Win­ter warmer

BMW’s com­pact drop-top re­turns to a trusted styling for­mula, with a calm cabin and promis­ing per­for­mance

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - MAL­COLM FLYNN mal­colm.flynn@carsguide.com.au

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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