It may come as a surprise to some that the BMW 2 Series Convertible has reasonably large shoes to fill in our market.
It replaces the 1 Series Convertible that notched up 130,000 sales worldwide, over 5000 of which came Down Under to make us the fourth largest market worldwide for the compact drop-top behind Germany, the US and the UK.
With a new Audi A3 Cabriolet out now, and the BMW 2 Series Convertible just arriving, things are heating up in the roofless-premium segment (albeit at a time when the weather is just starting to cool off).
BMW has ditched the diesel this time around, because it says its petrol engine technology is so good. The brand hopes, despite higher pricetags. to woo buyers away from its Audi rival simply because it believes it has the better car.
The 220i Convertible at $54,900 plus on-road costs, and 228i Convertible at $68,900 plus on-road costs, each command a $4400 premium over the 2 Series Coupe on which they’re based. Here we drive that 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol duo because the flagship 3.0-litre turbo petrol M235i Convertible has been delayed by one month.
That seems like a reasonable premium over the hard-top considering a sunroof is a $2000-2600 option on the 2 Series Coupe.
The 2 Series Convertible also gets some extra features over the coupe such as a reverse-view camera across the range (optional on all coupes) and heated seats standard on 228i (a $577-$750 option on 220i – and note that all the price ranges here are dependent on whether you pass the $75K luxury car tax threshold for these efficient models).
The 2 Series Convertible seems less impressive value compared with the A3 Cabriolet, however, since the Audi’s flagship grade costs the same price as the entry level BMW.
Look closer, and the 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque made in the 220i Convertible helps it achieve a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.6 seconds – identical to the A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI quattro flagship that produces 132kW/288Nm but is also heavier.
The BMW also claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres, 0.2L/100km better than that Audi.
Looked at another way, the 228i has the same consumption as the top A3 Cabriolet, but its tuned-up turbo engine produces 180kW/350Nm to claim a 6.0sec 0-100km/h sprint.
Just to muddy the specification waters, the 228i is only $400 cheaper than an S3 Cabriolet, and the Audi makes 210kW, 380Nm and claims 5.5sec 0-100km/h.
Call it choice, or just confusion.
Compared with the 1 Series Convertible, the 2 Series Convertible is 72mm longer (measuring 4432mm) with a wheelbase extended by 30mm (to 2690mm). Despite being only 26mm wider than before (at 1774mm), the tracks have been pushed out by 41mm at the front and 43mm for the rear wheels.
The four seater’s boot space has been increased by 30 litres with the roof up (to 335L) and by 20L when the soft top is dropped (now 280L). These are about small hatchback figures and just ahead of its Audi rival (320L roof up/275L roof down).
The 2 Series Convertible only gets a single piece folding rear backrest, though, where the A3 Cabriolet has a more practical 50:50 split.
The roof mechanism itself is now a five-layer fabric, up from four layers before, and this contributes to top-up quietness that BMW claims mirrors the coupe all the way up to 150km/h. When you want to whip it off, that fully electric process will take 20 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h.
The question now is, of course, whether the 2 Series Convertible can go beyond facts and figures to prove itself a properly premium and genuinely good drop top.
We start in a 220i with the eight-speed automatic that the overwhelming majority of buyers will choose (though a six-speed manual is a no-cost option across the range).
Our beige test car comes with the Luxury Line option that costs $1000 and adds real leather trim and various chrome detailing, while the standard 17-inch alloy wheels with 55-aspect Bridgestone Turanza promise touring refinement.
The standard 2.0-litre is surprisingly brisk, doing justice to its acceleration claim while also providing plentiful torque on light throttle without the auto needing to do much work. When the auto has to work, though, it’s a superbly intuitive and quick shifter, yet also more fluent than any rival transmission.
The ride on the suspension standard on 220i is quite firm at low speeds, but proves beautifully isolated at higher speeds on bumpy country roads.
The standard steering is a bit loose and vacant on centre, but loads up nicely when lock is wound on.
When we switch to the 228i on 18-inch wheels with more aggressive 45-aspect Bridgestone Potenza tyres, the expectation is the ride quality may suffer. That’s especially the concern when our test car comes with an M Sport package ($2400-$3120 on the 228i or $4000-$5200 if we had a 220i), which gets a lowered suspsension tune in addition to a cool steering wheel and bodykit bits. Alternatively you can buy the sports suspension as a stand-alone $462-$600 option on either grade.
