The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - STU­ART MARTIN

FOLD­ING metal hard­tops haven’t doomed the coupe to the his­tory books or sounded the knell of the cloth-topped con­vert­ible, but if ver­sa­til­ity counts in your next four-wheel hair-dryer, the BMW 4 Se­ries cabrio should be on your list. VALUE Sneak­ing in at just un­der $90,000, the 420d Con­vert­ible — adding the no-cost ex­tras of the Lux­ury Line — comes at a $17,000 pre­mium over the equiv­a­lent coupe.

Beyond the fold­ing metal roof, there’s plenty of cool gear — 18-inch al­loys, leather­wrapped steer­ing wheel with audio and phone con­trols, cruise con­trol with brak­ing func­tion, pad­dle shifters for the eight-speed auto, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol with rear vents, LED in­te­rior lights, pow­ered and heated front sports seats, split-fold rear seats and de­tach­able wind de­flec­tor.

Techno-tricks are cov­ered by the wide-screen colour mon­i­tor for the satnav that also con­trols the driv­e­train and the six-speaker audio, which in turn has Blue­tooth and USB in­put and a 20Gb hard drive for stor­ing your favourite open-air cruis­ing mu­sic.

The Lux­ury Line adds flashes of chrome and alu­minium, dis­tinc­tive al­loys and am­bi­ent light of­fer­ings.

The $1840 for metal­lic paint is a bit rich. TECH­NOL­OGY For an en­try-level model the 420d doesn’t come in un­der­pow­ered. The diesel sound­track won’t have the hairs on the back of the neck stand­ing but the turbo diesel (135kW/380Nm) can get the rear tyres chirp­ing.

This torquey job will get to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds ( just un­der a sec­ond slower than the 225kg lighter coupe) and slips through the eight ra­tios to re­turn a claimed 5.0L/100km, abet­ted by stop-start en­gine cutout, brake en­ergy re­cov­ery and BMW’s Eco Pro mode. Our over­all test fig­ure was 7.1L. DE­SIGN No­body will pick the 4 Se­ries — for­merly known as a 3 Se­ries Coupe or Con­vert­ible — as any­thing but a BMW.

With its new badge, the drop­top is 26mm longer and 43mm wider and a smidgen lower to the ground.

It also adds 50mm to the wheel­base and claims 40 per cent im­prove­ment in rigid­ity, a claim ver­i­fied by the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that yielded no creak­ing or groan­ing.

Plenty has gone on un­der the skin. The hard­top, which takes 20 seconds to fold at up to 18km/h, has been fi­nessed to fur­ther re­duce the cabin noise and the slip­pery shape cuts wind noise and buf­fet­ing with the roof down.

Cabin space for the fourseater is also pretty good, more so in the front for adults than in the back. All will need to pack light if a roof­less road­trip is on the cards.

When the roof is up, bootspace is 370L, which isn’t cav­ernous (the coupe has 445L). Fold­ing the metal roof leaves 220L — all of 20L more than in the out­go­ing 3 Se­ries Con­vert­ible. SAFETY Ex­pect five stars, as per the 3 Se­ries two-door. The pro­peller badge brings a long list of safety gear, from four airbags to ac­tive rollover pro­tec­tion — two hid­den rollover bars ex­tend in less than 200 mil­lisec­onds.

There are bi-xenon head­lights, run-flat tyres, au­todim­ming mir­ror, LED fog lights and tail-lights, park­ing sen­sors front and rear, rev­ers­ing cam­era and rain-sens­ing wipers, which when ac­ti­vated will put the lights on. DRIV­ING BMW’s flat­ter, broader styling di­rec­tion is not for ev­ery­one but it makes the cabrio more pur­pose­ful in its stance.

With the roof keep­ing so­lar dam­age and riffraff at bay, the jour­ney is quiet — apart from what seems a dis­tant diesel chug — and com­fort­able, at least un­til the run-flats dis­agree with a road-rut. Ride qual­ity — from the run-flat rub­ber and the sus­pen­sion — is slowly get­ting bet­ter.

The auto slips slickly be­tween gears to reach cruis­ing speed and once up and rolling the en­gine noise is largely gone.

Ju­di­cious use of the throt­tle keeps the en­gine in its stride, ahead of the traf­fic and thrifty on fuel.

Ac­cess to the rear is achieved with­out seat belt en­tan­gle­ments — the front seats have self-con­tained seat belts (as in early Range Rovers), a good setup to get rear pas­sen­gers in and out.

The rear bench’s back­rest is a AUDI A5 CABRI­O­LET TDI PRICE From $81,790 EN­GINE 2.0-litre, 4-cyl turbo diesel, 130kW/380Nm TRANS CVT, FWD THIRST 5L/100km, 132g/km CO2 MERCEDES-BENZ E200 CABRI­O­LET PRICE From $89,400 EN­GINE 2.0-litre, 4-cyl turbo petrol, 135kW/300Nm TRANS 7-speed au­to­matic, RWD THIRST 6.5L/100km, 95RON, 151g/km CO2 LEXUS IS250C PRICE From $76,130 EN­GINE 2.5-litre V6 petrol, 153kW/252Nm TRANS 6-speed au­to­matic, RWD THIRST 9.3L/100km, 95RON, 219g/km CO2 lit­tle too up­right but there is ad­e­quate room (and win­dows with switches) for oc­cu­pants.

The rear seat backs can fold down for more cargo. Tether straps slip through via a zip­per ar­range­ment for child seat an­chors. Once in, the rug-rats love a bit of open air-run­ning

Wind buf­fet­ing isn’t ex­treme ei­ther, even at high­way speeds although there is a wind­blocker for two-up trips. VER­DICT Not the cheap­est drop­top with a rear seat but one of the eas­ier com­pro­mises. The se­cu­rity of a solid roof comes at the ex­pense of bootspace — rob­bing Peter to pay Paul — but the diesel brings fru­gal open-topped flex­i­bil­ity and fun.

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