Car reviews - BMW - 2 Series - 220i Convertible
Design, quality, space, relative practicality, comfort, roof engineering
Room for improvement
Expensive options, poor rear vision due to tiny (glass) backlight
19 Jun 2015
Price and equipment
BMW and convertibles go hand-in-hand, as the popularity of the now-discontinued E88 1 Series ragtop proved.
A likeable and relatively affordable plaything, the old car really connected with the brand’s driving-pleasure past, while showing the way forward thanks to provocative design and efficient engineering. Probably only tight rear-seat packaging worked against it being a modern interpretation of the famous 1980s 3 Series convertible.
Over 5000 sales in Australia and 130,000 worldwide later, the F23 2 Series takes over, promising improvements in every dimension – including, happily, cabin and luggage space.
Tested here is the base 220i Convertible, starting from $54,900 plus on-road costs, and fitted with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Annoyingly, BMW now charges the same price for the six-speed manual version, whereas previously buyers would save a couple of grand in the process. Not very driver-focussed in our books.
Standard kit includes idle-stop, cruise control with a braking function, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, BMW's ConnectedDrive telematics services, Business sat-nav accessed through a 6.5-inch screen, fog-lights, a folding backrest with remote lever release, climate control air-conditioning and 17-inch alloy wheels with runflat tyres.
Plus, fans of yesteryear also score Sensatic seat trim, or vinyl to you and me.
Leather adds thousands more. What’s next? Cross-ply instead of radial tyres?
Being a ground-up redesign based on a familiar theme, three big things have changed over the little old 1 Series ragtop.
Firstly, length, width, wheelbase and front/rear tracks have stretched by a sizeable 72mm, 26mm, 30mm (to 2690mm), and 41/43mm respectively.
Correspondingly, luggage capacity increases 30 litres to 335L with the roof erect, or 20L to 280L when the turret is dropped, while the ski port into the cabin is now 300mm wider (to 450mm) and 28mm taller (to 246mm). Needless to say, practicality improves. Weekly groceries (for smaller families at least) can now be accommodated (but not a bicycle with the front wheels removed, sadly).
And, lastly, a “newly developed” fabric roof with extra insulation does its thing in just 20 seconds, at speeds up to 50km/h.
Result? Unlike its hemmed-in predecessor, this BMW convertible is impressively spacious up front, and now adequate short-distance adult transportation for the hapless duo out back. The old one was much tighter by comparison. What the growth spurt has done is turn the F23 into a feasible everyday 2+2-seater convertible, as long as the front occupants are willing to slide their chairs forward a bit. Snug rather than cramped sums it up.
Secondly, the level of quietness with the roof up is astounding. A wintry blast during our week with the 220i Convertible certainly didn’t feel like it, thanks to coupe levels of refinement. No flapping. No draughts. No leaks. Just cocooned cosiness.
Being a BMW convertible, all windows can be lowered with a tug of a single toggle (and raised again just as quickly), for that American pillarless hardtop feeling that no modern coupe seems to offer anymore. Going all the way in droptop mode, buffeting is kept at civilised levels, even with all glass lowered, while being able to lift it all up again quickly while on the move at speed to avoid that sudden shower is a real bonus. BMW has clearly utilised its brains trust while engineering the 2 Series drop-top.
We used to say that about generations of the 3 Series convertibles, meaning that the company’s cheapest ragtop has at last grown up. So to say that the interior’s ambience, presentation and functionality mirrors that of the 220i’s 420i big-sibling isn’t being fanciful at all.
For starters, the dashboard is angled old-school BMW-style towards the driver, bringing to best light its thoughtful ergonomics, clear instruments, and excellent ventilation. Set down low for a sporty sensation, superbly supportive front seats also do a fine job, with ample adjustability for long-distance satisfaction.
The 220i also includes the firm’s famous iDrive controller, and that does require minor familiarity for maximum effect, but it continues to set the standard for this sort of menu-based infotainment layout.
On the downside, a tiny rear glass screen means reversing vision is terrible, so the driver has to rely on the (effective) camera and sensors. Some of the lower console plastics seem a bit cheap, and the gear lever demands that a button is pressed first before engaging, and that can be infuriating if you’re in a hurry and don’t quite get the sequence timing right.
Moving to the back, rear-seat access is easy via a shoulder-length lever, with cushion hardness and backrest angle sufficiently comfortable for short journeys. However it does feel a bit claustrophobic back with the roof up. And don’t forget, this is a four-seater only proposition.
