BMW history is littered with small, four-seater convertibles that offer style, spirited performance and driving flexibility. These days it's the 2 Series range, not the 1 or the 3, that carries on the droptop-driver's-car tradition, and the 2015 228i Convertible will the first flavor of it to hit US shores.
With prices starting in the upper $30k range, conservative but attractive exterior styling and just enough interior comforts and amenities to feel like a true-luxury player, the 228i makes a strong initial case for itself as either a first or second vehicle.
Concurrent with my First Drive of the 2015 BMW X6 M, the Germans brought along their new 2 for testing along some pretty mellow Texas driving routes outside of Austin. With roads that ranged from sweeping country lanes to small town streets, and weather changing handily from cold and misty to bright and warm, I got a good sample of what the new open-top 2 can do.
I'll admit to getting behind the wheel of the 228i convertible with a bit of a bias: the old 1 Series line, including the droptop, was amongst my favorite BMW models in years. In terms of overall character, this 2 Series has mellowed a lot versus the chuckable, cheerful 1er. The steering response isn't quite so whip-fast, and the longer wheelbase means it's less willing to rotate overall.
Of course, the 2, especially in convertible form, does feel better suited for the stereotypical small, premium convertible driver, too. Ride quality over our mostly smooth-road drive route was placid and controlled, and steering still felt steady and weighty on center and with lock added in.
The car also offers really well-sorted protection from wind buffeting and noise, both with the top raised and lowered. I drove topless on the highway and on surface streets, and was impressed at how cozy I felt with the wind deflector erected and the windows up. Cold-weather convertiblers should do well with this BMW (especially when the xDrive AWD car launches, later in the year).
Erect the folding soft top – a feature that's available at speeds up to 30 miles per hour – and the NVH experience is transformed. BMW says that the top-up wind noise has been reduced "by half" versus the 1 Series – a fact that I had no trouble believing after the first few seconds. Wind rush is basically eliminated with the roof raised, and the car becomes a downright conversational space thusly set up.
By the way, even with the wind-deflector removed from over the rear seats, there's no usable space back there for anything bigger than gym bag. Don't put a human in those seats... don't do it.
BMW is set to offer more flavors of its small convertible than ever before. While US customers will, regrettably, miss out on the three diesel and three gasoline engines that Europeans will choose from, we will get a pair of powerplants and both rear- and all-wheel drive.
The turbocharged four-cylinder that motivates the 228i may not have the same ethereal sweetness as the NA 3.0-liter six from "28i" badged cars past, but it's a hell of a lot torqueier. Mat the throttle and you're into the torque band in an eye blink, making the car feel (and sound) fast and powerful. 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque make it class-competitive, too.
BMW's well-known eight-speed Steptronic transmission is suited to the nature of the 228i, with reasonably sporty tuning in fully automatic mode and good, quick response when you feel the need to pull the paddles yourself. The laid-back test route didn't offer me a lot of opportunity for hammer-hard shifting, but this trans seems dandy for 90th-percentile driving situations. For now, the 8AT will be the only transmission offered for the 228i, sadly, though those opting into the more powerful M235i Convertible will be able to spec a six-speed manual.
I think BMW has constructed a better product for the small-luxury convertible intender with the 228i than it had with the 1 Series convertible. For all that I loved that car, the new machine's refined demeanor, increased power and bumped up fuel economy should make it more attractive to most. It may not be a better driver's car than the older ankle-biter, but there's no question that it's a more mature product.
And considering the company's plans to expand the scope of the 2 Convertible range, it should sell better, too. BMW will offer the aforementioned M235i Convertible – with its 320-hp, 330-lb-ft inline-six engine – for sale, along with xDrive versions of both the 35i and the 28i. I'd be shocked if one of those flavors of 2 wasn't popping up in posh driveways across the nation, following the spring launch and winter's yearly retreat.