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BMW 1 Series Convertible

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BMW 1-Series Convertible
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Road Test

BMW 1 Series Convertible 125i

Driven February 2008

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BMW claims this is the first small premium four-seat convertible. Leaving aside the fact that BMW's own Mini division makes one - and doesn't the Volvo C70 count? - it's pretty silly making a fuss of the fact, when they know perfectly well the A3 was launched within days. OK, maybe the BMW won the silly who's-first battle against Audi, but who'll win the war?

The 1-Series Convertible has a natural advantage over the Audi: it's rear-drive. Theoretically better when you're behind the wheel, then. But rear-drive is a double-edged sword, especially on a compact car, as it knackers the back-seat space. And since these are claimed to be four-seaters, that matters.

But somehow the four-seat convertible genre flourishes. They give you two emergency perches, either for small humans or the odd bit of outsize cargo. And they give you the illusion that you haven't bought too flippant a car.

The 1-Convertible has a place in the world because the 3-Convertible is now a quite large and a very expensive thing. BMW is careful to emphasise the difference stylistically, because it doesn't want potential 3-Series buyers thinking they might save a bob or two by stepping down the ladder.

So the 1-Convertible has a tall, non-wedged body. It alsohas, like other 1-Series, the largest headlamps of any BMW. Makes the car look smaller, you see. No, on second thoughts, it'll take more than a set of Bambi eyes to makea 1-Series look cute.

Moving on. Admirably, BMW has thought about the realities of driving a convertible. The optional - almost everything is - leather has a reflective coating, so after you've parked in the sun on a shorts day, you don't have to drive the first couple of miles breathing the acrid smell of burning leg hairs.

The climate control adjusts its efforts automatically according to whether the roof is up or down.And the roof motors can overcomea 30mph headwind, so if it starts raining in town and you're on a red route, you just raise it on the go. You can optionally have the roof in a slightly spangly cloth with reflective metal fibres woven in. Looks better than it sounds, honestly.

Unless your overnight parkingspot gets invaded by Stanley-knife-wielding lowlife, there's nothing wrong with having a fabric roof instead of a steel folder. A fabric roof, unlike a metal one, leaves the boot accessible, and doesn't take up much of it in the first place. It weighs less, and, in this case, it doesn't mess up the roof-up refinement. Oh, you can hear a bit of a hiss at motorway speed, but nothing to worry about. A mild clockwise tweak of the stereo volume knob will easily see it off.

I drove a 125i. It's a lovely engine, full of torque, sweet as anything, and quite fast enough. For reasons we'll come to, I can't see why on earth you'd need the 135i twin-turbo jobbie. The six-speed manual feels well able to match BMW's claimed figure of 6.8secs to 62mph. Sadly, there's a deadness to the clutch pedal that makes smooth upshifts slightly tricky. I hate automatics generally, but I can see why people might go for the six-speed auto with this car.

Thanks to a Valvetronic thottle-less head and a magnesium-composite block, the 125i engine is one of the lightest and most efficient sixes in the world. Yet it's a measure of BMW's engine mastery that, during just the past couple of years, it has become one of the lowest-tech engines the firm makes. The petrol fours now have lean-burn direct-injection, and the petrol sixes (and coming V8s) have twin turbos and direct-injection. Then there are those astonishing 123d and 335d twin-turbo diesels...

The test car had optional active steering. It's as welcome an addition as a decaying hamster in the heater. It makes BMW's normally sharp steering feel treacly and vague, and it superimposes its ideas over yours.

Yet even that aside, the 125i Convertible doesn't meet the required standard of BMW fizz. It's just a bit mushy and not as agile as you'd expect, given it's smaller than the 3-Series. I'm partly putting that down to the body flex, but I think there's also been a definite decision to make this something slightly relaxed, even lazy. You do get a surprisingly smooth ride as the payback, especially on 17-inch wheels. So it's a cruiser. I suppose that's probably the right thing for the kind of buyers it's aimed at. It's also, to be fair, a better drive by miles than the Volvo C70.

It also has, like pretty well any BMW, the ability to make you feel right at home from the off. The driving position is brilliant, the seats are great and the interior is nicely laid out and built. In several subtle ways, all 1-Series interiors now feel better made than they did when the hatch was launched four years back. It's not just the Japanese who go in for continuous improvement.

A brief scan of the spec sheets and prices for the 125i Convertible alongside the A3 droptop makes BMW look like it's having a laugh. The Audi has more kit for less money. No, it's not a purebred RWD layout and it doesn't have a six, but Tom says it's good to drive and I believe him. Audi's dynamics bods on a good day can beat BMW's on a bad one. It's too soon to say because we haven't got them side by side, but the 125i isn't flawless enough for its sticker.

Paul Horrell

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