BMW 2 Series Convertible

Rear-drive fun in the autumn sun

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE existence of BMWs 6 Series is a mystery, much like the existence of Clive Palmer, KFC and cruise ships.

This was brought even more starkly into relief at the local launch of the new 2 Series Convertible replacement for the 1 Series Convertible that was so popular here we ended up being its fourth-largest market, after Germany, the UK and America when we got stuck behind a 6 Series Convertible while steering a humble, four-cylinder 220i with 135kW and 270Nm.

Even driven enthusiastically, the Clive-like 6 is no match for the short wheelbase and sharp handling of the 2 Series, which also wins by being far more attractive and hugely cheaper, starting at just $54,900.

Sure, in a straight line the 220i would be humbled, with a yawning 7.6sec 0-100km/h time, but on a twisty road in the sunshine, roof down, this matters not a jot. This is BMW driving pleasure at a damn near affordable price.

It might be small BMW claims it has usable rear seats, though carrying adult humans is not one of those uses but this entry-level drop-top has a history of punching above its weight in sales terms.

Sitting in a style-critical segment, BMW has clearly focused on making the new one even better looking. A slicker, meaner front end leads to a nicely scalloped side profile with short overhangs and a neat, flat rear deck. The designers apparently wanted it to mirror the proportions of a boat, but presumably not a cruise ship.

An extra layer has been added to the roof lining, and Id agree with BMW that it makes the cabin as quiet as the coupe. Even roof down, noise intrusion is commendably low.

Boot size has grown 10 percent to 335 litres with the roof up (280L roof down) and the whole car is 72mm longer, while the track has increased by 41mm, giving it s le ncreased a wider, better-planted stance.

Its grown, and it looks more grown-up.

The 220is zippy personality is thoroughly enjoyable on winding roads and its ride, on 17-inch alloys, is excellent, although the engine lacks aural drama.

You get a slightly rortier exhaust note, and more turbo flumping, from the $68,900 228i, with its beefed-up outputs of 180kW and 350Nm pushing it to 100km/h in a much more credible 6.0sec.

Sadly, you also get 18-inch wheels on the 228i, which do unpleasant things to its ride.

While the extra torque and mid-range rush are undeniably pleasant, this is one of those rare cases where the average buyer might actually be better off plumping for the cheaper model.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale BMW 220i Convertible 1997cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 135kW @ 5000-6250rpm 270Nm @ 1250-4500rpm 8-speed automatic 1530kg 7.6sec (claimed) 6.4L/100km $54,900 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Roof-up blindspots; 220i performance; ride quality in 228i Styling; genuinely quiet, coupe-like cabin with roof up; cornering fun

Global conquest

MORE than 5000 of the previous (1 Series Convertible) models were sold locally, which adds up to a tidy profit.

More importantly for BMW, one-third of those buyers were under 35 years of age; 74 percent were conquest buyers and 59 percent of those invaluable new customers were from non-premium brands, surprisingly split 50/50 male/female.

That makes them potentially BMW people for life.