- Very attractive, outside and in
- Great steering, quick engine
- Compromises are pretty minor
- Big premium for cabriolet
- No blind spot monitoring
- CarPlay is too expensive
Every time summer rolls around in Sydney, a convertible starts to seem like a pretty good idea. Offering all the joy that comes with open-top motoring, stylish convertibles from luxury brands are an indulgence that appeal to many, even if few actually bite the bullet and take them home. That’s probably because alongside pleasant thoughts of top-down cruising on a warm evening, convertibles seem like they’re pretty impractical. Thankfully, that’s not always the case – and one of our favourite small cabriolets, the BMW 2 Series convertible, keeps the practicality compromises to a minimum. The 2 Series drop-top also looks the business; and in the case of the 2018 BMW 230i Luxury Line we’ve tested this summer, it’s entertaining to drive, as well.
Despite the fact that the 2 Series is a small car, BMW have managed to fit four seats rather than two, with the back pair being relatively accommodating, especially when you’ve got the roof down. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz SLC, which forces you to travel two-up at the most, the BMW’s capacity to bring friends (or kids) along is a win. Couple that to the fact that the BMW’s decent 280-litre boot – which expands further if you leave the roof in place – means you can easily fit a couple of weekender bags in for an open-air, sun-shining road trip. In other words, the 2 Series convertible is a lifestyle cabrio without the usual frustrating compromises.
In fact, most of the time the 2 Series convertible feels similar to its coupe sibling, which like the cabrio, is a handsome, fun-to-drive car. However, while the convertible drives remarkably well for a car a lot of metal cut out of it – with minimal convertible shake when you drive through bumps – the similarities between the convertible and coupe do not extend to the price. In fact, the 230i convertible is $10,000 more than its fixed-shell sibling. While the gap between an entry-level 220i coupe and convertible narrows to $7,000, you really have to want the full convertible experience to justify that sort of spend, especially considering the coupes can be optioned with an opening sunroof for $2,000.
But a sunroof isn’t exactly a folding cloth convertible roof, is it? If you’re the kind of person who is comfortable enough to drive with the roof down most of the time, you’ll love the 2 Series, which is a genuine, feel-good car. The recent ‘LCI’ facelift has only improved matters, with more adventurous colour combinations now available – like the beautiful Seaside Blue metallic and Cognac brown leather pairing used on our test car. And while it’s not exactly inexpensive to buy, the 2 Series represents decent value for money in this segment, with all cars featuring standard-fit leather seats, navigation, digital radio, LED headlights, and autonomous emergency braking.
The 230i we tested is the most popular model in the range, and it’s easy to see why. Slotting in as the middle child among the 2 Series convertibles, between the 185kW/270Nm 220i, and the uber-fast 250kW/500Nm M240i, the 185kW/350Nm 230i gives the best balance between generous power, and good fuel economy. In fact, the boosty turbocharged four-cylinder in the 230i generates a 5.9-second sprint from 0-100km/h, and it’s definitely a quick car. The four-pot makes a deep, throaty sound, but keen drivers will be very tempted to fork out another $12,510 on the M240i, which trades the four for a serious, turbocharged inline six-cylinder. Among the drop-top 2 Series range, the M240i is the flagship – there is no convertible M2, but the M240i actually has more torque (500Nm, versus 465Nm).
All the 2 Series convertibles feature an eight-speed torque converter automatic as the standard gearbox – although the M240i alone can be had as a six-speed manual for no extra cost. The auto is a good one; there is occasionally a slight hesitation when setting off, but on the move the gearbox offers slick, imperceptible shifts. In Sport of Sport Plus mode, the shfits become rapid-fire and, under braking, downshifting becomes predictive and intuitive. There are also paddle shifters on the steering wheel if you like to take control yourself.
The 230i in particular has quick, syrupy, feelsome steering, linking the 2 Series very closely with BMW’s traditional strengths in handling. In fact, the 2 Series – in coupe or convertible form – has the best steering of the entire, current BMW range. As standard, the 230i is fitted with BMW’s M Sport package, which dresses up the exterior and interior with more aggressive looks (and adds firmer suspension and better brakes). But for no additional cost, you can have the 230i with BMW’s Luxury Line pack instead, which we would do. For one thing, the Luxury Line has a smaller-radius steering wheel. It might look daggier than the sexy M Sport steering wheel, but the Luxury wheel is critically smaller, and that makes the already fast steering feel ridiculously nimble.
The Luxury Line also has a unique fixed suspension which suits the 2 Series convertible far better, in our opinion, than the other suspension options – the more focussed M Sport setup, which is either fixed (in the 220i and 230i) or adaptive (in the M240i). The slackened-off Luxury Line damping allows the 2 Series convertible to have a little more roll in the corners, and markedly more compliance through bumps and imperfections. Given the 230i doesn’t have grand sporting pretensions, the softer Luxury Line is very convincing.
BMW’s main small car platform is getting on in years now. In some ways, that’s a good thing, because the 2 Series, like the 1 Series hatchback, still has a rear-wheel-drive configuration. You can really feel that in the 230i, because of its relatively powerful engine: the back end will give a little wiggle under hard throttle, which always brings a smile. However, the ageing platform also means that some safety technologies are unavailable, including blind spot monitoring and its cousin, rear cross-traffic alert, both of would be extremely helpful in this convertible, which has huge blind spots when the roof is up. However, BMW have managed to engineer in city-speed autonomous emergency braking, forward collision alert, and lane departure warning, so you’re not entirely alone behind the wheel.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s clear that the 2 Series has a cabin that is ageing gracefully thanks to a restrained interior design that doesn’t try to do too much. All the controls are laid out intuitively, especially the technology offering, which remains the best in the business. The recent 2 Series update has seen the car upgraded with BMW’s sixth-generation iDrive system, which in the 230i and M240i sports a large 8.8-inch touchscreen for the first time, although the traditional iDrive rotary dial and shortcut keys between the seats haven’t gone anywhere. That’s good, because we prefer entering data on the go with the dial, despite the good response rates of the touchscreen surface. Keep in mind that the entry-level 220i retains a smaller 6.5-inch screen without touch input. The 230i Luxury Line also includes a 12-speaker Harmon-Kardon stereo which reproduces sound faithfully.
