First Drives

22 January 2014

First drive: BMW 4-Series convertible

The replacement for the old 3-Series convertible has arrived. TG goes for a drive

Paul Horrell
Car image

Well, that looks pretty suave...

Sure does. Folding hardtops do tend to look a bit lardy in the backside, especially four-seaters. It's a consequence of having to stow away such a big roof. But the 4 Convertible's tail is low and suitably lean. And the rest of the bodywork, like the 4-Series Coupe, certainly gives no cause for complaint.

Pity about all the black lines when the roof's up, though. What are they about?

The roof separates into three sections so as to fit under the boot-lid. And that means lots of cut-lines when it's up. The white car in these pictures suffers badly because the lines are black. Go for darker paint to disguise them.

How does it work as an open car?

Pretty well. If there's no-one in the back seats, the wind-blocker netting does a lot to reduce turbulence. The seat belts emerge from the seat itself, which means they don't flap about in the breeze as they do in some cabrios. On a cool day, switch on the electric heater-blowers under the head restraints. They warm your neck and ears surprisingly effectively. If there are people in the back, the wind blocker neatly folds and stores in its own pocket behind the rear backrest. But like any four-seat cabrio, it gets decidedly blustery back there.

That's a ruddy big hole where the roof isn't. Is the body still strong?

BMW says it's 80 percent more rigid than the old 3-convertible, which it replaces. But even so, certain frequencies of bump will set the body a-wobble. It's never concerning, but it is noticeable.

How about roof up?

The wobble pretty much goes away. Sure enough, the engineers say the roof, when closed, does lash the structure together. It's also saloon-car quiet in here at speed.

Presumably the roof is electric.

Of course. It takes 20 seconds to do its thing, in either direction. From the hard-roof position, the front section moves up and backward to snuggle on top of the middle section, then the rear window and C-posts move forward to lie on top of them both. Once the rear window is out of the way, the boot lid opens in the opposite direction from normal - hinging from the rear - and the whole stack of roof parts disappears beneath.

Doesn't that make it hard to get into the boot?

It does. But they've thought of this. Open the boot lid from the normal front-hinged direction, and now press a special button. The entire boot lid moves up some more, and the stowed roof then follows it upward. This widens the slot through which you can post your baggage. Even so, the boot is only about half the volume of a Golf. But roof up, the boot grows, and access is unencumbered. Another reason why this a very tenable year-round car.

This whole roof fandango sounds bewilderingly complex.

It is. And it looks decidedly rickety as it motors around on its slender arms. Still, what do we know? The engineers say it's comprehensively tested, and the industry has a fair bit of experience of these things nowadays.

Heavy too, eh?

Yup, and there's a sense of this when you drive the car with much spirit. It's not bad, not at all, but you sometimes sense on the way into a corner that the back of the car is trying to lean over more than the front.

And to drive?

Well, we drove the 306bhp straight-six, and that engine is always a pleasure, never a chore. The steering is fundamentally accurate and progressive. It's a decent car. But it feels like a 435i Coupe that's had a quaff or two of wine. Not quite as sharp or consistent as we've come to expect. And that's with the roof up. Roof down, it's already a sip or two into its second glass.

A cruiser then?

Yup, and rather a good one. It's one of these cars where you look at the speedo and find you're moving more swiftly than you expected. If you enjoy a connection with the car that's not an ideal characteristic, as it shows you're being deprived of sensation. But for making journeys, especially when the sun's out and the surroundings are glistening, it's absolutely fine and dandy.

Tags: bmw, 4 series, 4 series convertible

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