BMW 1 Series Convertible review
Fast and stylish with lots of badge appeal and slick rear-drive chassis, the BMW 1 Series Convertible has few real competitors
Small rear-wheel-drive drop-tops are quite a rarity, so the BMW 1 Series Convertible has really cornered the market. Smart styling, a premium image and a wide choice of engines make it a tempting alternative to the Audi A3 Cabriolet or cheaper Mazda MX-5. Although there's an all-new version of the hatchback, the old-style convertible and coupe will remain on sale at least until the end of 2013. Performance-oriented M Sport models can be had with seriously quick straight-six engines, but even the lower-powered models are great to drive. The 1 Series isn’t the most practical convertible around, with minimal space in the rear seats and boot.
Our choice: BMW 123d M Sport Convertible
Unlike some cabriolets the BMW 1 Series Convertible doesn’t look awkward or ungainly with the roof down. Its long bonnet and short tail give it sports car proportions. The styling was revised in 2011 with new headlights, aerodynamic bumpers and tail-lights fitted, and the level of standard kit improved. All ES models have 16-inch alloy wheels. Sports add 17-inch alloys, fog lights, a sports steering wheel and sports seats inside. M Sport versions get a bodykit, sports suspension and different wheels, while the top-spec 135i M Sport gets an aggressive bodykit and beefed-up suspension and brakes.
The 1 Series Convertible gets a huge range of petrol and diesel engines from the 3 Series range. Most trims can be had with either the 118i or 120i four-cylinder petrols or 118d and 120d diesels, and all give adequate performance, but the best engines are available only in M Sport trim. Two straight-six petrols, the 125i and the 135i, offer blistering performance, but the pick of the range is the 123d, a twin-turbodiesel with 205bhp. The suspension is firm but remains composed, and the direct steering, huge grip and slick manual gearbox mean it’s great to drive. The small rear window can make parking with the roof up tricky.
The BMW 1 Series hatch was awarded a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP, and although the convertible version hasn’t been tested, we’d expect it to repeat that performance. There’s a wide variety of electronic safety kit on board, including traction control, several braking assistance systems and a crash sensor that cuts off the fuel supply and unlocks the doors. Four airbags are fitted as standard and pop-up roll over hoops activate if the electronics sense that the car is about to roll. Reliability is rarely an issue with BMW, and all of the engines in the 1 Series Convertible have been thoroughly tried and tested in other models in the range.
Cabin quality is excellent, and on a par with rivals like Audi. There are plenty of optional extras, too. The 1 Series uses a fabric roof to help keep a usable boot, and at 305 litres it’s more practical than rivals like the Audi A3 Cabriolet and Alfa Romeo Spider. However the opening is quite narrow and has a high loading lip, so only small bags are likely to fit. Passenger space inside is quite tight too, with the rear seats only really suitable for kids or adults on very short journeys. Wind protection with the roof down is good though, and you can operate the mechanism at speeds below 30mph.
Thanks to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics technologies, even the 135i manages to return 32mpg combined, but naturally the diesels offer the best mixture of performance and economy. The 123d manages 53.3mpg and emits 139g/km of carbon dioxide, but the cleanest 118d pushes closer to 60mpg and emits just 129g/km. Check out BMW's competitive three-year fixed-priced servicing deals, and residual values should be very strong, although parts and insurance will be relatively expensive.