooper S Convertible 2018MY
Even softer in character than the hard-top MINI Cooper S, but the new DCT gearbox is a gem.

 



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MINI Cooper S Convertible 2018MY

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Along with the two hatchback lines - with three or five doors - the MINI Convertible has undergone its midlife facelift. Here we are driving a Cooper S model fitted with the new seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox, going under the name Steptronic.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: MINI Cooper S Convertible Steptronic
Pricing: Convertible range from 19,790; Cooper S Steptronic from 25,490
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, seven-speed Steptronic dual-clutch automatic
Body style: two-door, four-seat convertible
CO2 emissions: 126g/km (VED 160 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 51.4mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
Power: 192hp at 5,000-6,000rpm
Torque: 280Nm at 1,350-4,600rpm (300Nm on time-limited overboost)

What's this?

The MINI Cooper S Convertible, which has always been a strange blend of something designed for maximum kerb appeal (the MINI Convertible bit) and then one of the punchiest engines with the firmest chassis set-ups the British company offers (the Cooper S bit). Like the 3-Door and 5-Door models, the entire Convertible 2018MY range enjoys the full LED lights front and rear (yes, with THOSE Union Jack logos being standard-fit at the rear... extremely brave call by MINI UK, that), the new body colours (this test car wearing attractive Starlight Blue metallic), fresh designs of 17-inch alloy wheel (in this instance, the highly attractive Roulette Spoke two-tone), a new interior colour (oh, our test Convertible has that, too - Malt Brown for the quilted-stitch Chester leather seats and more Malt Brown running horizontally across the dash, plus plastered on the door cards; it's all very nice), revised graphics for all the digital displays, a new Driving Mode toggle switch on the centre stack's banked array and the option of personalising the car every which way but loose with MINI Yours Customised.

The most interesting thing about this particular Cooper S Convertible is the transmission. It's MINI's first-ever foray into dual-clutch (DCT) territory and, while it wears the same Steptronic nametag as the eight-speed torque-converter auto you'll find as standard on the Cooper SD, it's nevertheless a seven-speed unit that promises even quicker shifts and sportier responses when it's in, um, Sport mode. Weirdly, despite this being a Cooper S, paddle shifts are not standard if you opt for the Steptronic transmission (+1,400 on a six-speed manual model), as you need either of the optional MINI Yours leather or John Cooper Works steering wheels to have command for the gearbox at your fingertips - and, if you do, then Steptronic Sport costs 1,700. We're also not 100 per cent convinced by the weird-shaped new electronic gear lever that both this DCT and the torque-converter Steptronic have as their shifter, but then we're still not convinced by the Convertible's pram-like appearance with its hood down, either, nor its appallingly bad packaging that means it's a four-seat open-top in theory only, so that's no great drama.

Oh, and the multi-layered hood can be fully electrically raised or lowered in 18 seconds, even on the move at speeds of up to 19mph. The Open-Top Timer remains too, counting how long you've been exposed to the elements when driving the MINI Convertible. For us, on Mallorca, it was precisely zero seconds. Sorry, we're not averse to dropping the hood on soft-tops, even in less-than-ideal weather conditions, but when deluge-like, freezing rain is slanting in off the sea like knives of ice and the car's frost warning light is on because the temperature outside is three degrees Celsius, then it's hood-up driving all the time. Pity.

How does it drive?

It takes just a few corners in the MINI Cooper S Convertible to have you throttling back and settling into a steadier, flowing driving style, rather than one that sees you furiously braking late, hurling the car in at the apex and then getting on the power in Sport mode as early as you can. Driven like that, the 192hp MINI Convertible will feel a disappointment. It's a 90kg bulkier car than its 3-Door sibling and it feels it from the second you first fully open the taps, as the 2.0-litre engine doesn't quite shift its mass with the same sort of alacrity as it does in the tin-topped MINI. Also, the additional weight is most obvious when you're standing on the brakes (as it is in all cars) and, while MINI has done an excellent job structurally with the Convertible, there's still more flex in the body than is ideal. You notice this most with slight shudders of the windscreen's frame over rougher surfaces and the fact you can barely see anything out of an interior rear-view mirror that is fizzing with vibrations in such circumstances.

So the Cooper S Convertible is incontrovertibly a boulevard cruiser with a powerful engine, rather than a hot hatch with the roof lopped off. However, this is a good thing. Because a more leisurely motoring experience means you can enjoy the excellent levels of refinement the Mk3 MINI can summon up, while also focusing on the sheer brilliance of that new DCT. It's not that the eight-speed auto MINI used on the Cooper S previously was a bad unit, but the twin-clutch item is a step on again. It shuffles up through the gears in a quick and seamless fashion in the car's softer set-ups, while if you are employing more throttle or attempting to enjoy the car in Sport mode, then it responds whip-crack-quick and instantaneously gives you just the right gear for a given scenario. Like anything in the wider BMW Group, the MINI has its sequential side-gate on the gear lever the correct way around and in general this is just the perfect transmission for the Cooper S Convertible - the DCT goes hand-in-glove with the car's laid-back demeanour overall.

We'd stick with a manual on the Cooper S hatch, granted, but this is a fine automatic alternative for all the cars in the MINI family that are less overtly sporty and which are therefore bought by customers who want greater ease-of-use in heavier traffic conditions. So we'd expect the Steptronic seven-speed to be a big hit on the facelifted MINI Convertible.

Verdict

What we have here is a fine machine made that tiny bit finer by the addition of new personalisation options and an excellent twin-clutch gearbox. The MINI Cooper S Convertible Steptronic is not a cheap vehicle and it'll never tear up a mountain road like a true sports car, but as a feel-good motor from the B-segment that'll look good in a wide variety of situations, it's pretty much peerless.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 26 Mar 2018









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2018 MINI Convertible drive. Image by MINI.2018 MINI Convertible drive. Image by MINI.2018 MINI Convertible drive. Image by MINI.2018 MINI Convertible drive. Image by MINI.2018 MINI Convertible drive. Image by MINI.








 

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