One Good Convertible

BMW’s new 1 is approximately 172 inches long, a unique size for a four-place convertible. 2008 is the first year of model 1 in the states. The 1 Series has been for sale in Europe for 3 years, and now it comes to North America as a two-door coupe and two-door convertible with a softtop. Overseas, a youthful hatchback model is the most common seller; is this too cheap-looking for the U.S. market?

BMW’s new 1 is approximately 172 inches long, a unique size for a four-place convertible. 2008 is the first year of model 1 in the states. The 1 Series has been for sale in Europe for 3 years, and now it comes to North America as a two-door coupe and two-door convertible with a softtop. Overseas, a youthful hatchback model is the most common seller; is this too cheap-looking for the U.S. market?

BMW ID

The 1 is instantly recognizable as a BMW. It’s easy to mistake a 1 Series convertible for a 3 Series convertible, especially with the top down. The 1 is a soft top, while the 3 is a hard top convertible; both are power-operated with one switch, and both go up or down in less than 30 seconds. Stand about 25 paces away and look at the profile of the 1’s top down convertible; look at how the shoulders follow the line right above the door handle from front to rear. This look creates sort of a boat deck, giving the impression of sitting down within. We were surprised to find a similar line that looks even more deck like on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe convertible. The power top stores flat to the deck of the car and takes up meaningful trunk space you probably seldom use.

The 128i convertible starts off at about $34,000, including freight. For the best price it is best to custom order exactly what you want, because there are thousands of dollars worth of extras you can customize for your convertible. Get the exact color and features you want and without compromise. Can the little kid in you wait two months for delivery? For a tailored fit, we can wait.

Formidable 6-Cylinder 128i

In the top-up position, you’ll notice the masculine long bonnet, housing the formidable 3.0- liter inline aluminum and magnesium 6-cylinder engine. There are two engine variations possible with or without turbocharging. We are focusing our attention on the more perfect 128i convertible without the turbochargers.

The 128i convertible puts out about 230 horsepower and about 200 lb-ft of torque driving the rear wheels exclusively. Sadly, like all BMWs, this model requires premium fuel exclusively. Gladly you may very well get 30 miles per gallon on the highway if you can be gentle on the foot while driving this six-cylinder. Use the cruise control whenever possible to take the most energy from your gasoline.

This convertible is available with two transmissions; an excellent 6-speed manual transmission, and the fluid drive, 6-speed STEPTRONIC automatic transmission. The clutch and shift lever were smooth and exacting as expected. The 6-speed automatic transmission was tighter, better, and faster to respond than expected. With or without paddle shifters, this transmission is very enjoyable to drive because of its responsive solid shifting nature.

Elegant, smart illumination and design features

The broad flared shoulder line and the flat rear deck look very elegant from the back. The trunk opens down low to the bumper, which is easier on your back. The bumper only meets the 2.5 mile per hour government standard. The third LED tail light is attractively integrated into the trunk lid spoiler. The reverse lights are nice, bright white, illuminating the curb.

Exterior illumination is a trademark. Order the optional Xenon headlights with integrated cornering lights for the best safety and resale. Part of the BMW trademark are the four corona rings surrounding each headlight. Another visual trademark we hope nobody ever sees are the adaptive brake lights that operate in two stages. Stage one is typical solid, stage two is extra bright rapid flashing, indicating an emergency stop. Outside and in, BMW is using light-emitting diodes whenever possible to lessen the load on the electrical system and to illuminate normally darkened areas.

Stable, safer by design and function

Underneath the car behind the engine, behind the transmission, and behind the propeller shaft is a newer, better lubricated, lighter-weight differential offering less resistance. Within the standard stability control is the appearance of ‘Posi Traction’ under the name of ‘Traction Control.’

Traction control will apply the brake to the rear wheel that is slipping so that power is transferred through the rear differential to the wheel that is gripping, hence ‘electronic posi traction.’ This year, the stability control is set less by the lawyers and more by the sports enthusiasts. Before, the brakes were applied and engine power reduced too early. So you can now throw it out and drift a little more. The new stability control settings are more enjoyable. While there are adjustments switches, there is really no way to totally shut off and keep off the stability control system. The 128i has plenty of power to get you into trouble, so you’ll be glad you have this system to make you look better than you really are.

While you are very unlikely to roll over, there is a rollover sensor on constant vigilance. Should a rollover seem imminent, two roll bars will shoot up in a fraction of a second from behind the rear head rests. Additionally, the front integrated seat side airbag has a head component that stays inflated for a disproportionately long time to help protect and support you in case of a rollover. The A pillar adjacent to the windshield is substantially reinforced to offer structural rigidity and better crush resistance. In this sort of emergency, seatbelts instantly cinch up tight around you. Now keep your hands in as you roll.

Independently and pleasantly suspended

The independent suspension is what you’d expect from BMW. The undercarriage design for the subframes housing, the suspension components and axles are very similar to that of a 3 series. A noticeable difference is a lack of the aluminum parts you might see under a more expensive BMW. When you’re at the dealership, look under the 1 from the rear end, then look under a 3 series from the rear and notice the difference; you'll see some steel components in place of aluminum. Automakers are always trying to save a dollar in places you won’t look and hopefully you won’t feel.

The suspension tire and wheel combination are pleasant and versatile, and it drives so well that you can really get into it. On the other hand, you can be a lazy driver and all the controls are still forgiving. Like the suspension, this whole car is fun. When you have the top down, nobody will believe you could have had a bad day. This convertible magnetically pulls out a smile from onlookers.

