7 / 10
BMW 1 Series Convertible Review & Road Test
As close as you can get to a convertible Prius – but a whole lot nicer
If your environmental conscience hasn’t been tickled lately, then you’re probably not living in Australia. Carbon tax looks like it’s coming, or at least that’s what Green groups are pushing for. The Gillard government is evaluating the tax, or an Emissions Trading Scheme; along with either, the car will be demonised, so anyone who wants to drive anything that is somewhat enjoyable is frowned upon. Enter BMW and its EfficientDynamics programme.
The thrust of it is simple – use less fuel, have more fun. You don’t need a hybrid to be frugal. We’ve already seen ED applied in our road tests of the 330d Convertible, the 123d Coupe, the 320d Estate and the BMW X1 xdrive20d. But even more frugal than all of these is BMW’s 118d Convertible. Actually, it’s the most fuel efficient convertible in the BMW Group’s stable.
The fact that it’s rear-wheel-drive already puts it on the front foot dynamically. It means less interference with the steering compared with front-wheel-drives, meaning the first corner you take will make you feel right at home behind the wheel.
The weight and immediacy of response from the steering is just sublime, even if actual feel is a little toned down. Even just a millimetre off centre and the car obeys, making it seem almost go-kart-like, plus it just gets better with speed when the power assistance lessens.
Helping the feeling is very good handling, with a neutral stance even from turn in. It’s also extremely stiff, with virtually no scuttle shake – that wobbly feeling afflicting most convertibles when you hit a bump. That allows a degree of firmness for the suspension, aiding good roadholding.
It doesn’t mean the ride is uncomfortable, but rather it has a decent mix of compliance and stiffness, even on its runflat tyres. Its grip is also excellent, even in wet conditions – probably because it’s not the most powerful motor around – so you won’t be sliding around, uncontrolled. And if you do happen to break traction, the ESC (known as DSC in BMWs) allows a small degree of slip without clamping down like an overzealous traction Nazi, but rather it brings you back in line, subtly and effectively.
Don’t expect blinding pace, though. With only 105kW and 300Nm on tap, let’s be honest, the 118d Convertible is not an overly quick car. It has more of a relaxed feel, what with its lag-free power delivery and all. Its 0-100km/h time of 9.5 seconds tells the story. But don’t let that put you off. Because it’s a diesel, its midrange is strong. From a tick over 1500rpm to 3000rpm it pulls nice and strong, so it feels a fair bit quicker than its figures suggest, while still keeping relatively quiet. Like all BMW diesel-fours, it’s chattery at idle, but while crusing and even under acceleration it’s smooth, sounds decent and remains efficient.
How efficient? As they used to say on the Curiosity Show, “I’m glad you asked.” ADR testing revealed an average fuel consumption of just 4.9 litres/100km. Its inclusion in the EfficientDynamics programme sees the 118d Convertible manual receive automatic start-stop, regenerative braking and optimum shift-point indicator, helping to keep fuel use low. The best part, though, is how little CO2 it emits. At 129g/km it scores an 8 out of 10 on the government’s Green Vehicle Guide website.
Compare it with some convertibles around the same price: The Volkswagen Eos is at best 5.8 L/100km putting out 153g/km, while Peugeot’s 308CC is a whopping 7.0L/100km and 185g/km in comparison. Curiously, Audi doesn’t offer a diesel Audi A3 convertible, so the lowest emitting version creates 159g/km and consumes 7.6L/100km of 98RON. In contrast with its competitors, this is the best convertible to drive – by a long shot. But it’s also the closest thing to a convertible Prius, from a purely environmental point-of-view.
However, it’s a whole lot nicer than a Toyota Prius inside. Swooping interior lines, altogether brilliant front seats and a decently built cabin means it’s off to a good start. On the stereo there are eight “favourites” buttons which are programmable with everything from radio stations to navigation destinations. To identify them simply run your finger over them and the preset displays on the satnav screen – they’re touch sensitive, so you don’t need to fully press them to reveal the favourite settings. The stereo itself is very clear and bassy, while above it sits the climate control which adjusts to whether the roof is stowed away.
BMW has also intelligently given the seat heaters a memory function so that in cold weather, once you switch the car off, even after a few minutes of being off, the seat heaters will come back on once the car is started; a handy feature for hopping in and out of the car quite often. There’s not a lot of storage inside the cabin and you’ll have to make do with one cupholder, located under the central armrest, although the glovebox is a decent size. The rear seats are well shaped, but it’s a pity that there is zero leg room, making them all but useless.
The boot, though, is very well shaped, so that it’ll hold more practicably than the 3 Series Convertible when each has their roof down. In fact, you only lose 45 litres between roof up and roof down, while the depth and width make loading light luggage a breeze. The canvas folding top does a fantastic job of insulating against the weather, but most of all, sound. It’s impressively quiet with the roof up, even at freeway speeds. Road noise is more intrusive than noise through the roof, but not overly so.
Apart from the rear legroom, there are a couple of niggles. The rear view mirror is a little on the small side for visibility, its oval shape making you rely more on the two outboard mirrors for watching around you. Another gripe is the cramped footwells, more-so a problem in manual specced cars where your left foot can brush the clutch pedal every time you place it on the footrest.
But if it means that wonderfully involving balance and the brilliant steering for every time you sunk the roof and cranked up the heaters for a crisp night drive, then it’s a relatively small price to pay. Mind you, so is the purchase price. You won’t find a cheaper four-seat, rear-wheel-drive convertible on sale today. Add to that the remarkably efficient diesel engine and you’ve got yourself a great package.
If you love driving and you love salving your green conscience, then the 118d Convertible should be firmly at the top of your shopping list.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.