Time surely flies when we are having fun. The current new MINI hatchback (F55 and F56), now in its third generation after BMW Group took ownership and revitalize the brand, was launched in early 2014, with the convertible two years later.
This new generation also debuted new turbocharged four-cylinder and three-cylinder engines wholly designed and manufactured by BMW Group and were paired to a manual or conventional automatic transmission, but with six forward ratios.
In this mid-life product lifecycle update, or shortly termed as facelift, MINI has decided to improve the performance of the vehicles by offering an option for a seven-speed Steptronic dual-clutch automatic transmission, or DCT.
Competitors in this segment include the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-class, both of which are only equipped with dual-clutch transmissions for self-shifting function.
BMW’s 7-speed DCT-type transmission has already been fitted in selected sister products which also share the UKL transverse engine platform- the BMW X1 sDrive20i earlier in January and the recently launched BMW X2 sDrive20i.
We managed to drive both 3-door and convertible, but for today’s quick review, we will focus on the MINI Convertible as it was the only new MINI Cooper S there that was equipped with the new DCT-type transmission.
MINI, already known for its British roots, has further amplified its British heritage by redesigning its large LED tail lamp with the Union Jack graphics.
Notice that the unique red-and-white position in the diagonal patterns are replicated similarly to the flag
At a glance, the Union Jack looks like a symmetrical design, but MINI designers have faithfully replicated the asymmetrical lines on the left and right LED light clusters motif that matches the iconic flag. This change has certainly uplifted the premium image, as the 2014 pre-facelift design was bland and had a ‘swollen’ look to the tail lamps.
The soft, power folding convertible roof folds away in 18 seconds and operation is allowed at speeds of up to 30 km/h. Once fully retracted, the soft top is not completely hidden beneath the trim panels, keeping its classic, unmistakable profile.
The low-noise soft top also offers a sliding roof function which allows the front section of the top to be retracted to continuously variable levels.
Stepping into the new MINI, or rather, looking into the occupant space with the soft top down, reveals more than the high-quality trim and new leather upholstery.
Sitting atop the high window sills are four rather beautifully designed oval pieces surrounded by a chrome ring each. These are actually the seatbelt anchors; quite an impressive attention to detail displayed by MINI.
The Union Jack theme continues to make its presence noticed on the passenger trim panel. The panel has a stylized Union Jack motif that warmly lights up together with the ambient lighting.
We really like the new transmission select lever that is fitted in conjunction with the new DCT-type transmission. Gone is the tall, skinny shaft with a cobra head-like shift lever of the old 6-speed automatic. Replacing it is a shift-by-wire gear select lever that oozes with style and ease-of-use.
The electronic shifter operates similar to the current range of BMWs, with short, precise movements for forward, manual/sport mode or reverse gear and pressing the ‘P’ button to activate ‘Park’.
With this new design of the gear select lever, the MINI drive mode switch has now been moved forward to the array of toggle switches, as the previous design of a dial-like ring was not the easiest to operate.
Buyers can also customize the dashboard trim panel with a 3D-printed item, as well as the laser-etched door sills and fender-mounted ‘scuttle’ plates to a texture, colour and text content of their choice. Called MINI Yours Customized, this award-winning feature is only available in Europe for now.
While it can be quite a small matter, it was refreshing to see the demo vehicles all decked out with personalized names on the fender ‘scuttles’ and ‘Welcome to Mallorca’ puddle lamps and door sill illumination.
Following the launch of the new MINI facelift in Malaysia, MINI Malaysia is the first country in ASEAN to offer the 'MINI Yours Customized'. Check out the amount of customization they offer here.
With perfect spring weather in sunny Mallorca (a popular destination for many European cyclists), we immediately put the soft top down upon receiving the keys to the new MINI Cooper S Convertible.
Our MINI navigation waypoint surely pointed us to the very best way to start the drive, tackling the ‘Serra de Tramuntana’. This impressive mountain range that spans nearly the entire north portion of the island offers drivers magnificent views of the rock cliff and the sea, as well as stretches of roads that are harmoniously connected by plenty of bends and hairpins.
The MINI Cooper S Convertible is without a doubt the best vehicle for this drive. The corner carving ability of the MINI is now further heightened with the closer-spaced ratios in the seven-speed DCT-type transmission. We could also just hold the transmission in second or third without feeling a sense of drag or resistance that is more pronounced in conventional torque converter automatics.
Putting the roof down also allows more exhaust ‘burps’ on upshifts plus turbo ‘whoosh’ noises to stimulate the occupants and downshifts accompanied by an even louder popping. The fitment of the DCT-type transmission has clearly made the Cooper S exhaust a lot more vocal!
In terms of outright shift speed and sensation, this new DCT-type transmission is not as rapid as the ones found in the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The shift speeds are still quick, especially compared to the Mercedes 7G-DCT found in the compact Mercedes-Benz models. MINI also tells us the wet twin clutches are oil cooled.
Upon reaching a town of for lunch, the DCT-type transmission smoothly and intuitively crept the Convertible similarly to an automatic transmission in slow-moving traffic.
We also had a chance to sample a manual transmission-fitted MINI Cooper S 3-door hatchback. As someone who enjoys rowing their own gears, I still preferred the DCT fitment, as the shift quality in the mechanism has a long throw and felt inconsistent across the H-patterns. The automatic downshift rev-matching feature was much welcomed though, assisting in a smooth transition from third to second at every braking before a hairpin corner.
The fitment of the seven-speed Steptronic DCT has really enhanced the overall driving excitement of the MINI Cooper S. The six-speed automatic was a great piece of kit, but with tightening emission regulations, the need to migrate to a twin-clutch setup was necessary is it allows more control over the various engagements.
The new DCT-type transmission is so much more advanced that it now features a ‘coasting function’ that decouples the engine away from the transmission to minimize mechanical drag, lowering consumption and emissions.
Oddly, performance figures are maintained for the MINI Cooper S DCT, with the century dash completed in the same 6.7 seconds as the outgoing six-speed automatic.
We really enjoyed our time in the car, as it was quiet with the roof up, very easy to live and with MINI being more a lifestyle-skewed product, the Convertible perfectly suits the MINI brand values of fun, excitement and premium.
MINI Malaysia has recently launched the new MINI 3-door and 5-door, plus the 231 hp / 320 Nm John Cooper Works hatch. Learn more about the local specifications and pricing here. Unfortunately, the beautiful convertible is still not available, yet.