In summary then? With a roomy, useable, inviting and hushed cabin, the worst thing about the old 1 Series has been exorcised at last.
Engine and transmission
While the best thing about the E88 – dynamic capability – has translated virtually unscathed into its F23 successor, the entry-level engine does have its work cut out.
BMW’s 135kW/270Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder TwinPower single-turbo four-pot sweetie needs a determined right foot, as there is a considerable amount of mass to move around, though once the revs are up, it feels properly responsive, in part thanks to clever tuning of the brilliant eight-speed auto. Bolstering the body as a result of chopping the coupe’s roof has resulted in a 165kg weight gain compared to the 1365kg F22 220i.
Consequently, mid-range acceleration isn’t going to pin anybody back into their seats either, but – again – with the turbo singing, this engine’s performance is defined by its punchy determination, combined with relaxed cruising capabilities. Most buyers ought to find that the 220i has sufficient oomph for most situations.
To help things along, the Driving Experience Control offers Eco Pro, Comfort (normal), and Sports settings, with the default middle setting a fine balance between the fuel-saving former and harder-edged latter – whereby steering effort increased while the TwinPower takes on an altogether more determined attitude, with stronger off-the-line performance, faster gear shifts and a more relaxed traction control system.
There is also a Sport+ mode that disengages the driving aids completely, for some extra sideways shenanigans.
On the flipside, the idle-stop tech is seamless, helping to keep our fuel consumption average under 10 litres per 100 kilometres.
Ride and handling
BMW says the 2 Series Convertible’s torsional rigidity has improved 20 per cent over the old car, while bending strength rises by 10 per cent.
Whatever the numbers, it is clear that no four-seater convertible for the money will provide quite the same degree of steering accuracy, handling confidence, and roadholding grip combined with such playful chassis potential.
At normal speeds, the 220i’s helm could use a bit more steering feedback and sharpness, for it seems that BMW has tuned it for leisurely comfort. But press on, especially in Sport mode, and the whole set-up really gels, with beautifully weighted reactions and a fluid, balanced attitude that highlights the fine level of engineering going on underneath. This is a ragtop that rewards the long-way-home sort of driver.
Additionally, the brakes are reassuringly strong, and are backed up by a ride quality that is generally better than we’ve come to expect from modern BMWs.
Inevitably, there is some amount of road-noise intrusion inside over coarser bitumen, but that’s a small price to pay for such dynamic roundness. The 220i Convertible remains the enthusiast’s choice among its ilk.
Safety and servicing
Like all BMWs, the 220i Convertible comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
It scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test result.
There is no standard fixed-price servicing system, though buyers can purchase a pre-paid system that offers a number of benefits for up to five years/80,000km.
Note that annual subscription fees apply to BMW’s Connected Service.
BMW seems to have rediscovered its mojo on a number of fronts, with the 220i Convertible building on the fine Coupe version as an affordable, well-packaged, and ultimately rewarding driving machine – that also happens to open up to let the sun and stars in with a minimum of compromise.
The extra weight does mean the engine has to work harder than usual to perform to expectations, however, but even then, once on the go, it remains a smooth and speedy operator.
The usual BMW warnings apply – beware that a lot of desirable options are quite expensive, for instance, but there isn’t another rear-driven, driver-orientated, four-seater droptop for the money – at least not until the Ford Mustang Convertible EcoBoost arrives at the end of the year for similar money.
Right now, nothing comes close to the 220i Convertible.
Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8 TFSI Ambition, from $52,200 plus on-roads
Beautifully built, surprisingly spacious, and with a sweet yet strong drivetrain, the Ingolstadt four-seater ragtop finally comes of age. It’s even fun to drive, though the Audi lacks the 220i’s dynamic sportiness.
Ford Mustang Convertible 2.3 EcoBoost, from $53,990 plus on-roads
Iconic in its own right, the American pony car returns late this year with an attitude and reputation even premium Euros cannot match. Reports have lauded the Mustang’s rear-drive dynamic capabilities too, so look out, BMW.
Holden Cascada 1.6T Launch Edition, from $44,990 plus on-roads
Handsome, roomy and well equipped, the Opel-made Cascada has the look and feel of the German convertible that it is, but without the price and size compromises of the premium marques. It’s definitely worth a look-in.
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