James Wong gets a first drive of the updated Mini Hatch and Convertible on Australian roads.
Blink and you'll miss it, but the Mini Hatch and Convertible range has received a mid-life facelift for 2018, bringing a range of new infotainment and technology options, along with revised powertrains and new transmissions across the board.
Dubbed 'Life Cycle Impulse' (LCI) – basically parent company BMW's term for mid-life overhaul – the updated range gets some minor cosmetic changes, including the distinctive Union Jack LED tail-light signature (standard on Cooper S and JCW, optional on Cooper), a new 'flat' badge design, and an LED daytime-running light 'ring' compared to the outgoing version's semicircle signature.
In terms of mechanical changes, the Cooper and Cooper S are now offered with an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, while the hi-po JCW is available the eight-speed torque converter automatic shared with JCW versions of the larger Clubman and Countryman. All versions of the Mini Hatch come as standard with a carryover six-speed manual, though, while the Convertible is fitted with the self-shifting transmissions as standard, with the manual a no-cost option.
Power in the Cooper comes from a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine making 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, while the Cooper S scores a larger 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with 141kW and 280Nm. The flagship JCW, meanwhile, takes the 2.0-litre petrol's outputs to 170kW and 320Nm.
The Cooper D diesel has also been dropped from the local line-up, making the Mini Hatch range a petrol-only proposition for 2018.
We attended the Australian launch drive in Brisbane, Queensland, where we had a steer of the Cooper Hatch 3 Door, Cooper S 5 Door, and the Cooper S Convertible – unfortunately, we were unable to get behind the wheel of a JCW.
All versions we drove were fitted with the dual-clutch self shifter – no surprise considering our market's high uptake of automatics – which is a $2500 option on the base Cooper and $2800 on the Cooper S, though standard on the Convertible.
Starting from the Brisbane CBD, we drove a Cooper S Convertible (from $47,900) all the way to the mountains, getting a good idea of how the new transmission copes with stop/start traffic and more dynamic driving on back roads.
Despite the Convertible being a lot heavier and less rigid than its hard-roofed counterparts, the topless Mini was still a blast, and the new transmission exhibited none of the low-speed hesitation or jerkiness sometimes associated with shifters of its type.
Additionally, gear changes are completed swiftly and smoothly, to the point where there's no perceptible break in acceleration between ratios – something that could be felt with the previous model's torque converter.
With the roof down – I don't care if it wasn't sunny, it's a convertible damn it – there was plenty of soundtrack from the characterful centre-mounted exhaust outlets, with plenty of pops on upshifts and even some crackles and pops on overrun.
It's worth noting the aural symphony requires 'Sport' mode to be selected, though the soundtrack is still pleasant to the ears in the default setting – it'll put a smile on your face regardless.
The Convertible still has that 'go-kart feel' that makes Minis so fun to drive, but it can feel heavy and cumbersome at times, despite the excellent steering feel and darty dynamics.
Mini claims a 7.1-second sprint from 0-100km/h with the seven-speed DCT, which is nearly half a second slower than the 3 Door Hatch. Performance is still brisk in the heavier Convertible, though you can feel when it runs out of steam under hard acceleration.
It also suffers from noticeable scuttle shake over broken surfaces, and the cabin lacks refinement in terms of road noise over most road surfaces even with the roof up. The ride, meanwhile. was well-damped if a little firm. Combined with the comfortable Carbon Black leather seats ($1950), you'd be able to complete long stints on the road in relative comfort.
From the Cooper S Convertible we swapped into a Cooper 3 Door Hatch (from $29,900), with this section of the driving loop largely consisting of the descent down the mountain and high-speed country back roads. On start up the three-cylinder petrol engine had a distinct rumbly note from the outside, which sadly is almost completely mute in the cabin.
It may lack the punch of the Cooper S and JCW, but the Cooper pulls surprisingly strongly, with more than enough punch for urban duties – where this car will spend most of its time, mind you – and it's a hoot to throw around on some twisty country roads.
However, it's a shame the Cooper doesn't offer paddle shifters with the quick-shifting DCT like the Cooper S does, because the thrummy three-pot turbo is a lively and willing unit that punches above its weight.
The lack of paddles would lead this reviewer to save $2500 and opt for the manual in the pursuit of driver engagement, but like the Cooper S Convertible, the seven-speed dual-clutch auto is impressive at any speed and is as refined as most torque-converter units.
Tyre roar was pretty noticeable on the open road, though less so than the Convertible. It's not a deal-breaker considering the Mini's urban focus, though the lack of insulation from road noise detracts from the premium feel.
Speaking of premium feel, our tester was beautifully finished with quilted Malt Brown leather ($1700), the sports leather steering wheel ($350), along with a contrasting black roof, mirror caps and stripes ($200 for the latter). There were so many options fitted to this particular Cooper that the as-tested price was quoted at $47,450 before on-road costs (??!!) – that's over $17,000 in options, but we'll get to that later.
Finally, the last stint was in a Cooper S 5 Door Hatch (from $41,150) mainly driving on some of Brisbane's freeway network.
While the road noise issue we noticed in the Cooper remained a complaint in the 5 Door – not helped by larger 18-inch alloys and lower profile tyres – the longer wheelbase of the 5 Door (72mm to be exact) made for a noticeably more stable ride on the open road.
