The 2008 BMW 128i Convertible manages to put its best face forward, with wide headlights that add a new dimension to the brand's rigid look and set the 1-Series apart from the big brother 3. In profile, you'll have to buy into the flame surfacing and its fear of straight lines, which shouldn't be too hard as this is a fairly conservative take on the Bangle theme. Things fall apart in the end, literally, as the strong beltline bends angrily towards the shoulders with an over accented trunk too reminiscent of the 7-series. Attractive? Yes. Iconic? No.
Interior Design: ***
Once I accepted the rear seats serve only as a place to store shopping bags and coats, I found the little convertible to be a comfortable place to pass the time. The seats can be configured in so many ways that, if you can't find a happy seating position, you're probably freakishly deformed. Though everything is within easy reach the abundance of knobs, stalks, buttons and switches is distracting. They manage to put all of the navigation, communications, audio and climate settings under control of one knob but I need a special button on the end of a stalk to switch between average mileage and miles to empty?
In the sportiest of modes, which requires nudging the shifter to the left and pushing the button on the dash, the heavy convertible manages to trot to 60 mph in a reasonable 7.0 seconds, slightly faster than the 328i Convertible. Unfortunately, the whole process is, and I feel strange saying this about a car, a bit mechanical. There's no rush of speed, no woosh of sound, just a car competently completing the task it's presented with.
The one place where the BMW doesn't feel as heavy as it is, is when it comes to stopping. There are a variety of electronics involved, including automatic Brake Fade Compensation, but in this instance there's no loss of feel. Step on the brakes and all that heft comes to a fulfilling stop.
If you were to drive the BMW 128i along a straight, bumpy road you'd be excited. All that jostling must indicate there's some sort of highly tweaked and insanely fun suspension lurking beneath you. The problem is, there's not.
What initially feels like a responsive rear wheel drive chassis turns out to be disappointingly underwhelming. Switch the plethora of electronic nannies off and all you get is a soft, unpredictable, unsporty drive. Still, it's competent and capable of a somewhat satisfying turn of speed, just not the responsive, lithe revelation we'd hoped for.
Err... which mode? There's the regular, boring hands-off automatic six-speed that's too slow or the thumb paddle-interfaced version that's too confusing. The sport option is the best choice for those, like me, always in a hurry to get where they're going.
Maybe it's because of the lo-fi music I listen to, but the 10-speaker stereo managed to keep me in tunes through the noisy top-down conditions. Even better, the satellite radio is easier to navigate with the newer iDrive system, meaning that I can swap between Grandmaster Flash and Cat Power without having to complete any post-graduate programming classes. The BMW also features an adjustable audio auxiliary port for my iPod.
When configuring this particular press fleet vehicle, the folks at BMW must have gone on a box-checking spree. Xenon headlights? Check. Comfort access. Check. USB-port? Check. Voice dialing? Check. Automatic dimmers? Check. Mirrors that bend downward when parallel parking? Check. Navigation with traffic updates? Check. And as much as people like to criticize the iDrive system, after a few minutes I found this version to be fairly easy to use. But, we'd trade it all for less weight, more communication and a better drive.
At approximately $33,100, a base-priced 128i comes in $10,100 below the larger 328i despite sharing the same engine and basically the same chassis. That would be good deal as the extra room you get in the back of the 3-Series isn't $10,000 worth of space. Unfortunately, to get a fully loaded baby Bimmer you're going to be out $47,395. Even with our current currency issues our money goes a little further than that.
Underwhelmingly adequate isn't a phrase normally associated with BMW's products, nor one that we want to use to describe them. Unfortunately, the 2008 BMW 128i suffers too much from its own hype. There are those that may argue it should be judged in a vacuum, avoiding comparisons to either the older E30 3-Series or even older 2002. But that's what BMW promised and then failed to deliver. At the end of the day, it's a three star car with four star ambitions at a five star price, which means giving it more than two stars would be overly generous.