First Drive: 2015 BMW 2 Series Cab

Austin TX - When it bowed last year, the rear-drive 2014 BMW 2 Series Coupe promised to be a salve for the Bimmer performance faithful who peered longingly into their rose-tinted rear-view mirror at the formative 2002 sedan (1966-75), while viewing the latest-gen 3 Series as heading in the wrong direction - a bit too big and a bit too soft.

This replacement for the compact 1 Series arrived with both a 241 hp, 258 lb-ft 2.0L turbo four (228i) and a 322 hp, 332 lb-ft turbo straight-six (M235i), and proved to be a highly agreeable runabout with plenty of spirit. Especially the latter M Performance model that was named AJAC’s Best New Performance Car under 50k.

As a rule, there is a structural price to be paid for cutting the lid off a car. Hit some rough pavement in many post roof-ectomy vehicles and they’ll quiver and shake like a hooker in church. None of that here.

Rolling into BMW showrooms now are drop-top versions of these spunky four-seaters, just in time for our long awaited spring. Canada’s four-cylinder car is the all-wheel-drive, eight-speed-auto only 228i xDrive Cabriolet at $45,200, while the six-pot M235i Cabriolet is rear-drive, has an available six-speed manual and starts at $51,900. Later in the year we’ll see an all-wheel-drive M235i xDrive Cab.

Tested here under the Texas sun is the US rear-drive 228i Cabriolet - officially labeled Convertible south of the border for reasons only marketing mavens understand.

Job 1: drop the fabric roof and get some sun on these pasty Canadian complexions. Easy peasy. The fully automated top does its business in 20 seconds and at speeds up to 50 km/h. You can also use the key fob to operate the roof.

As a rule, there is a structural price to be paid for cutting the lid off a car. Hit some rough pavement in many post roof-ectomy vehicles and they’ll quiver and shake like a hooker in church. None of that here. The 228i Cabriolet feels as rock solid as the vicar’s faith, only wavering slightly over the worst patches. Kinda like the same vicar’s resolution when he spies those four-inch heels and neon tube-top in the back pew.

BMW says the chassis is 20 percent stiffer torsionally and 10 percent better in bending when compared to the old 1 Series.

The back seats accommodate smallish adults in reasonable comfort. With the windows up and optional rear wind blocker in place the cabin is remarkably free of wind buffeting. We were humming along at 120 km/h with nary a ruffle to our ‘dos. On the down side, the wind blocker is fussy to install and covers up the rear seats.

With the top up, the cabin was remarkably serene. Credit the additional layers of roof insulation that reduce noise by seven db(A) compared to the 1 Series Cabriolet.

Additionally, trunk space increases nine percent with the top both up and stowed, there is a bigger pass through between the rear seats and the trunk’s opening is wider. According to BMW, the 2 Series Cab will take the all-important two sets of golf clubs when the roof is retracted.

This is a handsome car with the roof down. The Cabrio’s sculpted shoulders and tonneau cover create a flat, boat tail-like surface that wraps around the rear of the cabin. These testers featured the $2,000 M Sport Line trim that adds 18-inch double-spoke alloys, some high-gloss black exterior trim, black-chrome exhaust tips and an M Sport body kit.

The interior is also lovely, here resplendent in Coral Red Dakota Leather ($1,500, danke). The form-fitting seats with adjustable side bolsters are close to perfect for my frame, and the small diameter wheel with thick rim fills the palms.

It’s all familiar BMW in here, showing fine build quality and a pleasing design. The 2 Cabrio gets standard iDrive interface, but for many shoppers the $3,695 Premium Package Enhanced will be mandatory. It adds navigation, back-up camera, front and rear park assist, SiriusXM, heated steering wheel, electric seats with driver memory and auto dimming exterior mirrors. These testers also had the $2,200 Executive package with Harman Kardon audio, adaptive headlights, proximity key, universal remote and adaptive headlights.

On the road this drop-top 2 Series exhibits the same charms as its hard-top cousin. It shows a communicative and balanced chassis, meaty steering, good ride and a willing drivetrain.

The 2.0L “Twin Power” four (single twin-scroll turbo) that churns out a healthy 241 hp and 258 lb-ft had this Cabrio moving out quite smartly despite its 1,708 kg heft. And that, incidentally, represents a whopping 210 kg over the rear drive 228i Coupe. So the all-wheel-drive, convertible hardware and chassis stiffening amount to a fair bit of junk in the trunk – and elsewhere. Nonetheless, BMW claims zero to 100 km/h dash of 5.9 seconds, which is just 0.2 seconds off the rear-drive 228i Coupe.

This is one of the best 2.0L fours on the market – and there are many. Ford, VW/Audi, GM, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz all have ‘em, but few match the BMW’s smooth, linear power delivery. It’s also decently frugal in the real world and doesn’t sound half bad either, throwing out a purposeful growl when on the boil.

The other half of this drivetrain is also a standout. This eight-speed ZF-sourced transmission (Sport Auto with Shift Paddles in BMW-speak) is arguably the best automatic in the world, and it’s no wonder we’re seeing it adapted for everything from Maseratis to Jaguars to Dodge pickups.

Here in the 228i it keeps the engine at low revs for economical and quiet driving, but switch to Sport or Sport+ mode and it has the 2.0L four growling in the upper reaches of the tach and pulling hard. Shifts are quick, super smooth, and immediate when called for from the shift paddles.

Sprucing up these tester’s dynamics were the $1,200 Performance Package (variable-rate sports steering and Adaptive M suspension) and $1,200 M Track Package (high performance brakes and unique 18-inch alloys with performance rubber). I highly recommend the former as those adaptive dampers work a treat, delivering a compliant ride for cruising, then firming things up for when a twisty road beckons.

As with the 228i Coupe, the convertibles get BMW’s Driving Experience Control. A switch on the console allows drivers to choose between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. These vary the throttle response, transmission mapping, stability control, and adaptive damping if so equipped. In EcoPro, the engine decouples from the drivetrain when coasting.

Combined fuel consumption for the 2015 228i xDrive Cabriolet is 9.1 L/100 km.

The 2015 BMW 228i xDrive Cabriolet’s main competitor is the Audi A3 Cabriolet 2.0 TSFI Quattro that runs a 220-hp turbo-four and starts at $42,600.

Were this a Canadian car with xDrive, the estimated as-tested price of this loaded specimen would be around 60 grand. Maybe a lot for a summertime trinket, but remember, this all-wheel-drive tanning bed has all-year capability, is the least expensive BMW convertible, and most importantly, is a real treat to drive.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi A3 Cabriolet

When it bowed last year, the rear-drive 2014 BMW 2 Series Coupe promised to be a salve for the Bimmer performance faithful who peered... 3/12/2015 10:28:22 AM