Silver Lining: Driving the BMW F23 220i Cabriolet

With the rain clouds currently keeping their distance from our sunny islands, what better time than now for a manufacturer to put into our possession, the keys to their shiny new compact cabriolet. Which is what our friendly local BMW agent Performance Motors has done with the local release of the 2 series Cabriolet. Shades on, it’s time to get a dose of Vitamin D!

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With the evolution of the 3, and now 4-Series drop-tops going the metal roof way in addition to their size, keen BMW drivers with a penchant for wind-in-the-hair motoring had only one option. The 1-Series Cabriolet, granted the 135i variant was quite a firecracker, the more pedestrian (as pedestrian as drop-top BMWs can be anyway) 120i’s while still bestowed with the marque’s excellent handling characteristics, were somewhat lacking in outright punch. With it’s successor, now call the 220i Cabriolet sporting some lovely turbo-induction goodness in its 2-litre inline-4 engine. But before we get into the oily bits, let’s talk about something we think most buyers looking at cars in this segment will appreciate. Style.

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Yes style, the intrinsic and at times irrational aesthetic aspect of perception which when applied into the context of open-top cars might just make or break sales targets. Luckily, the Coupe on which our 2-Series Cabriolet is based on is no visual turd and with no hard-top stowaway solution needed, slicing the roof off the Coupe was a clean affair and has resulted in a slightly softer appearance but still attractive outlook. In short, yes its stylish. Especially with the red on silver combination we first saw on the 4-Series Gran Coupe.

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The wheels unfortunately remain the same almost staid looking 5-spokes that come on the 116i hatches. It’s like seeing a pretty girl in a lovely sun-dress wearing Crocs. I know bigger wheels might hamper the ride characteristics slightly but these really need to go an inch up in size and a notch up in design.

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Do we really need side badges that say “Sport”? I know it denotes the trim level but somehow it just seems somewhat unnecessary.

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Inside, we get our familiar BMW driver-oriented goodness with controls situated around the driver and in this red and black trim, looks really good under our sunny skies. Visibility with the roof down is Omni-theatre vast but once the canvas goes up, rear-quarter visibility might be slightly compromised when exiting side roads, but once on the move becomes a non-issue.

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Unlike many convertibles in this segment, the rear seats of the 2-Series Cabriolet remain usable for most adults but slight wind buffering might annoy ladies with flowing long locks. A diffuser can be fitted but once on, the rear seats become nothing more than storage space.

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As you’d imagine, with no folding metal roof to store, the boot remains usable and can easily swallow up a day’s worth of stylish shopping. Or a medium sized fruit box.

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With a top that drops in quick 20 seconds and the ability to do so up to a decent 50km/h, there really is no reason not to go topless whenever the rain clouds dissipate. Despite the roof mechanism and extra body bracing adding about 150kg over the 2-Series Coupe, BMW have managed to retain the car’s 50/50 weight distribution.

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Talking about the additional bracing, another aspect worth bringing up is the new car’s torsional and bending strength have been improved over its predecessor by 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. Translate that to, a very solid feeling chassis that is free from creaks and rattles. While 184 horses might not sound like a big jump over the previous car’s 170, what really matters is the 270Nm of torque that comes with it, 70 more than before. Powering the 220i up to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds (9 seconds previously) and when combined with the brilliant ZF 8-speed and electric-assisted steering, gives the car a slightly more nimble feel than before.

While the 2-litre “charged” unit might not set your pants on fire, it does a decent job of zipping the compact Cabrio through local traffic. Those wanting more can always opt for the 228i or M235i waiting in the wings.

Some observers might note my praise for this car’s electric steering, but before raising any questions, do remember that the steering on the original 1-Series cars were way too heavily weighted without really providing any additional feel in the process. So when putting it into context, while the new car’s steering might be a tad light at times, it remains direct when needed and for me at least, is the more enjoyable setup.

I can of course now go into how sorted and well-balanced our Cabriolet can be once thrown into the bends but diving head first time-attack style into corners in this car just doesn’t “feel” right. Instead, a more relaxed approach where one strings in a flow of corners and bends at a more comfortable speed while enjoying both the drive and your surroundings is how i think this car should be piloted.

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The 220i Cabriolet. Youthful, dynamic and stylish. Just the right recipe for those looking for a compact and fun BMW Cabriolet? This not-so-youthful, not-so-dynamic and not-so-stylish reviewer sure thinks so. Just lose those Croc-alike wheels.

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