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Click to view road test review picture galleryYou can’t help but
  feel sorry for David
  Miles — he had to
  trudge all the way to
  sunny Southern Spain,
  to drive BMW’s first
  premium compact
  convertible for thirty

WHEN BMW LAUNCHED ITS 1 SERIES FIVE-DOOR hatchback in 2004 it was unique the only rear-wheel-drive car in the compact segment. BMW's aim for their 'baby' 1 Series range was uncompromised driving dynamics and a product aimed at a new generation of customers who could join the brand for the first time because of its relatively affordable price. The range has since expanded to include a three-door Hatchback and a two-door Coupé. and it keeps on getting better!

Because to complete the One Series family in a matter of weeks (on
5 April 2008 to be precise) is the launch of the first premium compact convertible by BMW for thirty years. Prices for the new One Series Convertible will range from £22,335 up to £32,415.

Buyers definitely have something to celebrate about, especially as each additional — and progressively upgraded — new model gets ever better in quality and refinement.

The BMW 1 Series range has also been an ideal showcase for BMW's EfficientDynamics fuel saving and CO2 lowering technology, and the new Convertible continues that theme. Blending BMW's renowned driving dynamics and performance with class-leading economy and emissions, the BMW 1 Series Convertible delivers driver enjoyment
and low running costs in equal measure.

BMW's new two-door, four-seat Convertible range is initially available
in 120i and 125i guise, but will be quickly joined by three other engine derivatives: the 118i, 120d and 135i. Two Hams Hall (Birmingham) derived four-cylinder, 2.0-litre powerplants — the 118i and 120i — offer an affordable way into BMW 1 Series Convertible ownership; and the 2.0-litre 120d four-cylinder diesel engine is the most economical in the range. The four-cylinder engine models have BMW's fuel and CO2 saving 'Stop and Start' system as standard. Balancing performance
and refinement to offer the best in open-air driving dynamics are two 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engines as fitted to the 125i and 135i. The 218bhp engine in the 125i Convertible is a first for the 1 Series model range. The 306bhp engine powering the range's flagship, the 135i, is the current International Engine of the Year.

BMW's smallest four-seat convertible might be compact in dimensions, but it features the same technology as some of the marque's larger luxury models. One such key feature of the 1 Series Convertible is that all leather-upholstered cars come as standard with BMW's innovative SunReflective leather technology. On a hot day this helps keep the surface temperature of the upholstery as much as 20 degrees centi-grade lower than a normally upholstered leather seat. The BMW 1 Series is also ahead of the competition as, unlike some competitors, it has a completely electric-powered roof that can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 30mph.

Why no folding metal roof as with the 3 Series Convertible? BMW's designers have said that it is all to do with packaging and weight saving. The relatively-compact length of the car means it is easier to stow a fabric roof and its mechanism within the upper section of the luggage boot and still leave enough practical luggage space: 260 litres. With the roof up, this increases by another 45 litres. The compact stowage allows for a flat rear deck to the body which is better for style but, more importantly, better for rearward visibility. Self actuating roll-over safety hoops for rear passenger protection are also incor-porated but remain hidden.

Last year, BMW sold 23,190 1 Series cars in the UK. This year their target is 30,000 and of that 3,000 will be for new Convertible models. The main competitor models will, predictably, be the yet-to-be-launched new-generation Audi A3 (deliveries start in May this year
at prices from £20,750), the VW Eos costing from £19,990 and the Volvo C70 priced from £25,750.

BMW UK estimates that 35 per cent of 1 Series Convertible sales will be accounted for by the price-leading 118i version; 25 per cent of cus-tomers will go for the 120i variant; and a minimum of 23 per cent will opt for the 120d diesel, which could well become the main-seller for business users following the latest increase for future Vehicle Excise Duty rates. The 125i version is expected to achieve between 12-15 per cent of 1 Series Convertible sales, with the flagship 135i hooking an expected 3 per cent of customers. A high proportion of buyers, or company car users, opt for the M Sport specification and, again, BMW UK thinks the 50:50 split between retail and business/fleet customers will be maintained by the new Convertible models.

For the record, BMW will sell around 13,500 Convertible models in the UK this year from their 1, 3, 6 and Z4 ranges. An M3 Convertible with
a retractable hard-top and 420bhp V8 power joins the line-up in May, priced at £54,655, and the new seven-speed M-DCT Double Clutch automated manual transmission can be specified for an extra £2,590.

