BMW 2 Series Convertible
BMW has a strong track record when it comes to desirable drop tops and this 2 Series Convertible has kept that streak going. With an economical diesel and punchy petrol powerplants that are also strong on efficiency, this drop-top looks good and poses a challenge its rivals have found very hard to level with. Now, it's been lightly updated, inside and out.
The engines available in the Convertible are a direct carry over from the coupe range and this, as anyone who's ever driven the two-door tin top will tell you, is a very good thing. Drive is directed to the back wheels and you get to choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or the quite brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Petrol proceedings open with the 1.5-litre 136bhp three-cylinder petrol powerplant used in the 218i variant. This version will record 8.8 seconds for the sprint to 62mph and hit 130mph. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is offered with 184bhp in the 220i and 252bhp in the 230i. Diesel options include the 150bhp 218d, the 190bhp 220d and the 224bhp 225d. The 220d diesel offers a good combination of virtues, delivering a tall stack of torque, with 400Nm available from just 1,750rpm.
If you're of the belief that a BMW sounds best with six cylinders, you'll probably gravitate to the M240i Convertible. With 340bhp, this one has some senior performance credentials. If you specify it with the eight-speed automatic transmission, it'll get to 62mph in a mere 5.0 seconds. Press the Sport button and the steering weight up and the throttle response sharpen. Press the button once more and you'll find Sport+, which partially disengages the stability control and offers an even spikier throttle pedal.
As before, the electrically operated folding soft top lowers or raises in just 20 seconds at the touch of a button and can be carried out at speeds of just over 30mph. Once folded, the soft top disappears fully into the boot and luggage capacity is rated at a fairly generous 335-litres, making it the largest boot in its class. A through-loading system is optionally available to increase versatility.
Exterior updates to this revised version include piercing LED headlights that come as standard, complete with hallmark four corona ring LED daytime running lights. All models gain enlarged kidney grilles with a more prominent chrome surround. In addition, all standard range variants get LED front fog lights as standard and offer a re-designed front bumper with a smarter air-intake design. At the rear, smarter LED tail lights with redesigned LED light bars now feature, while 'Sport' models get a re-styled bumper with sculpted design and high-gloss black trim. As for the interior updates, well, there's a re-designed instrument panel, plus a smarter centre console with a sliding cup holder cover and pearl chrome accents. On M Sport and M240i models, the instrument cluster features a Black Optic display with 3D effect dials - an option with other variants in the line-up.
BMW's much-improved iDrive system features in the cabin and delivers the latest-generation iDrive software on the standard BMW Navigation and BMW Professional Navigation set-ups. The large 8.8-inch screen on the latter navigation system is also equipped with BMW Touch Control for the first time, offering drivers the choice of iDrive with Touch pad, voice control and touchscreen to interact with the system.
BMW couldn't really have delivered much more when briefed with turning 2 Series Coupe into a Convertible. Clearly there's only so much sleekness you can build into a four-seater drop-top that's only a few millimetres longer than a Ford Focus but the stylists have done a good job giving the car a coupe-like silhouette with the roof up. Roof-down, BMW's designers have given the car a clean deck and flanks that hold enough shape to prevent car looking dull and blocky.
What else? Well the small styling updates are welcome; the engine selection draws no complaints from us and the pricing looks to be fair. The class benchmark? That looks as if it may well be the case.Click here to find out more about our BMW 2 Series Convertible range
Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet
Let's face it, you don't buy a Volkswagen Beetle if practicality is at the top of your agenda, so why not go the whole hog and opt for a soft top? The improved third generation Beetle Cabriolet we look at here is strong on style and looks a really great ownership proposition. If you want to make a statement, the fashionable Dune version will be tempting.
Let's start with the roof, a beautifully tailored multi-layered piece of heavy duty fabric that at the press of a button rises up in 11 seconds, folds away in 9.5s and is operable at speeds of up to 31mph. That's in contrast to the similar soft-top fitted to the Golf Cabriolet that requires you to slow right down to 18mph before the electrics will work. Like all proper convertibles, you'll find it a bit blustery when driving al fresco unless you put the windows up, but with the optional wind deflector in place across the rear seats, things improve considerably.
As for engines, well they're all borrowed from the older MK6 model Golf - so in other words, a couple of generations more modern than those supplied in the previous generation version of this car. The most popular version has an eager 1.2-litre TSI petrol unit offering 105PS and capable of making 62mph in 10.9s en route to 112mph. If you've a little more in the budget though and wouldn't mind a little extra punch, then don't ignore the 160PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit, which manages 9.1s and 125mph and could very well be the prime pick in the range. There are also 110 and 150PS version of VW's familiar 2.0 TDI diesel powerplant. Around the bends, you notice that this generation Beetle Cabrio is an awful lot stiffer than much older versions, thanks to copious body strengthening across the floor and thicker A-pillars, which is why it won't judder about so much over the bumps. Most small soft-tops need vibration dampers to try and take care of that but this Beetle doesn't need them.
