If DNA is the carrier of genetic information, then for the 2017 BMW 230i Convertible its blend of open-top driving and rear-wheel drive really is its unique fibre make-up.
BMW may be rushing to match the front-wheel drive configuration of rivals with its practical 2 Series Active Tourer wagon and forthcoming 1 Series, but it insists for its compact coupe and convertible versions that drive to the back boots will remain.
“The 2 Series Coupe and Convertible have always been seen as dynamic leaders in their segments,” BMW Group Australia CEO Marc Werner exclaims.
“And this latest update adds further desirability with sharp looks, a high-quality interior and a strong mix of performance, dynamics and efficiency.”
Right, then: roof open, notepad out, sunscreen and driving gloves on…
Vehicle Style: Small convertible
Price: $73,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.4 l/100km | Tested: 9.2 l/100km
The 2 Series has been updated for fast-approaching 2018 with new bezels for its bi-LED headlights and tail-lights, a revised front bumper, new colours, stitched-plastic dashboard trim with black/chrome highlights, and speed sign detection now added.
Replacing coupe with convertible adds $7000 to the 220i, at $59,900 plus on-road costs. But changing bodystyles adds $10,000 to the 230i, as tested here priced from $73,000 (plus orc). Even the top M240i needs $9000 more, at $85,510 (plus orc).
Either way, it’s no small biscuits for this small fabric-topped model. The 230i essentially uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the 220i, but it raises power and torque from 135kW/270Nm to 185kW/350Nm respectively.
Claimed 0-100km/h performance drops from 7.7 seconds to 5.9sec as well.
There are extra niceties over the entry BMW, and more kit is added for the M240i, which boasts a 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre turbo six-cylinder and 0-100km/h in 4.7sec.
Standard Equipment: Cruise control, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather seat trim with electrically adjustable and heated front seats, automatic on/off headlights and wipers and automatic dimming rear-view mirror.
Infotainment: 8.8-inch colour screen with USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Spotify and news/weather/Google app connectivity, digital radio, satellite navigation with traffic reports and speed sign detection.
Options Fitted: $1400 Adaptive Suspension.
Cargo Volume: 280 litres minimum, 335 litres maximum.
The 230i arguably still looks classically chic on the outside. Being rear-driven, designers could push the front wheels far forward to aid proportions, while its bonnet line is petite and dainty, its rear hardly puffed-up like some convertibles can be.
It’s inside where this three-year old 2 Series is starting to feel its age. Sharing its design with a $36,000 1 Series hatchback doesn’t help when the pricetag is doubled, however both models lacked some in-cabin resolve from the start.
To get the downsides out of the way, the door plastics are harder than the dash-top plastics, and the addition of fake stitching across the dashboard hardly boosts the overall ambience. Some lower trim materials don’t feel premium enough, either.
Thankfully, there are several extra upsides to then balance things out.
BMW’s brilliant iDrive 6 infotainment system debuts on a carry-over 8.8-inch colour screen. It’s wonderfully simple to use, with easy menu intuition, great voice control for navigation or phone, and standard digital radio.
Disappointingly, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring remains a $623 extra-cost option that should be standard, although at least it can be used wirelessly – which is an exclusive among other car brands.
Curiously, also, the excellent 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system is exclusive to this no-cost-option Luxury Line specification. The as-standard M Sport package gets only a standard audio system because it scores a bodykit and firmer chassis.
In either 230i, the leather trim quality is impressive, both front seats score electric adjustment and heating, and indeed the driving position is spot on. And please, BMW, don’t ditch the manual handbrake in the next model either – it’s almost a novelty in a world of electric handbrake switches, but a good, mechanical one.
The packaging of this drop-top is a highlight, too, with surprisingly decent headroom and legroom for rear passengers, plus standard rear air-vents.
Boot volume is quite good, too. With roof down, it’s about the size of a Volkswagen Polo, at 280 litres; with roof up it moves to a more Golf-comparable 335L.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Strut front, independent rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Every drop-top should be able to flip its lid via remote control as the driver approaches the vehicle. The 230i Convertible can do this, but only if you are standing close to the driver’s door, so it can be hit-and-miss.
Thankfully the roof only takes 20 seconds to fold into its rear compartment, and it alternatively can be raised or lowered at up to 50km/h. In perfect Sydney spring weather, either method was chosen even for a quick run to the shops.
This BMW came equipped with $1400 Adaptive Suspension, which is standard – along with adaptive LED headlights and auto high-beam – on the M240i Convertible. Even with that option, the 230i Convertible is still $11,100 more affordable.
The auto high-beam can also be optioned, along with active cruise control and automatic reverse-park assistance, for $1755 on the 230i. And adding the latter two items separately to the M240i adds $1700 when combined anyway.
On the road there is little point choosing six- over four-cylinder 2 Series. Thanks to a short first gear inside the eight-speed automatic transmission, the 2.0-litre turbo leaps from a set of traffic lights with enthusiasm. The connection between engine and auto, and the punch of the former with the intuition of the latter, is beyond reproach.
The 230i Convertible feels brisk, sounds great, and through corners it appears notably lighter than its more expensive sibling, which raises kerb weight from 1575kg to 1630kg – the 55kg of which is all under the bonnet, potentially affecting balance.
Structurally, the drop-top 2 Series loses little to the hard-top versions. This is a tight, firm drive, but the enhanced underfloor rigidity can tax the adaptive suspension, particularly in Comfort mode where it turns flabby, and loose in its on-centre steering.
Sport notably tightens-up proceedings, while never turning harsh, but the steering in turn also becomes heavier and dull. The steering is excellent at speed through bends, being sharp and incisive, but in either mode around town it isn’t fluid enough.
Most importantly, however, a driver can really engage with the rear-wheel drive configuration. In all situations the 230i Convertible is fun and lively, while still being firmly disciplined and tightly comfortable. Here, it most feels like a premium model.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and rear-side protection, ABS, ESC, pre-collision and pedestrian warning, lane departure warning, low-speed autonomous emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Servicing: Condition-based servicing (CBS) costs $1218 over five years or 80,000km, which is competitive in the premium small convertible segment
RIVALS TO CONSIDER?
An S3 Cabriolet is similarly priced and far more upmarket inside – but notably looser in its body rigidity and ultimately not as fun to drive.
The Evoque Convertible, meanwhile, is even roomier than the 2 Series Convertible, but it’s very slow and the options list is long.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
This drop-top BMW 230i is about the same price and weight as the company’s size-larger 330i sedan, which uses the same engine and delivers similar performance.
In that context, for those who don’t need a three-across rear seat and bigger boot, the al fresco BMW delivers an even more pleasurable driving experience, particularly on spring mornings.
This middle-model also delivers worthwhile extra performance over the 220i Convertible, while being better value than the only slightly faster M240i Convertible.
That is not to say the 230i Convertible is perfect – it should be cheaper given the engine is only lightly tuned, and the next generation will hopefully be classier inside.
Be in no doubt, though, the 2 Series Coupe and Convertible range has very unique and special genes that hopefully thread through to a future compact BMW breed.