Depending on the engine size option chosen, the 1 Series Convertible
is available with ES, SE and M Sport levels of specification plus a whole host of other extra-cost options. Prices start at £22,335 for the 118i ES and rise to £32,415 for the 135i M Sport variant.

Air conditioning is standard on all models, as are electric windows, alloy wheels and automatic headlights and wipers. The electric-powered convertible roof is available in classic black, beige or, as a world first, an innovative anthracite silver fleck — thanks to a fabric material inter-woven with fine shiny metallic fibres.

All BMW 1 Series Convertibles have six airbags as standard — two dual-stage front airbags, two side airbags and two head airbags. Brake Force Display on the rear lights highlights any emergency braking to following traffic. Run-flat tyres provide stability in the event of a sud-den deflation, support weight distribution, free up storage space and avoid the need for a spare wheel. The car's Tyre Puncture Warning System gives the driver an early indication of any loss of tyre pressure.

Dynamic Stability Control is standard on the 1 Series Convertible and acts as an electronic safety net for the driver. A further function of DSC is Dynamic Traction Control (DTC). When activated by a button
on the dashboard, it permits a greater degree of wheel-slip for more spirited driving. DTC also allows for a degree of forward motion with limited wheel spin on slippery surfaces such as snow and ice. In these situations, the near instantaneous interruption of full traction control would prevent the car from pulling away. DSC can be completely dis-engaged should the driver so choose.

This week, the UK's motoring press had their first chance to put two of the new 1 Series Convertible models through their paces — in the sun-nier climate of Southern Spain. Far better for roof down motoring than gale swept Great Britain. Don't you think?

In tandem with the delivery schedule of models to the UK, we were able to try two petrol versions: the four-cylinder, 170bhp 120i unit and the six-cylinder, 218bhp 125i version, both with slick six-speed manual transmissions.

The current most sensible engine option is the 2.0-litre 120i with 170 bhp and 155lb ft of torque. This provides for a top speed of 137mph and 0-62mph is covered in 8.4 seconds. Average fuel economy is officially 42.8mpg although our test car returned 26.6mpg using typical town and country roads. Emissions are 158g/km which means a road tax bill of £145 a year. This unit is a lively yet refined powerplant, ideal for this size of convertible and, for most drivers, the ideal choice. Those customers with a smaller budget will opt for the 118i and for higher-mileage business users the only model that makes sense will be the 120d diesel — it returns 55mpg with a road tax bill of £120 a year.

We also had the opportunity to try the new-to-the-range 3.0-litre,
six-cylinder 125i unit with 218bhp and 199lb ft of torque. This gives
the Convertible a top speed of 148mph with a 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds. Fuel economy is, officially, 34.9mpg but 23.5mpg was retur-ned during our 100-mile test over a wealth of 'interesting' mountain roads in Southern Spain. CO2 emissions are 196g/km, which means a new VED Band F rating costing £210 a year.

This engine loves to be driven hard. It thrives on high revs. Drive it lower down the rev range and it feels short of traditional six-cylinder 'grunt' — so drive it hard. If sporty driving is your style this is the best engine for you, without committing running-cost suicide by going for
the twin-turbocharged 135i petrol engine.

Whichever engine is chosen, the move from the 1 Series having a solid roof to a Convertible has been done well. Sometimes when this con-version is done convertibles suffer in the handling department, due to the reduced torsional rigidity. Yes, there is some 'scuttle shake' (or body wobble) if you hit a bump or pothole hard at speed. But that's a rare occurrence as the suspension has been set on the softer side to absorb the bumps better, thus giving a more controlled and less harsh ride.

Pricey as standard and must-have options make it more expensive, limited rear seat room for adults (some will find the steep rear seatback angle uncomfortable) and the handling is not as pin-sharp as on the 1 Series Hatchback or Coupe models. The steering lacks feedback but then I suspect BMW sees their latest Convertible appealing more for
its looks, style and compact size rather than having sporty aspirations. None of the foregoing will put off most customers, who can always choose an M Sport derivative to add back in a firm ride and better driving dynamics. Core reasons to buy will be the classy looks, high quality, nice cabin layout, low wind noise roof up or down and the fact that despite its compact size it still seats four people — just. It's also comfortable for front seat occupants. And you certainly can't overlook the BMW badge and heritage. — David Miles

BMW 120i SE Convertible | £25,210
Maximum speed: 137mph | 0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 26.6mpg | 170bhp | 155lb ft
| CO2 158g/km

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