The standard tires are just dandy. They are only 205 mm wide with the good side wall and only 16 inches in diameter. When you order the sport package or any other wheel/ tire combination, you are more prone to a blowout. Then you’re going to need the run flat feature. The standard tires are most forgiving on rough broken city pavement, and then they are the least expensive to replace if needed, so you’ll get more comfort and durability with the standard all season tires. Oh, you aren’t looking for comfort? You want more road-holding on the corners and seats with more grip? Okay, then get the sport package.

Comfortable interior, keep it simple

We believe the best value in buying the 128i convertible is to keep it simple, with maybe a few luxury features. If you really want performance, buy the 135i. On the interior, we suggest you avoid the Idrive pop-up mechanism. The whole interior was designed so that it’s now easier to avoid. When you buy the 128i convertible, money usually is the issue. On the other hand, you may want to buy the most economical, least-polluting BMW. You should do whatever you want. But for the rest of us, save the $2,100 and don’t buy.

When you open the driver door and step in, you are unlikely to realize that you’re in a 1 Series. It seems like a 3 Series and even looks close to a 5 Series. The instrument panel is traditional, with two large analog gauges for engine and road speed. On the steering wheel is a series of controls and paddle shifters for you to use if you’d like, on the automatic transmission. Around the ignition ring is a statement that will help make this year’s car more valuable; “Year One of the One.” Increasing resale value even more is a special book that comes along with the 1 this year; your book’s serial number coincides with your Vehicle Identification Number.

Front and center between the passenger and driver is a very good standard radio. Although we would suggest getting the optional HD radio so you more than double the amount of free channels you get in your area. Should you spend a lot of time in your car and enjoy fine audio, if you travel distances where there is no radio signal, then Sirius Satellite radio might be the way to go.

The standard seats were just fine. But then we’re average size and fit well into most any car. Sports seats might be best for you. Heated seats are tasty, too. The optional Boston leather interior now incorporates Sun Reflective Technology that can keep surface temperatures approximately 20°F cooler than what standard leather might be.

The back seats are absolutely more comfortable than a Porsche 911, and there is plenty of headroom. What should reside in the back seat area is the optional wind deflector. Don’t even buy this car if you don’t get the optional wind deflector. This passenger compartment wind deflector will cut out the overwhelming majority of wind, noise and make top-down motoring excellent. We can’t believe the wind deflector is an option. We tested a vehicle without the deflector. The deflector blocks the back seats from use.

Very few comparables

The 1 series is about six inches shorter than a Toyota Corolla and about ten inches shorter than a 3 Series. There is really little direct competition for this convertible. Most of the direct competitors in size are front-wheel-drive, like Volkswagen’s EOS or the Mitsubishi Eclipse. Mercedes SLK is a surprisingly tiny 160 inches, lacks back seats, and starts at $15,000 more. The 128i offers well-proven reliability, because a similar driveline is in the 3 Series and has been sold for many years.

BMW will assist you

BMW offers a host of services, like the Maintenance Program, which gives you all normal wear and tear items like brakes and rotors and oil, plus scheduled service for no additional charge for four years or 50,000 miles. This is pretty ingenious. You also walk off with a very comprehensive Roadside Assistance for the first 4 years, with no mileage limit. For any kind of emergency—flat tires, towing, lock-out and breakdowns—you’re taken care of. Nice little perks. Besides that, you’ve got your regular warranty for 4 years/50,000 miles and a 12 year rust-perforation protection/no mileage limit.

To top it all off, a program like GM’s On-Star, “BMW Assist” is available. At the touch of a button or crash trigger, you’ve got a response for things like emergency services and Remote Door Unlock and the successful Stolen Recovery service. All of these items add to a nicer lifestyle and security.

Ultimate driving programs and events

If you are like us and have had breast cancer touch your life personally yourself, or have had patients or friends affected, you will appreciative BMW’s ‘Ultimate Drive’ program. Visit www.bmwusa.com. Under the “Experience” tag, you will see events and learn about test driving for the Susan B. Komen program. The ‘Ultimate Drive’ test drive program has raised 11 million for Komen since 1997, and you can join in too. You can register to test drive under this program, the 1 convertible or any other BMW, and for every mile you drive, BMW gives $1.00 to Komen—a sweet deal. You can also set up a regular test drive online to save time.

While you’re at the website, you can check into BMW’s excellent driving programs in Greenville, South Carolina, where $650.00 can get you a good day of training; ownership not required. Or maybe scope out the overseas delivery program; BMW claims you can get the vehicle for up to 7% less and thereby pay for that expensive trip (at least this year) to Europe with your savings. They’ve even teamed up with Lufthansa for a 2 for 1 flight until December 2008. Now that’s real BMW belt tightening. While on the website, you can always build your new 1 also, to get exactly what one needs for top-down goodness. Or maybe you should spend a whole lot less and get a VW Beetle convertible that gets about the same fuel economy.

Fast Facts:

2008 BMW 128i

Length - 172.2 in.

Width - 68.8 in.

Wheelbase - 104.7 in.

Weight - 3494 lbs.

Passengers - 4

Drive - RWD

Engine - 3.0L I6 cyl.

Hp@rpm - 230 @ 6500

Ft-lb@rpm - 200 @ 2750

Transmissions- 6-sp AT & 6-sp MT

City/Hwy - 18/28

Gas Requirement - 91 octane

Built - Leipzig, Germany

Safety Score - TBD*

Real Price - $33,100

www.bmwusa.com

*www.informedforlife.org