Despite the famously soggy British weather, convertibles are something of a common sight on UK roads, with optimistic buyers focusing on the ability to enjoy a wind-in-the-hair driving experience rather than the higher prices, heavier weight and the resultant drop in economy and performance that normally come with a convertible over their metal-roofed siblings.
The latest compact cabriolet to arrive is the BMW 2 Series Convertible - the replacement for the very popular 1 Series Convertible. In the transformation from being a 1 Series to a 2 Series this new BMW has grown slightly in style and acquired sharper styling than its predecessor. With around 20,000 1 Series Convertibles finding homes in the UK over its lifetime and a target of 4,000 sales per year for the new car, expectations for the 2 Series Convertible are high.
What is it?
The 2 Series Convertible is BMW's smallest drop top, being based on the 2 Series Coupe. Unlike other models that use folding metal roofs, BMW has stuck to a conventional fabric item for its latest model. However, the company claims that a much greater level of sound proofing in the roof means that the driving experience is significantly more refined than its predecessor.
What's under the bonnet?
Five engines will be available offered initially – turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol models, the 220i and 228i, along with the 220d diesel and the sporty range-topping M235i, which boasts a powerful 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. An entry-level 218i petrol will also be available shortly after the launch.
Details for the three-cylinder 218i are yet to be announced, but all of the other models sprint to 62mph in 7.5 seconds or less, with the M235i hitting the benchmark in a rapid 5.2 seconds in manual form. Meanwhile, 220i and 228i versions both return claimed combined fuel economy of 41.5mpg, while the 220d returns an impressive average of 60.1mpg.
What's the spec like?
The 2 Series Convertible will be available in SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport form. Prices at launch start at £29,180 for the 220i, closely followed by £29,965 for the 220d. Most expensive is the M235i, which is available for £37,710. Sport trim carries a £1,000 premium, Luxury weighs in at £2,000 more than SE spec, while M Sport carries a £2,300 premium.
Standard on all cars is the electric folding roof, which takes 19 seconds to open and close, and can be operated at speeds of up to 30mph, meaning that drivers should never be marooned at the lights, waiting for the roof to finish folding. All models have climate control with standard air vents for those in the rear seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, a digital radio and rear parking sensors, while Luxury models gain 18-inch alloy wheels and leather trim among other trinkets.
Upmarket compact cabriolets are a rare breed, but key rivals the 2 Series Convertible has to beat are the Audi A3 Convertible and the much older Volkswagen Eos, which boasts a folding hard top. While the BMW puts the focus on sharp handling, its rivals should prove more comfortable long distance machines.
What's it like to drive?
We drove the diesel 220d and the sporty M235i. Both cars felt firm and sporty, with none of the flawed road-holding inherent in many older cars that have had their roofs cut off – and they offered high levels of cabin refinement – though comfort levels, particularly in the diesel, could be much better.
The predicted bestseller, the diesel, is acceptably refined for a car that drinks from the black pump, though the motor is still audible around town, whether the roof is up or down. While it offers very strong performance, launching the car to 62mph in a brisk 7.5 seconds, we found the suspension overly firm, especially on rough Tarmac, with a huge amount of noise coming from the tyres fitted to our test car. The car we drove also seemed to wander around the road, requiring regular corrections to keep the car in a straight line on scarred surfaces.
The petrol M235i, however, gave the driver much more confidence with a little more give in the suspension – despite its sporty billing – direct steering and a lovely sound coming from the engine and exhaust. Thanks to the large turbocharged engine under the bonnet, overtaking several cars at a time in the M235i is a doddle, even in higher gears, though it makes a reasonably good cruiser too.
The clutch in both cars is easy to modulate and the brakes powerful, though the large blind spots created by the fabric roof mean that whole cars can disappear out of sight, forcing you to take extra care when changing lanes.
The AOL Cars verdict
Convertibles are always going to be cars that make sense to the heart rather than the head – thanks to the added expense, weight and reduced practicality of adding a folding roof. However, the 2 Series Convertible is mostly an appealing prospect. It offers sharp styling, good road-holding and a range of punchy engines, along with an acceptable amount of room for rear passengers and in the boot.
However, the one big downside in the cars we drove, was the ride quality and tyre noise – particularly from the diesel – which many drivers will find simply too firm and uncomfortable. With prices starting just shy of £30,000, the 2 Series Convertible carries a hefty premium over the Coupe, meaning that buyers will have to mull over exactly how much they're willing to pay for having a drop top.
The Audi A3 Convertible is also a tough competitor, which puts more emphasis on comfort and is definitely worthy of consideration. Those who can accept the firm setup of the 2 Series Convertible, though, should be very happy with BMW's latest model.
Model: BMW 220d Sport Convertible
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel
Max speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds