I'm a fan of the 2-Series. It's not only one of my favorite new BMWs to come along in years, but one of my favorite new cars, period. That's why I was eager to see what happened to the 228i when you chop the roof off, stick on a folding cloth top, and add nearly 300 pounds to it.
Honestly, I wasn't too worried. And it turns out I didn't need to be.
(Full disclosure: After realizing I was in town too, BMW let me tag along with a gaggle of international motoring writers to test the X6 M and 228i convertible in Austin. I think I was the only American on the trip, which led to lots of uncomfortable apologies for things like the Transformers franchise.)
It's actually kind of tricky to write about the 2-Series Convertible. You see, it's a 2-Series, but in convertible form. It used to have a fixed roof, now it has a folding soft top. It was a really great coupe before, and now you can get it without a roof if you want! At first glance, it seems like that's kind of all there is to it.
Except not really. When you turn a coupe into a convertible, you almost always risk losing some of its driving dynamics to added weight and complexity; you get the wind in your hair, but you lose some structural rigidity. It's a tradeoff that convertible fans don't mind, but enthusiasts tend to balk at.
The good news is that the 2-Series doesn't lose any of what makes it so great when it ditches its roof. It's still a compact, lithe and powerful rear-wheel drive fun machine, the kind of car BMW was built on. Even with all of their crazy niche vehicles, they still get their small coupes so very right.
BMW says they've improved this model quite a bit over its predecessor, the 1-Series convertible. The top is more insulated so it's quieter when it's up. It retracts in just 20 seconds, two seconds faster than the old car. There's more luggage space with the top up or down. The rear seat has more legroom. Torsional rigidity is up by around 20 percent, too.
There was just one model of 2-Series on hand for us to test on the roads around Austin: a rear-wheel drive 228i with the 8-speed automatic transmission and sexy red leather interior. (Both the 228i and M235i coupes and convertibles get all-wheel drive as an option now, which is about the biggest fuck-you to Audi since Porsche came back to Le Mans.) I think there's a good chance this will be the most common 2-Series convertible you'll see around.
I'm convinced BMW's 2.0-liter turbo four has more power than its advertised 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It may not have the visceral grunt of the M235i's turbo inline six, but the sucker can move. Even with the extra weight it was no slouch on the highway, or anywhere else.
The sad news is you can't get the convertible with a manual gearbox at all, like you can on the 228i coupe. The M235i 'vert gets a manual option, but this one doesn't. The other downside is the weight. The 228i convertible comes in at 3,625 pounds with an automatic, to the slushbox coupe's 3,345 pounds.
For those of you who are still reading, the ZF 8-speed autobox continues to be great, as usual. It's smooth as butter around town and manual shifts are effortlessly quick. Can I tell you a secret? You can have your fancy DSGs and PDKs; the ZF8 is my favorite thing that doesn't have a third pedal. It just works perfectly in every situation.
So how was the drive? Cold, for starters. Early February weather in Austin is usually one of two things: sunny, breezy, drink-outside-with-your-friends awesome, or overcast, cold and about to rain. When my turn came to drive the BMW 228i Convertible, I got the latter.
These nice BMW press photos — used here because they're better photos than I can take — make it look all nice outside, but it was actually cloudy and windy in the low 40s all day. Bummer.
But who really wants to drive around good Central Texas back roads with the top up when you have the option of putting it down? There's ways around freezing your ass off. Jacket zipped up, heated seats on, heater cranked all the way up. Never let the winter stop you from enjoying a good convertible.
At the touch of a single button near the iDrive knob, the top goes down in 20 seconds. No switches, no releases, just hit the button and you're off.
When that happens, it drives like what you expect: a 2-Series with more wind and outside-smells. It feels incredibly light, it's agile and tail happy; it basically drifts on command. The steering is graceful and balanced, if a bit on the numb side at times. In corners, there's a tad bit more body roll than I remember from the last 228i Coupe I drove, but it's minimal.
What I like about the 228i is that while it isn't a sports car, it behaves like one, and it does so while offering you a decent trunk and a reasonable back seat. On my tester, that back seat was largely taken up by the optional, removable wind deflector.
That's an option I would spring for, as it was quite useful for enjoying the car top down on chilly days. With the windows and the deflector up, and my feet and genitals being nicely warmed by the heater, I wasn't cold at all.
If I have one major criticism with the 228i, it's that it's too quiet for a performance car. Even with the top down, there's no real notable exhaust or engine noise, just a quiet, anonymous growl at wide-open throttle. I'd love more noise, but that's what you get from the M235i, even if it's amplified by the speakers.
At the same time, the cabin is remarkably quiet with the top up, enough to have a conversation without screaming at someone. (Save that for when the top's down.)
So it's quite good, this 2-Series Convertible. They kept what's great without ruining things by adding a soft top. Note that like all BMWs, it isn't cheap — the 228i 'vert starts around $37,000, and while my tester didn't have a sticker, with these options it was at least $50,000.
That's an awful lot for a four-cylinder convertible, especially one with as chintzy an interior as the 2-Series'. Let's just say the plastics are constant reminders you didn't get a nicer BMW. I've always felt the 2-Series works best the cheaper you option it, and that's true here too, but the fact is it still works great even without the fixed roof.
Cynical people might write the 228i Convertible off as a hairdresser's car (who are all these hairdressers driving droptops, and why do we hate them so?) but it's far better than that. If you're willing to pay the admittedly high price of entry, I don't think it's a decision you will regret.