Compared to the Convertible with the same engine, the Cooper S 5 Door felt more spritely than its drop-top sibling, though this particular vehicle lacked the same aggressive upshift pops and overrun exhaust sounds of the Convertible we tested earlier in the day.
Despite this the engine note itself sounded great under hard acceleration, and like the other two cars we tested on the launch, the dual-clutch transmission if the Cooper S offered snappy shifts and smooth progress at any speed, along with steering mounted paddle shifters for when you want to change gears yourself.
While there are some improvements to the ride and interior space if you go for the Mini Hatch 'XL', the added weight means you'll be a fraction slower to triple figures than the 3 Door (6.8s v 6.7s), and it doesn't feel quite as nimble – not that the 5 Door isn't dynamically capable by any means.
Also, don't think that the larger body and extra seat in the second row makes this a capable family carrier, this is still a light car after all, and the rear seat isn't anywhere near as accommodating as say, the Mini Countryman crossover.
With the driving done, the other headlining act of the updated Mini LCI range is the standard inclusion of the Mini Connected infotainment system.
The Cooper and Cooper S come equipped with the 6.5-inch touchscreen display as standard – which can also be controlled by the BMW iDrive rotary controller mounted on the transmission tunnel – though all versions we tested on the launch were fitted with the upgraded 8.8-inch high-resolution display with voice recognition.
Opting for the larger display (as part of the $2200 Multimedia Pro package on Cooper and Cooper S, standard on JCW) also rings a thumping 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, a head-up display, and the Mini Find Mate bluetooth tag tracking system so you never lose your keys again.
While we can't comment on the smaller display as it wasn't available on test, the 8.8-inch unit is fantastic. Commands and inputs are completed quickly and smoothly, and Mini has done a great job at re-skinning the BMW iDrive interface to make it its own.
The standard inclusion of wireless Apple CarPlay, meanwhile, is not only a handy inclusion but also a unique selling point in the Australian market. For reference, BMW charges around $480 across its range for the same technology.
There's also native satellite navigation built in with real-time traffic updates, Mini Connected Services with 4G connectivity, and concierge functions built in as standard regardless of the screen size – a marked improvement over the previous model which required ticking an option box to even get a colour display on the base Cooper.
Elsewhere in the cabin, fit and finish is excellent. There's an abundance of yielding soft-touch materials liberally scattered across the dashboard and doors, with harder plastics limited to the lowest sections of the interior, and the second row.
Additionally, the design of the cockpit is unique and true to Minis of old, including the large circular centre dial and toggle-like switchgear, which are also nicely finished and a well-damped feel to them.
Where the cabin ambience and connectivity options are very much standout aspects, the Mini continues to fall down in the areas of standard driver technology and practicality – even though the latter isn't so important in the segment.
Autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist and speed sign recognition remain relegated to the cost-option list, which isn't a great look considering the Hatch's four-star ANCAP safety rating (with 2014 stamp, no less).
The value-for-money aspect continues to fall when you have a look at how many features are still optional despite the enhanced specification of the upgraded range.
LED headlights and the funky Union Jack LED tail-lights, for example, are optional on the Cooper (part of the $2500 Active pack), while the larger screen and 12-speaker sound system we mentioned before are also $2200-$2700 extra on the Cooper and Cooper S.
Matrix LED headlights are also a new addition to the Mini range for 2018, though you'll pay extra for them too on every variant as part of the $1200-$1800 Control pack.
Even stuff like keyless entry and front parking sensors are optional (across the range!), which can be bundled as part of the $1500-$2100 Convenience pack.
The price just continues to rise if you start ticking premium paints and upgraded interior trims, and if you want adaptive dampers on the Cooper and Cooper S, that'll also be another $700.
As mentioned earlier, the vehicles on test were optioned to the nines, with the Cooper 3 Door sitting at over $47,000 as tested, the Cooper S 5 Door at $54,700 as tested, and the Cooper S Convertible we drove sitting at $55,400 – which is very exxy for such a small car.
In terms of ownership, the Mini range is covered by the company's three year, unlimited kilometre warranty, with maintenance required as determined by various vehicle sensors – dubbed Condition Based Servicing (CBS). You can opt for a one-off payment that covers basic servicing, or a 'Plus' package that covers consumables like brake pads ad wiper blades.
Pricing for the above packages is listed at $1295 for five years/80,000km the Basic and $3604 ($3678 JCW) for the Plus package over the same period – working out to $259 a year for the standard package and $720.80 for the premium ($735.6 JCW).
Having driven all three body styles, the Mini's strengths regardless of variant include the fun-to-drive factor, sharp handling – some versions more than others, obviously – its premium cabin, and funky design inside and out.
While it doesn't really stack up if you have a tight wallet, the Mini is targeting a specific type of buyer, and fans of previous models will probably love the new one as well.
There's a heap of new technology on offer – even though just about all of it is optional – and the new dual-clutch transmission does a great job of enhancing driveability at all speeds while also improving claimed efficiency – the cars on test indicated high-8.0L to low-9.0L/100km on test, but that's largely due to the spirited manner we were driving them.
It's a car you buy with your heart rather than your head, but the grin you'll wear from ear to ear when you drive it is worth almost every cent.