The 1 Series Convertible sports many traits typical of BMW, but the replacement of the tin-top with a folding fabric roof has come at the cost of pin-sharp handling. But will that matter to the littlest Beemer ragtop’s image-conscious target market?
The scenic route that was mapped out for media launch included sections where there were roadworks crews at work. At certain sections, the road was blistered with imperfections and when traveling at the speeds those twisty country roads tend to coax from enthusiastic drivers, the 1 Series ragtop felt uneasy. The ride exhibited an uncharacteristic springiness… it just didn’t feel as settled as I expected. Perhaps it was the combination of wind speed and driving with the top down that influenced my perception somewhat (the wind deflector, optional in the 120i Convertible, does help in this regard), but I still feel that the firm suspension and run-flat tyres just aren’t well suited to some of South Africa’s rougher stretches of tarmac.
The 125i Convertible I drove at the launch has certainly been given an engine blessing from Munich. While most continue rave about the twin-turbocharged 3,0-litre inline six first employed in the 335i (set to find its way into 1 Series Convertible’s engine bay next month), I was quite impressed with the 125i’s 3,0-litre naturally aspirated poweplant. You read correct, it’s not a 2,5-litre as is the case with the 325i, but a detuned 3,0-litre (from the 330i, 130i, X3, X5 and Z4 3,0si) that now produces 160 kW at 6 100 and 270 N.m of torque at 4 850 r/min – the flat torque curve makes overtaking at freeway speeds possible in every gear.
I was pleasantly surprised with the comfort levels in the cabin, but taller occupants might find it a tad too tight in front, while the rear legroom can be declared negligible if anyone pushing over six foot is seated in front. As is the case with most convertibles, the car is in its element with the top down – not only because of the sheer experience of it all and the sun reflective technology-equipped leather upholstery, but because visibility out of the rear screen is limited (objects, obstacles or vehicles may be obscured by fabric between the pane and rear three-quarter windows.
Don’t get me wrong, the 1 Series Convertible will grant you stares and admiration, but a look at some of the other fashion accessories that the market has to offer (Mini Cooper Convertible, Renault Mégane CC, VW Eos, Saab 9-3 Convertible). Those little numbers might reward you with something not quite as dynamic as the 135i Convertible, but just as appropriate for posing – for considerably less money.
So, would someone dead set on a 1 Series refuse the convertible derivative because competitors offer value-for-money alternatives? Look at it this way… The sub-compact convertible segment is going upmarket thanks to the arrival of Audi (A3 Cabriolet, due in SA by the end of 2008) and BMW and premium brands will definitely attract the kind of buyers that regard image more important than value for money.
As the range-topping 135i Convertible Exclusive costs close on half-a-bar, I also feel like it’s trying to punch way above its weight. A 120i Convertible with a few optional extras however gets my nod as a potential class-winning premium convertible.