The 2015 BMW 2 Series Convertible has arrived, bringing with it some rear-drive flair to the compact luxury convertible segment.
The replacement for the BMW 1 Series Convertible is more than just a designation update with nicer front-end styling - the new BMW 2 Series Convertible sees a much-improved cabin, more agile driving dynamics and more practicality.
Compared to its main rival, the front- or all-wheel drive Audi A3/S3 Cabriolet, the BMW 2 Series follows the Bavarian maker's traditional rear-drive heritage - and the result is that it drives like a nimble sports car.
The 2 Series Convertible is due to hit showrooms in March priced from $54,900 (plus on-road costs) for the base model 220i, while the mid-spec 228i comes in at $68,900 (plus costs) and the top-spec M235i at $85,800 (plus costs). All models add about $4500 more than their equivalent coupe variant but garner the same level of standard equipment and features. Read our full pricing and specifications story.
To sample the soon-to-arrive drop-top, we headed to Austin, Texas, and found ourselves desperate to find even a slight curvature in the road to test the latest from BMW. With temperatures in the single digits, it also wasn’t exactly convertible weather, but we battled the harsh realities of first-world problems and drove a good distance with the soft-top roof both open and shut.
It’s remarkable just how quiet the cabin is with the roof open and the wind deflector in place. My co-driver and I could casually hold a conversation without raising our voice at speeds of 110km/h.
BMW says it has reduced interior noise by 7dB in the rear and 5dB up front – a substantial improvement. We found the 2 Series’ noise intrusion at speed much better than the (insanely more expensive) Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe we drove the same day.
The roof itself operates at speeds of up to 50km/h and takes about 20 seconds to open or shut. It’s a simple process, holding down the button as the magic takes place.
Unlike its hard-top sibling, the BMW 4 Series Convertible, the ability to achieve the roof operation at reasonable speeds is a huge benefit if you live in cities that have weather patterns that suffer from bipolar disorder, allowing you to open or shut the roof in the event of a sudden downpour.
The other big change from the now discontinued 1 Series Convertible is the cabin design and ambience. Gone is that cheap plasticky feel of old, replaced with a far more elegant – though still overtly black – interior design.
The good and bad thing about BMW’s interior designs is that they look largely the same regardless of which Series you are in. This is less than ideal when you’re buying a 7 Series and have to share your parts with a 1 Series, but it’s great when you’re in a 2 Series as it feels like a relative bargain for what you get.
The 8.8-inch screen (standard on M235i, option on the rest over the standard 6.5-inch screen) combined with the latest iteration of iDrive is the best in the business, as is the simplicity of BMW’s interior controls for things such as air conditioning.
The overall tactile sensation of surfaces is also a highlight and an advantage over its Audi rival.
Our test car was the sweet-spot mid-spec 228i with its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. With 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque, it’s by no means a slouch and if you couple that to the brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic transmission (no manuals), it will go from 0-100km/h in a prompt 6.1 seconds.
The engine in the 228i is almost identical in terms of hardware to the unit in the cheaper 220i (135kW/270Nm), but it gets a different state of tune - and considering our state governments’ obsession with speed limits, it’s absolutely as fast as you’ll ever need your convertible to be.
For those that must have the best, though, the M235i convertible will deliver a staggering 240kW and 450Nm, helping get from 0-100km/h in 5.0sec flat.
Around the dreary outskirts of Austin, we found the 228i a pleasant car to drive. Delivering its power with ease and consistency, it never felt lacking or wanting more. The automatic gearbox is smooth and seamless across the rev range.
In 'Sport' mode the BMW 228i convertible is an exciting yet strangely docile vehicle to drive. Though it’s quick and capable, it seldom encourages fast-paced driving, positioning itself as more of a city-friendly convertible with the performance goods for when things heat up.
It weighs between 135 and 160 kilograms more than its Coupe sibling, so the dynamics and weight balance are evident in comparison. However, the German brand has stiffened the underbody considerably to compensate for the soft-top, meaning the mid-corner grip and any difference in structural rigidity is hardly noticeable between the two.
It also happens to ride well, considering the extra weight, absorbing bumps and poor surfaces without too much complaint
The 2 Series Convertible is technically a four-seater, but the rear seats are best described as occasional use or for the height-challenged. They will do for that quick trip to a café or restaurant down the road, but don’t expect to be transporting more than one passenger consistently without rear-seat grumbles.
BMW has also increased the boot size compared to the 1 Series Convertible, so you can fit a little bit more in. The cargo hold is now rated at 335 litres with the roof up and 280L with it down. It’ll easily swallow a decent sized suitcase or two, and poses no challenge for the week’s groceries or that weekend trip to the coast.
Can you live with it as a daily? Absolutely. It’ a civilised and practical sporty convertible that has all the benefits of BMW’s high-end technology and build quality, and at a lower-than-typical German asking price.
Although it’s technically a rival for the Audi A3 Cabriolet (despite the more than $8000 price disadvantage), the two German convertibles are miles apart in how they feel and drive.
We suspect the base model 220i would actually make a good rival for the upcoming top-spec Mazda MX-5.