A BMW convertible: sun up, top down, wandering along quiet scenic roads in the last days of winter in south-east Queensland. Life doesn’t come much better than this. So we decided to make a weekend of it and dawdled up to Noosa to get a break away from the routine of feeding a computer with endless words.
The second generation of BMW’s 1 Series was released in Australia in October 2011 in hatchback form. But the convertible in which we have just spent a most enjoyable week is carried over from the previous generation, albeit with some changes of the ‘soft’ bits of the body to give it strong visual links to the gen-two cars. These were made in April 2012, hence us being able to justify spending another week in one of our favourite soft-tops.
After driving for over 500 kilometres the little 118d convertible was still showing about a third of a tank of diesel left. The efficiency of all current BMW diesels is extremely impressive. Fit a little 2.0-litre diesel engine (yes, we know, the badge suggests 1.8-litre, but it isn’t) unit into a lightish car and fuel consumption in the low fives is there for the asking.
On our holiday trip the fuel consumption was in the mid five litres per hundred kilometers range, principally because the only time the roof was closed was when we left the car parked and unattended. There’s something about the Noosa region that makes you want to stop outside a trendy eating spot and leave the car open so you can admire it while you dine.
With the roof closed, therefore making for better aerodynamics, it would be easy to get the fuel consumption down into the high fours on easy paced trips on motorways. Around town that would lift into the six to seven litres per hundred kilometre range in commuting traffic, even more if you are tempted to enjoy the free-revving ability of the 118d engine (free revving for a diesel, that is).
Exterior changes to the shape of the new-gen 1 Series hatchbacks are relatively minor and the updated shape of the 118i and 118d convertible could easily be mistaken for a brand new model by those who aren’t into car spotting. Expect an all-new convertible sometime during 2014, though BMW hasn’t announced the date as yet.
Having a soft-top rather than a folding hardtop in the modern manner means the little Bimmer looks like a ‘proper’ convertible. Whereas a hardtop with the roof raised – which for most people is most of the time – it looks like just another coupe.
The 1 Series is the smallest in the BMW range and in convertible format, interior space is further compromised by the need to provide space into which the roof can be lowered. This means the back seat is really only suited to kids and, even then, tall occupants in the front seats will probably have to give up a bit of their legroom to make room for the little darlings in the back.
Boot space is also compromised by the roof mechanism, but we were able to get a couple of aircraft cabin bags in there and used the back seat for softer items of luggage. The front seats are reasonably large and are well-shaped for cornering support, without going to the extremes of large bolsters that make ingress / egress awkward.
On the subject of safety, the little convertible has electronics that minimise the chances of the car going sideways, then strong rollover protection should the worst happen. Naturally even the smallest models in the BMW range gain a full suite of crash safety features.
The two great attractions of BMW vehicles are their status and the driving experience. The aforementioned lack of interior space is chiefly due to a large centre console to cover the gearbox, a central tunnel to house a driveshaft and a differential under the boot.
All these apparent handicaps are soon forgotten when we threw ‘our’ BMW 118d at hard corners on demanding roads in quiet hilly areas away from the tourist throngs. Superb balance is immediately obvious, as are responsive steering that almost seems to read your thoughts, and the huge amounts of cornering grip the little Bimmer provides.
The ride can be rather firm in some circumstances so try to find some rough road surfaces during your pre-purchase test drive. Those who are simply looking at the prestige of sitting between spinning-propell or badges may not feel comfortable. Those who put sheer driving pleasure ahead of all else will simply love every moment they spend behind the wheel.
The turbo-diesel engine provides plenty of torque after a minimum period of lag at lower revs. Once wound up it gives plenty of satisfying acceleration to get out of bends promptly, and also to make overtaking simple and safe.
Lack of interior and boot space are soon forgotten when we threw ‘our’ BMW 118d at hard corners on demanding roads.
BMW 118d convertible
Price: from $55,400 (auto)
Engine: 2-litre four-cylinder diesel, 105kW/300Nm
Transmission: 6-speed sports automatic, RWD
Thirst: 5.5L/100km, 145 g/km CO2
Price: From $49,990
Engines: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (103kW/320Nm), 2.0-litre turbo-petrol (155kW/280Nm)
Transmission: 6-speed DSG, front-wheel-drive
Thirst: 5.9L/100km (diesel), 7.7L/100km (petrol)
Renault Megane CC
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl
Transmission: Constantly variable transmission, Front Wheel Drive
Thirst: 8.1L / 100Km
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl, turbo-diesel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, sequential; front-drive
Thirst: 7.0L / 100Km