REVIEW DATE: 08 Sep 2008
A diesel convertible? Majoring in fuel economy? From BMW? Whatever next? Steve Walker investigates.
The standard convertible car sales pitch always used to go along similar lines. Cars that came minus a fixed roof were all about sunshine, smiles and sexiness and if a salesman could persuade his prey to buy into that, his monthly bonus would look all the plumper. It's a sign of the times then that one of the leading lights in today's BMW 1-Series Convertible range has a diesel engine and counts fuel economy as its major strength. The 118d is a Convertible that's grounded in the same harsh realities as the rest of us.
BMW's model range has never looked bigger and cars like the 1 Series Convertible are prime evidence of the growth that has been undertaken buy the German marque in recent years. It brings the prospect of premium brand convertible ownership to a whole new section of the market and the 118d model sets out to make it as affordable as possible. Of course, BMW isn't alone in its move downstream, as usual, its moves are shadowed by its rivals and Audi's A3 Cabriolet amongst others will be vying for the same customers.
The thought of a diesel convertible doesn't immediately set the heart thudding in the chest but it might get the brains of some canny buyers ticking over. BMW's 2.0-litre diesel engine is an enviable piece of work and it's that (not some fictional 1.8-litre unit) that powers the 118d and its 120d sibling. In the 118, it produces a healthy 143bhp but resourceful souls could presumably increase that to the 175bhp of the 120d with a little aftermarket ECU trickery. In standard form, the 118d can ease its way through 60mph in 9.5s so there isn't the exhilarating surge of power and rushing of air that the bigger 1 Series Convertible engines are capable of generating. The top speed is a more than adequate 129mph.
The Convertible 1-Series is predictably well-engineered. There was a time when creating a compact convertible that retained the handling capabilities of the fixed-roof seemed completely beyond the wit of automotive engineers but the BMW comes close to achieving just that. Some of the sharpness and fluency of the 1-Series hatch is lost but compared to the majority of other small convertible cars, it's composed and responsive without the shakes and rattles that usually prevail in a car shorn of its overhead metalwork. The ride is slightly firm and the run-flat tyres don't help mask imperfections in the road but in general the car goes, stops and steers with real competence.
"The genius of the convertible 1-Series is that it doesn't feel like a compromise."
This drop-top model features a fabric roof that opens or closes in 22 seconds, and at speeds of up to 25mph. The roof material is available in classic black, beige or, as a world first, an innovative anthracite silver fleck which is a fabric material interwoven with fine shiny metallic fibres and looks quite distinctive. Inside, BMW reckons that there's space for four occupants, though that may be optimistic as rear leg room is at a premium. Still, there's a respectable 305 litres of boot space with the roof up (260 litres with the roof down). A nice touch is a 'convertible' setting for the air conditioning when the roof is down. The dash is in the same BMW design that prevails across the manufacturer's model range. It sometimes comes in for criticism in the more expensive models but at this end of the market, the quality and functionality is tough to fault.
The 1 Series Coupe was obviously designed with a Convertible model in mind. Both cars share a virtually identical silhouette, with long bonnets, short overhangs and set-back glassy 'greenhouse' proportions. The distinctive, horizontal shoulder line runs from the front of the bonnet, through the long, frameless doors, and onto the end of the boot lid. From the rear, the boot lid finishes in a discrete lip spoiler that houses the integrated third brake light and typical L-shaped rear light clusters use LED-powered light conductors.
Despite its low running costs, hopes that many motorists held of owning this cute little BMW Convertible will be dashed by list prices that are still on the hefty side. There are certainly cheaper ways to enjoy open-topped motoring but at least BMW hasn't skimped on the equipment. All models get stability control, an advanced braking system and four airbags. There are also metal roll-over hoops that emerge from behind the rear seats to protect occupants should the car go dirty side up. The trim levels are ES, Sport SE and M Sport with even the ES coming with most of the basic features you'd look for but Sport looking like the best deal.
You know it's come to something when you find yourself calculator in hand, pouring over specification tables and taxation guides, trying to pinpoint which Convertibles you can best afford to run. Once, these were cars purchased with the heart but today that luxury is rare and it's when you get down to the nitty-gritty that the 118d Convertible comes into its own. The car can return 57.6mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 129g/km. Put that in your calculator and multiply it.
The 118d Convertible achieves its impressive showing with the aid of BMW's EfficientDynamics programme. This effectively works through a combination of clever ideas. Brake Energy Regeneration, for example, which uses intelligent Alternator Control and an Absorbent Glass Matt battery to harness engine power that would normally have been lost during engine over-run or braking. Plus there's an Auto Start-Stop system that cuts the engine in urban traffic when the gear is deselected and the clutch pedal raised. Being a BMW, depreciation should be modest helping to offset the premium a 1 Series Convertible costs over its mainstream rivals.
Drop-top cars remain aspirational and fun things. It's just that the spectre of cost looms large over our driving enjoyment like never before and the 118d Convertible is emblematic of the compromises most of us are forced to make.
The genius of the convertible 1-Series is that it doesn't feel like a compromise. It might be small but it's well-engineered and delivers a polished driving experience. This engine doesn't make the car as quick as many would like but performance is far from shabby and the enjoyment factor that should come with open-topped motoring is present and correct. When the rain falls, those running costs will preserve the smiles on owner's faces.
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|For 1 SERIES 118d CONVERTIBLE|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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