MINI enacts the same changes to its Convertible line-up as it has to its regular hatchbacks for the 2018 model year, but beyond the personalisation options and subtly massaged looks, this particular Cooper S Convertible is interesting because it features the new dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which MINI is calling Steptronic - this transmission being the company's first-ever DCT.
In the Metal:
The updated MINI Convertible gets new lights front and rear, with impressive Matrix LED technology an option, revised interior displays and colour lines (more on this in a moment), a few additional paint finishes for the bodywork and extended MINI Connected digital services. Like all other 2018MY MINIs, you can specify various details on the Convertible to your heart's content with the Yours Personalised scheme that has just been introduced to the wider range, too.
Certain things continue for the Convertible model as part of the facelift, like its fully electric roof that doesn't fold totally out of sight when it's stowed behind the passenger compartment, and the Open-Top Timer, which charts how often you've had said hood down when driving. For the record, on our test of the car on Mallorca, the Open-Top Timer was (regrettably) stuck at 'zero': so cold, miserable and sopping wet was it on the island for our day of driving that, at one point, the car's frost warning symbol bonged into life as the outside temperature slid below three degrees Celsius. We can at least tell you that the hood is great at insulating you from inclement weather conditions and outside noise, although the Convertible is, understandably, a bit rowdier at a motorway cruise than its hatchback sibling.
There's also a clever 'easy access' system for the boot when the hood is up, which uses a series of intuitive levers and stands to make accessing the tiny luggage compartment simpler than it otherwise would be, but with a maximum of 215 litres of cargo capacity and vestigial rear seats, the MINI Convertible simply does not major on practicality. You buy one of these things because it oozes style and sophistication, not because you need to actually carry four adults and their luggage on any given occasion.
It does major on cabin ambience, though, and here we can talk about the new colour line, which is Malt Brown. For the seats, it clothes what is called Chester leather, which features a diamond quilting pattern, and there's a corresponding line of the same Malt Brown colour across the dash and splashed all over the door cards. It's actually a very pleasant, upmarket colour scheme and, with the also-new Starlight Blue body colour, it makes the most of the MINI Convertible's otherwise challenging aesthetics. This looks and feels like a properly premium car, as befits its robust price tag.
The final thing to note in the cabin is an unusual-looking gear lever and on that point we'll move on to the driving section...
The Convertible available for testing at the international launch event was, like the hatchback, a Cooper S. This is not going to be the top seller here in Ireland, mainly because of the tax implications related to its middling emissions numbers, but it's a pleasant-enough machine to deal with. It has the same cushioned ride and excellent body control as its hard-topped relations, but you can sense a little more flex to the structure over rough surfaces - it's not dramatic or terribly disconcerting convertible wobble, by any means, yet you'll sense the windscreen frame moving from side to side and the interior mirror vibrating as you traverse washboard roads.
That, along with the perception of extra weight (the Convertible is 90kg heftier than an equivalent 3-Door MINI and you feel it in the blunted acceleration of the Cooper S, as well as the less confidence-inspiring braking when you're approaching a bend at speed) makes you instinctively throttle back in the MINI soft-top, even if it is the 192hp model. This is definitely more of a cruiser than a sporty little roadster and so you cut your driving cloth accordingly, meaning it'll be rare the owner who actually encounters the limits of grip in the Convertible.
Which brings us onto that gear lever and the new technology that we tested in the Cooper S Convertible. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, this is not unfamiliar fare in the wider BMW Group portfolio, but it is the first time MINI has employed such a thing, only ever offering traditional 'torque-converter' automatics previously. And this new Steptronic transmission is an ideal fit for the Cooper S Convertible. It matches up beautifully to the car's torque delivery and provides seamless, blink-of-the-eye shifts whether it's in full auto mode or you're popping it up and down the 'box on the lever's side gate. We're not convinced, ergonomically speaking, by that strange oblong gear knob, mind, but at least MINI does the +/- thing the right way around - back for up a gear, forward for down. So the 'new' Steptronic with the twin clutches is definitely an improvement on the 'old' Steptronic (which continues in anything badged Cooper SD), itself an impressively cultured transmission.
Only one gripe to report with the DCT - paddle shifts on the steering wheel are part of the more expensive Steptronic Sport option, even on this 230km/h Cooper S flagship. That omission alone shows you that even MINI isn't seriously trying to persuade anyone that the Cooper S Convertible is a truly sporty car.
What you get for your Money:
There's no One model of soft-top - meaning the Convertible range kicks off with the Cooper priced from €27,660 and the Cooper S from €35,970. Cheap, the MINI Convertible is not.
However, while the DCT Steptronic is a chunky four-figure option at €36,550, it does significantly clean up the Cooper S Convertible's act, the 19g/km lower CO2 figure dropping it not one but two tax bands, from the manual's C figure of €390 per annum to the auto's B1, at €270 per annum. Now, while it might take you many years to recoup the initial outlay of the automatic option on road tax alone, you also get much better fuel economy from the Steptronic model - an official 51.4mpg combined, compared to the manual's 44.8mpg. Even if neither car will ever actually attain such returns, it's clear the DCT Cooper S Convertible will be easier on your wallet over a three-year ownership period than the one with a clutch pedal in the driver's footwell.
It's no sports car, the updated Mk3 MINI Cooper S Convertible, and it certainly isn't cheap - even if you try and convince yourself it's a genuine four-seat open-top in a market awash with two-seat roadsters. However, the Convertible's cruiser character suits it well enough and the new DCT Steptronic transmission is an even better companion for it than any gearbox that has gone before in the marque's history. In short, here's another ultra-desirable MINI that will no doubt find many loving homes - job emphatically done, then.