- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

VALENCIA, Spain — When you sit behind the wheel of the BMW 1 Series Convertible and you have already driven the Coupe, you already know what to expect fun-wise. So I concentrated during my first drive with the Convertible on its topless qualities. Contrary to the European trend of equipping the sun-loving models with a retractable hard top, BMW sticks to its original idea of using fabric, as was the case with the launch of the first 3 Series Convertible in 1985. This is not only because the Bavarians want to be different, but the application of a soft top is mainly driven by design.

Kevin Smith, responsible for the design of the 1 Series Coupe and Convertible, wriggles his nose when he says: “With a retractable hard top in a compact car, you are too much limited in the design. It always results in a high rear deck that is not as sophisticated as we want a BMW to look: with a stretched shoulder line. A hard top also has a negative effect on the visibility from inside and as the windshield is raked under a larger angle and is carried further over the interior, above the driver’s head, so to say, you do not get the real open-air experience.”

Smith is right. Driver and passenger sit behind the wind shield, just as the passengers on the rear seats.

The first stretch of the test route was on the Spanish motorway, where you can reach 87 mph without having to fear getting a speeding ticket. With the optional wind shield behind the front seats, not a single hair on your head is moved by the wind. Interior noise is really under control, so that you can talk soft voiced to your passenger. Without the wind shield and/or two people in the back, topless driving means cruising. Entering the freeway in that case, the soft top closes electro-hydraulically in 22 seconds while you drive up to 25 mph.

The soft top has been developed together with the German specialist Karmann, who also builds the complete top. BMW offers a nice and unique option ($100) with a variant of the cloth in anthracite with sewn in silver threads that shimmer in the sunlight and give the car a contemporary look. The usual beige and black colors will also be available.

With the thick multi layer roof closed, there is a good noise reduction inside, while there is also enough head room for all passengers.

In the rear however, the construction of the foldable top has eaten away some inches of the shoulder width, so that it would not be advisable to take two adults in the back on longer hauls. With the roof down, the luggage compartment is fairly big with 9.1 cubic feet and has no problem with two golf bags. With the top closed, storage space is increased to 10.7 cubic feet, which means it carries easily three wheeled carry-on suitcases plus a backpack. It’s also possible to transport for instance two pairs of skis or two snow boards, as the specially developed rear seat backrest offers a pass-through loading possibility. Optionally, it can be equipped with a transport bag ($175). It is included, together with heated front seats, in the cold weather package that is available as an option for $750.

As expected, the sporty qualities of the Coupe have not been offered to the open top and also the Convertible has a well balanced suspension. The convertible model weighs approximately 265 pounds more than the coupe and has a suspension that’s somewhat softer, but it provides a pleasant and firm feel.

Not as sharp and sporty as the Coupe, but with enough room for active driving, with added fun of the rear wheel drive qualities of the compact BMW.

Under normal condition the ‘1’ is neutral, but when you want to push it, the rear can be felt to move a bit outward. In the hands of an experienced driver that provides extra “Feude am Fahren”.

While the car is very quiet and stable overall, it can feel a little bit bumpy on bad surfaces, due to the hard structure of the run flat tires.

In North America the 1 Series Convertible will be offered with a choice of two engines, the 128i model has the 3.0-liter straight-six with 230 horsepower and 200 pounds-feet of torque. That same engine produces 300 horsepower with the help of twin turbochargers in the 135i. It is the top version that accelerates from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph. The other models, the 118i, 120i and the 120 d diesel variant will not be available in the U.S.

Both convertible models will get the six speed manual transmission, while a six-speed automatic with shift paddles on the steering Wheel is an option. The special features to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions that were introduced on the Coupe will also be available on the Cabrio. That means for the 135i brake-energy regeneration and a dash indicator for shift points. The start/stop mechanism is not yet available on six cylinder models or the models with an automatic transmission.

The interior has two new options that are quite unique. One is a special leather with sun reflective technology and the other is a climate control system with a Convertible mode for open-top conditions which means it reacts less to interior and more to exterior temperatures and sunlight conditions.

The 1 Series hatchback arrived in Europe more than five years ago and is not sold in North America. However, the Coupe arrived here just recently and also the Convertible will show up in the American BMW showrooms.

The price tag of the 128i Convertible is $ 33,875 while the 135i is $39,875. Both prices include destination.

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