IN the depths of a 2015 winter, I had the pleasure of spending a week at the wheel of a BMW 228i Convertible, but prefaced my article with the following caveat:
“Personally, I don’t quite see why anyone wants to drive around without a roof. If the sun isn’t baking your skull, the rain could be trickling down your back or the wind blowing your eyelashes out, but whatever the climatic conditions, a convertible is weighed down by structural reinforcements that still can’t replicate the rigidity provided by a permanent roof. And there’s less rear passenger space and a smaller boot too.
“I raise all these issues again because I recently spent a most enjoyable week in the cauldron of a hot, dry Cape summer at the helm of another BMW, this time the 220i Convertible. Now you might immediately question why I bother to insert a long caveat when I have described my tenure of the rag top Beemer as ‘most enjoyable’ ”.
The reason is simple, and I have to be truthful here: The car was enjoyable not so much because it was a convertible as because it is such a good car to drive provided no more than two adults are competing for the limited space it offers.
To my eyes, it’s rare for a convertible to look better than its fixed-top progenitor, but I accept I might well be in a minority here as deep down, many car buffs hanker to be seen driving in the open air. I say this because most convertibles spend their existence with the top up — that alone should tell you something — and in this state, the reduced glazing and the bubble-like appearance of the canvas top simply lack the integrity and visual flow of a fixed roof. Drop the roof and in some cases, the tables may be turned — certainly this Beemer looks comfortable in a topless state.
Of course, the absence of a roof compromises structural integrity but the Motoren Werke has beefed up the hidden bits to very good effect, albeit at the expense of adding weight. On most surfaces, scuttle shake is hard to detect and it’s only at very low speeds when negotiating uneven surfaces that a few mild creeks can be induced.
Rattles and trim squeaks are non-existent too and details such as panel gaps are under tight enough control while the rather flash and entirely appropriate metallic sky-blue paintwork of the test unit shone superbly.
With hindsight, I suspect that a navy blue soft-top (available to order) would have complemented this paintwork rather better than the rather dull anthracite shade used in this instance but no-one can dispute the exceptional fit and overall finish of this structure which can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button in a mere 20 seconds – and at speeds up to 50km/h.
Like all convertibles, and even with a wind deflector in place, it would be foolish for anyone with a toupee to attempt a motorway drive, but I guess a slow cruise down the sea front is more up this model’s street. With the taut roof in situ, the isolation of wind noises really is good so open road cruising is just fine, but visibility is badly restricted to the rear.
The cabin in this example featured very-well-tailored and heavily embossed tan leather of apparently high quality and undoubted comfort, at least for the front occupants. Rear space is vestigial to say the least and is suitable for very young kids only. Boot space is understandably compromised at 280/335 litres
Happily, there’s plenty of soft-touch surfacing to prod inside a cabin which is very well finished in true Germanic tradition. Truth be known, the sporty ambience so beloved of BMW is complemented by a plushness that’s perhaps a tad unexpected, but nonetheless very welcome in this application.
Lots of matt metal bits are on show along with a rather strange grained “wood” which struck me as more suitable for a yacht. No thanks to the very pokey visuals displayed on BMW’s model configurator (www.bmw.co.za), I was unable to identify exactly which of the four trim options this actually was.
Fascia architecture remains faithful to BMW’s more recent design philosophy which means that placement and operation of controls is all very logical and familiar, albeit that I’m not the greatest fan of the free-standing infotainment display unit which is nonetheless easy to operate to best advantage. It also makes really good sounds when the “music” side is engaged!
I’m also not exactly in love with the overly-simple but clear dual analogue instrument cluster which frankly is just too minimalist and unless my eyesight is worse than I imagined, I couldn’t find a water temperature gauge anywhere. Aside from that apparent omission, equipment levels are generous but can be supplemented massively, so please go to the Beemer website for a detailed run-down.
The 220i is powered by BMW’s familiar 135kW/270Nm 2.0 turbo four. This rather unpretentious mill does a fine job of propelling this 1 595kg machine with more alacrity than you might imagine — you’ll hit 100 clicks in 7.7s — but it’s also offers a relaxed delivery and low noise levels in normal driving conditions. It suits this application perfectly, offering decent low rev push with minimal turbo lag.
Having said that, anyone expecting a fiery exhaust note and endless pops and crackles from the chromed twin exhaust outlets will be a little disappointed. Sure, there’s a restrained pop when the Sport Plus driving mode is engaged — Sport and Eco modes are also in-situ — but be aware that this most aggressive of the settings automatically disconnects ASR.
The 220i is also reasonably parsimonious, consuming 95 unleaded at the rate of 9.2l/100km over a week of varied use but this was reduced to a very pleasing 7.1l/100 km on a relaxed 60 km run in the countryside.
The test unit featured wheel-mounted paddle shifters to activate the excellent 8-speed auto which provides seamless and rapid shifts, especially in Sport Plus, and a virtual absence of irritating slip. If the driver’s mood is relaxed, the transmission shifts early and unobtrusively but if there’s a wish to show onlookers that posing isn’t the occupants’ only attribute, the upward shifts are delayed accordingly, and the downshifts are effected more willingly.
Whatever driving mode is selected, the power steering works a real treat with a lovely linear feel from lock to lock supplemented by well-judged weighting around the centre position. The steering wheel itself is a multi-adjustable, leather-bound device that’s also home to various controls including Bluetooth and cruise control.
I’ve already mentioned that the body structure feels pleasingly taut, an attribute shared by the BMW’s suspension. Despite riding on very shallow 245/35R18 rubber mounted on sexy alloy wheels, there is none of the crashiness that might be expected when sharp edged ridges are negotiated. Instead, the Beemer massages the over-riding tautness with a well-judged dose of pliancy that adds to passenger comfort without compromising rebound control to any significant degree.
Needless to say, given the badge on the bonnet, resistance to roll in hard cornering is also assured and braking is peerless with a perfectly-judged amount of assistance at work at low speeds.
In conclusion, any convertible – even a BMW — imposes practical compromises when it comes to day-to-day usage, but surely potential buyers must know this before shelling out the shekels? The reality is that those compromises are partly snuffed out by the extrovert values that this configuration confers, and thanks to its very solid dynamic virtues, the 220i makes a great case for itself for a reasonable outlay. As a result, even an initially sceptical “yours truly” rather enjoyed the week’s sojourn in this model, albeit that the roof was raised for 95 percent of that week.