It’s by no means the prettiest or cheapest soft top around, but few cars in the premium compact class offer as a complete a package as the BMW 1 Series Convertible.
The aesthetic challenge faced by the entry-level BMW 1 Series began with its conversion from coupe to convertible – resulting in messier lines and an overall boxier look.
But it isn’t all bad news. With the top down, the harsher lines are less obvious and thanks to a mid-life update in 2011, the model benefits from a slightly bolder front end with specially designed air intakes that create an ‘air curtain’ to minimise resistance around the wheel arches.
The mid-cycle update also added a new headlight design to the 1 Series that provided a more distinctive lamp signature for the front and rear of the car.
Whereas the BMW 3 Series Convertible gets a folding metal hardtop, the 1 Series version makes do with an electrically operated folding fabric roof.
The important thing to know here is that there are no rattles and the mechanism is fast and refined. At the touch of a button the roof with lower or close in 18 seconds flat, and you can do so on the fly at up to 40km/h.
It’s dead easy, so there’s no excuse not to enjoy that energising ‘wind-in-the-hair’ feeling more often than not.
Wind noise has been largely contained and engine noise is impressively subdued inside the cabin to the point where it’s easy to forget you’re driving a convertible with a fabric roof.
The car’s refinement is impressive in this regard.
It might be the entry-level model in BMW’s extensive model range, but the 1 Series Convertible has all the hallmarks of its pricier siblings – a rewarding driver’s car.
For starters, the superb driving position makes it clear this is a car that’s been designed around the driver.
The dash and instrument cluster are refreshingly simple and easy to read at a glance.
The heavily bolstered sports seats might be a tad snug for those with larger frames, even with the electric bolster adjusters, but they are simply brilliant in the twisty stuff.
There’s also plenty of steering wheel adjustment and plenty of room up front for taller drivers to get comfy.
It’s not complete luxury inside the BMW 1 Series Convertible, but the plastics are premium grade and there’s enough metallic and black high-gloss highlights spread throughout the cabin to make it feel special.
Gadget-wise, it’s not overloaded with standard features, but all the important stuff is there, such as an excellent audio system with Bluetooth phone and music streaming (that provides a quality sound at 80km/h with the roof lowered), multi-function sports leather steering wheel, full-leather trim, automatic climate control, anti-dazzle rear vision mirror, cruise control, rear parking sensors and auto lights and wipers.
Our test car was also fitted with the optional Navigation Package Business, which mounts a 6-inch high-definition screen in a housing on top of the dash that’s accessed through the car’s iDrive system.
On the practical side, there’s enough rear seat legroom for two kids, but it’s a tight squeeze for adults. Boot space is also limited, especially with the top down, but again, there’s enough space (260-litre) for a couple of soft bags or the week’s grocery shop to make the BMW 1 Series Convertible surprisingly liveable as a daily driver.
Disappointingly, there are no rear window buttons for rear-seat passengers to access and no air-conditioning vents in the rear, either.
There’s also plenty of choice in the 1 Series Convertible line-up - three petrol engines – (2.0-litre 120i, 3.0-litre 125i, 3.0-litre 135i M Sport) and two diesels - (2.0-litre 118d, 2.0-123d).
Starting price for the entry-level 118d we tested is $53,200 (before on-road costs) with the range topping out at $83,700 for the 135i M Sport.
Our BMW 118d gets a push button start, but annoyingly (at least for this reviewer) drivers are required to first insert the remote fob into a slot before the car will start.
There’s that tell-tale diesel clatter both on start-up and standstill, but once on the move the diesel’s sound effects have been largely quelled.
Enthusiasts will almost certainly bypass the 118d in favour of more powerful models in the BMW 1 Series line-up, but it’s far from being slow or uninspiring. The four-cylinder diesel produces 105kW and 300Nm of torque from 1750rpm and progress is effortless.
Standard transmission on BMW 118d is a six-speed manual, but our test car was optioned with the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic. That makes it just one-tenth slower to 100km/h, but far more practical in a city habitat.
Forget about the 0-100km/h-acceleration time (9.6s if you must know); it’s all about the in-gear punch with the 118d – and there’s plenty of that.
It’s not quite in the sleeper category, but the 118d is a lot of fun behind the wheel. The steering is wonderfully direct and communicative with plenty of weight and feel through the steering wheel.
Importantly, the BMW 118d’s body is suitably stiff, allowing the car to be driven with confidence through the twisty sections. Turn-in is quick and precise with the car displaying more balance, grip and stability than you would normally expect from an entry-level diesel – even one from BMW.
The ride is equally well sorted and generally comfortable. Only the harshest potholes will upset the 118d’s body, everything else is effectively cushioned by the car’s suspension. Our only issue is with the standard Run Flat tyres is they have a tendency to produce a dull thump over larger obstacles.
It’s a relatively frugal ride, too. BMW claims a combined fuel consumption of 5.5L/100km for 118d with automatic transmission, but the best we could achieve during our week- long test (largely urban travel) was 7.2L/100km. CO2 emissions are rated at 129g/km.
The BMW 1 Series Convertible is not without its rivals – most are less expensive, too.
The brilliant handling Mazda MX-5 can be had for as little as $47,200 before on-road costs and the Volkswagen EOS for $49,990. Cheaper still is the Golf Cabriolet at $36,990, Renault Megane Cabriolet at $45,990, Peugeot 308CC at $50,990 and the Mini Cooper S Cabrio at $48,800.
All are worthy competitors, but none offer as comprehensive a package as the BMW 118d when you consider overall performance, handling, ride and general day-to-day practicality.