BMW’s compact drop-top returns to a trusted styling formula, with a calm cabin and promising performance
IT’S 3 degrees Celsius, the sky is the colour of a battleship and we’re surrounded on all sides by gigantic pick-up trucks, most of them with gun-totin’ owners staring down at our BMW softtop, and wondering why we’ve got the roof down.
Welcome to Texas in winter, the slightly bonkers locale chosen for the launch of the new 2 Series Convertible, a car not generally associated with country and western music and longhorn cattle.
The convertible version of the still-fresh 2 Series Coupe arrives in Australian showrooms later this month and has some big shoes to fill, being the latest in a long line of compact drop-tops that dates from the 1602 Cabriolet of 1967.
It was widely considered a style icon and successive convertible baby Beemers have been generally known for their flat beltline and squareshouldered look — and a boatlike profile with the roof down.
The 1 Series Convertible that preceded this model strayed with its flame-surfaced flanks, but the 2 Series returns to the trusted formula. Never mind the challenging styling of the 1 Series, Australia was its fourth largest market behind Germany, the US and Britain.
So apart from the more conservative styling, the Australian 2 Series convertible line-up will almost mirror the existing coupe models with 220i, 228i and M235i variants, though without a diesel 220d due to a lack of demand.
Prices start at $54,900 for the 220i, topping out at $85,800 for the M235i, equating to a premium of about $5000 over the coupe. The new model is slightly cheaper and has more standard equipment than the old 1 Series.
The 2 Series Convertible’s hydraulic folding soft-top brings revised materials and an extra layer of insulation — there are now five — to reduce cabin noise by up to 50 per cent. BMW claims phone conversations are now possible at up to 180km/h.
Body and roof engineer Oliver Furst also claims the soft-top is almost as quiet as the complex folding hardtop in the larger 4 Series counterpart.
The new roof lowers in 20 seconds (two seconds faster than previously) and can be operated at up to 50km/h (10km/h faster).
With the roof raised, headroom for rear passengers feels a match for the coupe — enough for this 172cm tester but not much more.
Attention has been paid to the open-roof experience too, with improved aerodynamics reducing top-down cabin noise and surfaces designed to reduce glare on the LCD screens.
Much of the 2’s 30mm longer wheelbase has been used to improve rear legroom. Shoulder room has also been boosted though the packaging of the roof mechanism still creates an inwards-skewed seating position. Not ideal for adults but probably fine for children.
Adding 30L, the convertible’s boot is a very useful 355L (roof down, 280L). There is also more useable space with the rear seat folded.
ON THE ROAD
We drove the mid-spec $68,900 228i in Texas, which comes with the 2.0-litre turbo four (180kW/350Nm) and rides on 18-inch wheels. All Australian models will come with the excellent eight-speed ZF torque-converter auto, which is famed for its refinement, efficiency and willingness to change personality altogether with Sport mode activated.
Top-down on the highway, in the miserable weather with the windows and detachable wind blocker up, the 2 Series convertible does a fantastic job of minimising cabin turbulence, and the dual-zone climate control and seat heaters compensate for the lack of cover.
Top-up at the same highway speeds, the 2 feels every bit as refined as its hardtop stablemate, the only real compromises being with the larger blind spot and smaller rear window of the folding roof.
The 228i rode very comfortably over the broken country bitumen, and felt stable at speed. The straight roads on test lacked an opportunity to properly explore the new 2’s handling, so we’ll reserve judgment on that until the car is tested on local roads.
BMW says the convertible has been developed with the same dynamic focus as the coupe but, surprisingly, Australia will share its 2 Series Convertible suspension setting with the US and Europe.
The drop-top version is about 150kg heavier — depending on engine spec — but 50-50 weight distribution has been maintained to help with handling balance, and torsional stiffness has been improved by 20 per cent over the old 1 Series.
This extra weight costs the top-spec M235i Convertible 0.2 sec over the equivalent Coupe’s 0-100km/figure — but 5.0 seconds is still half a second quicker than its nearest rival, Audi’s S3 Cabriolet.
BMW claims a 6.0 second time for the 228i, which is far from shabby. Many will also appreciate such performance wrapped within the 228i’s more elegant (that is, non-M Sport) standard styling.
The baby Beemer convertible is better than ever, even in winter. Improved refinement and packaging make it a more appealing daily drive but we look forward to punting it through some proper bends.