The electrically-adjustable, heated front seats are comfortable. The seats sink very low into the car, meaning a very sporty driving position is achievable with adequate support from the variable thigh angle and manual leg extender. Slimmer drivers will love the side bolsters, which are fitted with air bladders to tighten or loosen the seat, meaning the 230i holds you in perfectly during sporty driving. The leather quality isn’t as supple as on more expensive BMWs, though it is acceptable. Two-position memory for the driver is standard, which is helpful for couples. We think it’s a bit unfortunate that on the 220i, front seat heating is relegated to the options list for an extra $500. Come on – it’s a BMW convertible. This should be standard.
Other materials spread throughout the cabin err on the ‘good’ side. The stitched dashboard, door trims and centre armrest all feel like quality items, but it’s a shame that the surfacing on the centre console where the driver’s leg comes to rest on long journeys remains very hard plastic. We also would like to see BMW adopt Volkswagen’s habit of lining the interior door pockets with felt. While the 2 Series can take two water bottles in each front door bin, the lack of any lining means that loud, loose items are allowed to scratch around.
Otherwise, cabin storage is fair, with a shelf ahead of the gear shift hiding two cup holders, and a shallow bin between the seats revealing the car’s sole USB port. The boot, as mentioned earlier, is of a decent size at 280/335 litres, depending on whether the roof is allowed to be lowered, or locked in the upright position. The back seats also fold forward, allowing you to slide wide but short items into the cabin.
Choosing a 2 Series convertible from the three-strong range is mainly a question of how much power you are after: engines aside, the 220i, 230i and M240i are not separated by a vast amount of equipment on paper.
In fact, the $59,900 220i convertible is probably the car we would buy. The 2 Series convertible is dynamically very competent, but it is not trying to be an out and out performance car, and the 220i doesn’t even short-change you in the performance department. The 135kW/270Nm tune of BMW’s turbo four is nice and sweet, and the 220i’s 7.7 second 0-100km/h sprint isn’t slow. Equipment levels are decent, too; navigation, digital radio, automatic LED headlights and wipers, lane departure and forward collision warnings and city-speed AEB are all included – and the 220i gets the supple Luxury Line treatment out of the box.
In fact, the 220i’s two big omissions can be cured with relatively inexpensive option packages. They are the 220i’s small 6.5-inch nav screen, which can be upgraded to the far superior 8.8-inch touchscreen with the $1,700 Innovations package (which also brings BMW’s own upgraded stereo). The other omission – keyless access to the car – is part of a $2,400 Comfort package, which also adds heated, electric front seats with lumbar, with memory for the driver. Both packages, plus metallic paint ($1,190 across the range) bring a nicely-equipped 220i to a reasonable $65,190 before on-road costs.
When you consider that the 230i is $73,000, with each of those features (except the metallic paint) standard, you’d need to really value the faster 185kW/350Nm tune, with its quick 5.9 second 0-100km/h sprint – and you’d need to really want the 230i’s variable sports steering.
Despite how sweet the 230i is, there is actually more justification in tipping quite a bit more money into the $85,510 M240i given the future rarity of this sort of car. It is highly unlikely that small, rear-wheel-drive convertibles with inline six-cylinder engines will exist for much longer. The M240i also adds adaptive M dampers, black 18-inch wheels, grey mirror caps, and adaptive LED headlight beams to make up some of the $12,510 jump over the 230i.
Aside from $1,190 for metallic paint, which is essentially all of the desirable colours, keep in mind that Apple CarPlay, which works wirelessly in this car, is a further $479 option on each model. On the 220i and 230i, you’ll need to shell out $1,350 on a Driver Assistance package if you want features like adaptive cruise control, automated parking, and auto high beam.
BMW Australia are quite reasonable with servicing costs on the 2 Series convertible, if you are willing to purchase an up-front service pack at the time of purchase, covering five years or 80,000 kilometres of scheduled maintenance. Two packs are available – a basic plan ($1,340), which covers an annual vehicle check, oil and oil filter changes, microfilter reviews, renewal of the air filter, fuel filter and brake fluid, and replacement of spark plugs. The alternative, called the Plus plan ($3,550) is expensive but adds big-ticket items like replacement of all four brake pads and discs, wiper blade rubbers, and renewal of the clutch plate and disc.
The relatively steep premium for the 2 Series convertible over the equivalent coupe – let alone the much-cheaper cousins of these vehicles, the 1 Series hatchback – means that convertible ownership continues to be something of an indulgence. That said, the open-top experience isn’t comparable to coupe ownership, and for many, the thought of a small, drop-top BMW that drives well, is generally well-equipped, and is reasonably inexpensive to maintain will be hard to resist. An all-new 2 Series may only be a couple of years away, but the solid trio of engines, enjoyable driving dynamics, handsome looks and particularly pure steering of the current shape mean that if you’re in the market, you ought to take a close look at the current range.
|Power||185kW at 5,200rpm|
|Torque||350Nm at 1,450-4,800rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||120kW/tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||6.2L/100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Rear wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||280L/335L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||Not measured|