Test Drive: 2015 BMW 228i xDrive Cabriolet

It looks longer with the top down. Bigger yet sleeker at the same time. From the right angle, the 2015 BMW 228i xDrive Cabriolet looks downright purposeful. Adjust your position a little and it takes on the playful charm that is the strongest virtue of any compact convertible – but especially this one. Put the roof back up and the 228i Cab could best be described as a “cute dork”, but in a very lovable way.

Sport+ is where the Cabriolet really comes to life. Throttle response is sharper, the engine revs more happily as the transmission keeps things boiling and the suspension firms up appreciably

The 2015 BMW 228i xDrive Cabriolet walks that line between “seriously sporty” and “fun and frivolous” really, really well. Hop in, whack on your Ray Bans and put the roof down – you’ll feel a million bucks. Take a turn down a winding road, press the drive selection button twice to get to Sport+ and hit the go pedal – you’ll feel a few more million bucks.

BMW does an amazing job with driving modes. Perhaps more than any other manufacturer the differences between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ are pronounced and useful. Eco Pro has routinely returned a 10 percent improvement in economy when used in other tests and did so again here. The first 200 km I did in only Eco Pro (give or take the kilometre or two it took me to remember to turn it on during a couple of trips) and recorded an average of 9.0 L/100 km. The little Eco Pro gauge told me I’d saved 20 km. The rest of the week I spent driving in Sport+ or Sport and ended up on 10 L/100 km – so the measurements bear out. If you’re wondering, official five-cycle NRCan ratings are 10.4/7.1/8.9 L/100 km city/highway/combined.

Having done my civic duty and tested the Eco Pro mode, I switched briefly to Comfort, letting the adaptive suspension smooth out my morning commute and letting the electric steering assistance give my T-rex arms a rest for a short while. I didn’t stay there long. Comfort is not high on my list of priorities and the steering was too light, suspension too soft and throttle too soggy in this mode. Instead, every time I got in the car going forward I mashed that drive select button twice with the urgency and insistence of a toddler wanting more pureed banana.  Sport+ is where the Cabriolet really comes to life. Throttle response is sharper, the engine revs more happily as the transmission keeps things boiling and the suspension firms up appreciably. Most importantly of all, the steering regains some heft – helping you feel more connected to the road beneath.

The mode doesn’t change the directness of the steering, it’s already pretty sharp with no vagueness in all three modes. It merely allows more of the haptic feedback from the road to travel into your hands. This increases confidence and also means your at-speed inputs are smoother, what with a heavier wheel being more appropriately difficult to turn and all.

The 228i’s engine is the same magical mystery of all the “28i” trim engines. BMW’s 2.0L turbocharged four with its 241 hp at 5,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft at 1,450 has far more character than it really should. It’s peppy and rev-happy with a strong pull off the line and convincing roll-on acceleration for highway merging or passing. The paddle shifters are fun, but unnecessary as the eight-speed automatic shuffles smoothly into the right gear for most operations. Even the kick down happens quickly enough to render pre-selecting a lower gear an exercise in ego only. In comfort mode, the transmission is smooth and largely invisible, in Sport+ it wakes up and gets to work. Exactly as you’d like. 

This little four-pot even sounds good when prompted, endearing it to me even further. Some cars offer a base engine and a “good engine”, BMW seems to offer a “good engine” and an “even better engine”.

Some people dislike the $1,500 Coral Red Dakota leather but I like the juxtaposition of the garish red against the staid metallic silver exterior (an $895 option). These seats were the supportive and well-bolstered sport seats which came in the $2,000 M Sport package, and upgraded with electric adjustment and driver memory courtesy of the $3,695 Premium Package Enhanced package.

I mentioned earlier that comfort is not high on my priority list: I lied. Because the Premium Package Enhanced also includes a heated steering wheel – which I very much need. It also includes a rear-view camera, park distance control and on-board navigation as well as SiriusXM.

The navigation and SiriusXM are controlled through the very good iDrive system, which in this unit also controls the $500 ConnectedDrive Services package that includes internet, smartphone telephony, BMW Online and BMW concierge services.

The iDrive system gets a lot of criticism for being convoluted – and it is. But redundant shortcut buttons get you to all of the major audio and navigation functions with one press, and the puck controller is ergonomically perfect. I also love the wide, wide screen in the dash and the plethora of information available in the instrument cluster. The steering wheel toggle for tuning brings up a station list between the large and easy-to-read tach and speedo.

My daughter enjoyed the top-down experience, and we were surprised by the amount of leg room she had behind my seat. At 5'6" I’m not tall, but still she had more than enough room for her legs without having to kick the back of my seat all the time. I even got in there to check it out and found it adequate for me though not generous. Head room was excellent too… limitless even.

BMW throws in an aerodynamic screen insert which fits over the rear seats (but not when your daughter is in there) and provides a small amount of relief from wind noise and buffeting, but no more than just putting the side windows up. I used it once but then just let it slide.

The roof mechanism is cool and entertained all the nearby children as I moved it up and down. For me the best part was its ability to operate at speeds up to 50 km/h – both up and down. It makes the whole experience more accessible and maximizes the time you can spend top-down. You don’t have to set and forget. It’s not as good as the manual top on the 2016 Mazda MX-5 which I opened and closed at more than 100 km/h, but it still offers more flexibility than the Mustang, which you have to stop still to operate. If you do want to operate the top when standing still you can do so even from the key fob.

The roof intrudes into the trunk space about 10 percent thanks to the depth of the trunk but does prevent you loading taller options. We’ve been told it will take two sacks of golf clubs.

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The chassis didn’t display any sense of flex or sogginess despite the lack of a roof, but then we didn’t push the Cab to its absolute limits. Instead hustling at a “spirited” back-road pace I found a car that felt eager and enjoyable. There was a little understeer and the xDrive meant no throttle-steering rear-wheel-drive goodness. You have to get the M235i Cabriolet for that. Still the agile 1,708 kg convertible pulls off enough fun to drive character to keep me interested. So much so I drove nearly 100 km the wrong way chasing the squiggly lines on the nav screen and only snapped out of it when the fuel light flashed on – oops.

The 228i Cab also draws eyes and enquiries from passersby, even if some of those comments bordered on the sexist. I’d have to at least concede the 228i Cab would induce interest from the fashion conscious, and a playful spirit would certainly be well matched to this rig. I say that because most people who asked me about the car enjoyed the styling and thought that the car looked “fun”.

They were right.

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

Competitors:
Audi A3 Cabriolet

2015 BMW 228i xDrive Cabriolet
articles_PricingType 2015 BMW 228i xDrive Cabriolet
Base Price $45,200
Optional Equipment M Sport Line (18-inch wheels, sport seats, M Leather steering wheel, M Aerodynamics Package, brushed aluminum trim) - $2,000, Premium Package Enhanced (heated steering wheel, rear-view camera, auto-dimming mirrors, electric seats with driver memory, park assist, nav, Sirius XM) - $3,695, Performance Package (adaptive M Suspension, variable sport steering) - $1,200, M Track Package (M Sport brakes, performance tires) - $1,200, ConnectedDrive Services (BMW Online, real-time traffic, concierge services, internet) -$500, metallic paint - $895, Coral Red Dakota Leather - $1,500.
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $58,385
Optional Equipment