Test Drives

BMW 220i Convertible review — Compelling cabrio


The 220i Convertible isn’t the most expensive of all the open-top BMWs, but it’s the best of the bunch in one important way…

SINGAPORE — Just because they cost a tonne of money here and have a prestige badge, some people expect their BMWs to be able to do everything except wipe their bums for them (that particular duty, they want the dealer to perform).

But when it comes down to it, all a BMW really has to do is make you smile hard when you drive hard. The rest of the time, it just has to make sure you’re reasonably unruffled by day-to-day journeys, and protect you in a crash.

And it should provoke envy in your neighbours, not because owning a BMW suggests you have actual jewels where family ones should be in your trousers, but because it means you were in a position to choose indulging the keen driver in you, over the need to be a chauffeur for the family.

That makes the 220i Convertible pretty much the perfect BMW in my book.

Because it’s small and shares a model number with the un-BMW like 2 Series ActiveTourer (a mechnically unrelated car), I reckon it’s in danger of being dismissed as a sort of BMW-lite.

But if driving this car doesn’t pull the corners of your mouth towards the open sky, you would have to be a curmudgeon of the highest order.

To begin with, it’s based on the 2 Series Coupe, a machine that oozes driving pleasure. It’s light on its feet, and thanks to the way the steering feels and responds, launching the BMW into corners is as joyful as I’d imagine it would be to hurl a rotten tomato at the headmaster.

For all that, the Convertible has a noticeably different character from the Coupe. It still steers sharply into bends, giving you a rush of excitement tempered with confidence when you’re in attack mode, but there’s a slightly less exuberant quality to the way it does its thing, as if it were the Coupe’s slightly older, more reserved sister.

The 220i Convertible’s acceleration is more languid, too, than that of the Coupe. The stopwatch says so but you don’t have to take its word for it, because it’s easy to feel the engine working harder in the open top car to get things going properly.

That loss of eagerness is surely down to the fact that the Convertible weighs a good 160kg more than the Coupe. (Mind you, if you’re in that much of a hurry, the drivetrain has a Launch Control feature to let you jackrabbit away from standstill with ease.)

You might expect snipping the roof off a car to lighten it, but cabrios are usually heavier because they have to be reinforced to compensate for the loss of half their structure.

The good news is, the 2 Series Convertible hasn’t put on weight for nothing, because it lacks nothing in rigidity. There’s very little scuttle shake (that uncomfy, precision-robbing judder through the front firewall that can make the steering wheel move around in your hands), and the added weight seems to have improved the car’s ride over bumps, compared to the Coupe.

But living with a convertible has its downsides, and the BMW isn’t immune from them.

Examples? When it’s up, the roof lets a surprising amount of noise in. Even though it’s 4dB quieter than the 1 Series Convertible, its predecessor, you’ll still hear the clamour of bus engines, mosquito bike exhausts and so on.

When the roof is down, the seatbelts flap around in the wind, enough to make you want to have the windows up.

And of course, boot space is compromised because the fabric roof has to live somewhere after it concertinas out of the way. Still, there’s 335 litres of space available, which makes it the biggest boot in its class according to BMW. (Audi’s A3 Cabriolet has just 320 litres.)

Sudden downpours aren’t the threat you might imagine, either. The roof goes up in 20 seconds, and you can do it on the move if you keep the speedo below 50km/h.

BMW Z4 — OK it’s not strictly a cabrio but the roof comes off…
Audi A3 Cabrio — Less pram, more glam
BMW 228i Convertible — Like the one tested here, only more fun
Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabrio — Our favourite hot hatch… but not in hatch form
BMW M4 Convertible — Lots and lots and lots of power. Yes, please
Mercedes-Benz E 250 Cabriolet — Toplessness goes with elegance too, you know

Access to the rear seats (with the roof overhead) isn’t a contortionist act, and it’s actually surprisingly roomy back there. Six-footers need not apply, of course, but if you’re up to, say, 1.75m in height, there’s enough headroom to feel decently provided for.

You can’t get five people into the 2 Series Convertible, but then the same is true of any BMW with a folding roof, so for all intents and purposes it is as practical (or impractical) as any of them.

In fact, the 2 Series Convertible the best of all the open-top BMWs to drive. The 6 Series is heavy and made for 50 year-olds, while the Z4 and 4 Series Convertible are surprisingly middling to drive, blunted by the mass of their folding hard tops.

If the 220i Convertible isn’t quick enough for you, there’s always the 228i and its 245 horsepower engine (or better yet, the M235i). Whatever it is, the 2 Series Convertible is the open top BMW that encapsulates best what the brand has to offer. Dismiss it at your peril.  

Sure, it won’t wipe your bum for you, but then it’ll take its top off. Which one of those means more to you is a measure of the sort of person you are.

BMW 220i Convertible Sport
Engine 1,997cc, 16V, turbo in-line four
Power     184bhp from 5000 to 6250rpm
Torque     270Nm from 1250 to 4500rpm
Gearbox     8-speed Steptronic automatic
Top Speed     226km/h
0-100km/h    7.6 seconds
Fuel consumption    6.5L/100km
CO2 149g/km
Price    $215,800 with COE
Availability Now

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.