As is often the case with BMW’s newer M Sport tunes, it proves just as impressive, a little bit tighter but no harsher, and ideally in sync with the growlier 2.0-litre turbo of the 228i; once experienced, the faster car forces you to never glance back fondly at the otherwise sweet little 220i.
Later, we also try a 228i without M Sport suspension, and notice the lower profile tyres seem to nibble at the surface more yet the standard suspension allows a touch extra float.
As you may have noticed, there is a plethora of suspension options to cycle through, but adaptive M suspension (a $1538-$2000 option on 220i and 228i, but standard on M235i) was nowhere to be seen on test cars at the local launch.
Or was it? Every 2 Series Convertible has a ‘driver experience control’ that includes eco pro, comfort, sport and sport+ modes that progressively change throttle and transmission response, and in the latter case stability control calibration.
Curiously, however, each car on test also had an option within the sport setting to change chassis settings, which is usually a feature BMW admits is only reserved for cars with adaptive suspension; yet it insists none at the launch had adjustable dampers.
Either way, unlike in the 3 Series, adaptive suspension doesn’t seem to be required on the 220i and 228i at least.
It’s the faster of the two 2 Series models that also capitalises on the sublime chassis. A pointy front end, and a lovely transition to mild throttle-induced oversteer, is a compact BMW hallmark.
That the 228i also gets variable ratio steering (a $669-$870 option on 220i), which is more incisive particularly on centre, proves the icing on the driver’s drop-top cake.
Yet the 2 Series Convertible is also surprisingly quiet and comfortable when you just want to cruise top up or down. When the fabric roof is lowered, you really need the wind deflector in place (which rules out seating for rear passengers) to avoid buffeting around your ears, even with the windows up.
However with the roof up, road roar is present but not intrusive, and sitting in the rear I managed to sustain a conversation with my colleague driver on a rough country road without raising my voice.
Rear legroom is fine for this 178cm-tall tester, and although the backrest is too thin and upright, headroom seems superior to the coupe. As with the A3 Cabriolet, there are rear air vents and centre cupholders.
Back up front, and there’s also basically no scuttle shake in the 2 Series Convertible, a huge achievement for any drop-top engineer, although some slight steering shake filters through.
Weighing between 1510 kilograms and 1630kg, the convertible is about 150kg heavier than the coupe, though that’s a relatively small price to pay for breezy motoring that serves up sporty handling without feeling all wobbly.
The 2 Series interior doesn’t feel premium, with plenty of dark and hard plastics used, and although the iDrive infotainment system is best in class for ergonomics, on 220i and 228i you only get a 6.5-inch colour screen.
Connectivity and technology options are vast.
The ‘professional’ navigation with an 8.8-inch screen, for example, is a $2300-$2990 option (the higher price is dependent on if you go beyond the $75K luxury car tax threshold) packaged with a digital radio tuner and 12-speaker, 360-watt Harman Kardon audio system.
Power adjustable front seats, keyless auto entry and front seat heating is a hefty $2400-$3120 option on 220i, and $1900-$2470 on 228i (as heating is standard). Unlike the A3 Cabriolet, an ‘air scarf’ function that blows warm air down your neck is not available in the 2 Series Convertible.
Technology such as a driving assistant (with collision warning, auto low-speed braking, lane departure warning and pedestrian assistant) is a $1077-$1400 option, while semi-automatic reverse parking adds $462-$600.
On the upside, standard on every 2 Series Convertible is a SIM card system that calls for emergency response in an accident, and also constantly updates the local dealer with servicing data. Speaking of which, over five years and 80,000km, BMW charges a decent $1140 for the total number of annual checks over that period.
Particularly considering the lack of a premium interior, some of the options are difficult to swallow for the price, though. If all you want to do is cruise around with the roof lowered, the softer, more luxurious A3 Cabriolet may be a better option.
In the BMW 2 Series Convertible, however, you have a real driver’s drop-top that largely minimises the usual compromises that come with taking a gas axe to a coupe. For those who want to both tour topless and tackle tough stretches of winding road fast, at this price the new 2 Series Convertible really is still the one.