While it may be true that worldwide sales of convertibles have peaked, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still good business to be had from this segment. Especially if you are BMW.
Making the business case for open-top cars keeps getting harder. Crossovers and SUVs, plus the lack of any market in China mean that many OEMs have either given up building such models or else slimmed down their ranges. Even the richest car companies are having to find new ways of addressing the issue. That’s why BMW and Toyota have pooled resources to create the replacement for the Z4 and a new roadster that might revive the Supra model name.
Let’s not overdo the shrunken business opportunity though. BMW had the choice to give up on the small convertible market but instead, it chose to think cleverly. The 1 Series Coupé and Convertible were good sellers, with the second of these holding the distinction of being the most successful model in its class – BMW says over 130,00 were delivered during the car’s lifecycle. So instead of handing all that business to rivals, the reality of a smaller segment was accepted and a new way of retaining profitability was envisaged: make a bigger car (it’s 108mm longer), lift pricing, and change the name to 2 Series.
The 2 Series Convertible was announced by BMW in September 2014 with the global market launch commencing in February 2015, a month after the public debut at the Detroit motor show. The initial versions were the M235i, 228i, 220i and 220d.
The range has since been extended and now also includes the 218d, 218i, 225d and an xDrive (4×4) version of the top-spec M235i. What about the M2? Yes, that’s the fastest and most powerful 2 Series but it’s available only as a coupe.
The car provided by BMW was a RWD M235i. Its engine is a turbocharged 2,979cc straight six which produces 240kW/326hp and 450Nm. Top speed is limited to 250km/h and 0-100km/h takes a claimed 5.0 seconds (5.2 for the manual). Average fuel consumption is 8.5 (7.9) litres per 100 kilometres / 33.2 (35.8) mpg imp, and CO2 emissions are 199 (184) g/km.
There was an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission in the press car and really, it was so well matched to the engine’s torque peaks that you wouldn’t miss the manual. As ever with this ZF gearbox, the shifts are vastly superior to those of most twin clutch alternatives but sadly, as has become the norm, the engine note isn’t like it was in high-revving BMW six-cylinder engines of old. It might seem odd to read this but my my ears the best sounding BMW six is the triple-turbo unit in the X5 M50d.
Although the M235i is a supercar, it’s not impractical. As well as the compact dimensions and subtle styling, there’s OK rear room (for two, but not three), and the boot has a cubic capacity of 280 litres with the roof lowered or 335 litres with the top raised. That’s 30 more than the 1 Series Convertible could manage. And, you can fold the rear seat’s backrest using a lever in the luggage compartment. BMW quotes the through-loading aperture width as 450 millimetres and height of 246 millimetres.
If BMW interiors are your thing, then the 2 Series is going to delight you. The M235i has a beautifully detailed three-spoke steering wheel complete with the little M symbol at its base, perfectly placed transmission paddles, a small but well positioned infotainment screen, firm sports seats and the signature heavy doors that give a satisfying clunk.
Do you need all-wheel drive in this car? Maybe occasionally or if you want to take your M235i to the snow. On dry roads there’s more than enough grip and the traction control light will be flickering before you can get into any tail-happy trouble. Remember the M Roadster – the 300hp version of the Z3? It had slightly less power than this latest BMW and no traction control. Drive one now and it would probably seem fairly lairy, which only underlines how BMW convertibles have changed over the last decade and a half: faster than ever but also a lot less wild, in both the way they sound, and the way they grip.
Future BMW roadster and convertibles
The M2 high performance versions of the 2 Series Coupé was revealed to the media in October 2015, with production commencing later the same month. The car had its public debut at the Detroit auto show in January and we should see a convertible in a few months’ time. The M2 is powered by a 272kW (370hp) version of the same engine that’s under the bonnet of the M235i. Torque is 465Nm or up to 500Nm when overboost is activated. Transmission choice is between a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The fastest 2 Series Coupe has wider wheel arches, four tailpipes and bespoke front end modules.
Project G29, the follow-up to the rarely seen E89 Z4, is drawing closer to the production line at Regensburg. BMW and Toyota signed an extension of an existing technology alliance in June 2012, the partners stating at that time that they would jointly develop a new ‘sports vehicle’ on a co-developed platform. Given the disappointing worldwide sales performance of the current Z4, this is probably the only way that BMW would justify spending the necessary funds to develop a successor model. And that applies for Toyota too, which wants to revive the Supra model name. One major change over the existing Z4 will be the roof system: prototypes have been photographed undergoing winter tests in recent weeks and these have a fabric top.
Similarly sized to the Z4 but way more successful is the F33 4 Series Convertible. This one is still fresh so we won’t see a successor model until 2020. The project codes are G22 (coupe), G23 (convertible) and G26 (Gran Coupe). Each is expected to use BMW Group’s UP35 architecture.
BMW’s biggest open-top car, the 6 Series, is due to be succeeded by the next generation model in 2018. Like the 4 Series, the next 6 Series derivatives will be based on 35up, which is also known as CLAR (cluster architecture). Both two-door body styles are expected to lose weight and become genuine sports cars. G14 is the convertible, G15 the coupe and G16 the Gran Coupé. All will be manufactured at Dingolfing and all versions of the next M6 will also be built there before being sent to M GmbH in Garching for final assembly.