We'll start with the styling changes made to these lightly improved Cabriolet models; to be frank, they're not particularly significant. There are sharpened lines for the front bumpers, while larger openings around the indicator and fog light surrounds give extra depth to the car's appearance. Go for top 'R-Line' trim and there's a sportier bumper design. Go for the 'Dune' version and there's a 10mm ride height increase, with more rugged looks enhanced via 18-inch 'Mythos' alloy wheels, front and rear wheel arch extensions and bolder bumper designs.
Otherwise, things are much as before. One of the advantages of the way the fabric roof sits proud of the passenger compartment just above the integral rear spoiler is that it doesn't take up boot space, which is pretty reasonable for this class of car at 225-litres, enough (if you can negotiate the narrow loading bay) for a couple of small suitcases and about double what you'd get in an open-top Fiat 500 or MINI. If that's not enough, you can fold down the rear seatbacks using two neat levers, freeing up a lot more space.
That's assuming you're not using the back seats of course. Unlike many of its rivals in the small convertible sector, this car has a big enough cabin to comfortably take four adults - for short to medium journeys anyway, provided the occupants aren't excessively tall.
At the wheel, you're seated behind a traditional upright dashboard with a set of three traditional dials visible through a sporty three-spoke thin-rimmed wheel. Unfortunately, the plastics are traditional too, so no Golf-like soft-touch surfaces. Still, the quality seems good even if the Mexican factory doesn't seem to screw things together quite up to German-fabricated Golf standards. Interior updates with this improved model include brighter instrument panel lighting, plush smarter upholstery materials and revised dials and dash styling for the Design and R-Line models. Classic Beetle touches include the upwards-opening glovebox, natty elastic straps instead of door pockets and the optional auxiliary instruments you can specify to sit above the infotainment controls. You'll look in vain for the MK2 Beetle Cabriolet's dash-mounted flower vase though. Good.
Like the idea of a Beetle Cabriolet? Then you like this one very much indeed. If you don't, then nothing your local Volkswagen sales person will say about the efficient engines, the engaging driving experience and the better-than-average boot space is likely to convince you. Retro design is like that - which is why Volkswagen also offers a soft-top Golf for those who can't really see the point. That's arguably a more sensible choice, but then who ever bought a small convertible for sensible reasons?
A car like this is - and should be - an indulgence, a bit of fun. Exactly like soft-top Beetles always have been. And, after years of being viewed as a novelty car whose appeal had long worn off, this Volkswagen's back as a hot ticket in this segment. Will that last? Who knows? MINI has shown that retro styling can have durable appeal and this Beetle Cabriolet seems to have embraced its heritage a lot more cleverly than its predecessor. Perhaps the best part about this Bug though, is that even if the novelty does wear off, you're left with a very good car. And that's a very welcome Plan B.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet range
Audi A3 Cabriolet
Audi has revitalised its second generation A3 Cabriolet. There's a more advanced 2.0-litre petrol engine on offer, plus innovations like the Audi Smartphone interface and the clever 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument layout. All of this embellishing a classy, stylish and pretty practical basic package. You'd like one.
Engine-wise, many will want to avoid the entry-level unit (a 110PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel) in favour of the two powerplants that make up the heart of the range. The most obvious choice is the one most buyers will probably make, the 150PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel. And, sure enough, it's a very impressive engine, with eager pulling power delivering the rest to 62mph sprint in 8.9s en route to a 139mph maximum that ought to be enough for anyone. Personally though, if we were buying this car, we'd take the other mainstream option, a 150PS version of the 1.5 TFSI petrol unit with clever CoD, or 'Cylinder on Demand' technology. It's almost as efficient as the diesel, significantly quieter (especially of course with the roof down) and just as quick (62mph from rest takes 8.9s en route to 137mph).
We're not sure we'd really want to go much faster than that in this car, but Audi centres are ready and willing to oblige those with a further need for speed. Diesel folk prepared to special quattro 4WD and tronic auto transmission get a pokier 184PS version of the 2.0 TDI unit. While those preferring petrol have the further option of an all-new 190PS 2.0-litre TFSI powerplant, the engine you have to have if you're looking for a mainstream petrol-powered A3 Cabriolet with the option of quattro 4WD. This variant also gets a slicker 7-speed S tronic auto transmission set-up than diesel drivers can have and with this fitted, 62mph is just 7.3s away en route to 155mph. The same system is also an option on the ritziest version of this car you can buy, the potent S3 flagship model, which mates quattro 4WD to an uprated 310PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo engine able to power you to 62mph in a fraction over 5s. Toupees will very definitely need to be firmly tied down.
Built on a modified version of the A3 Saloon's chassis, the A3 Cabriolet lost its somewhat dumpy, pram-like styling when re-launched in second generation form. Exterior changes to this revised version are slight but the front looks a little more purposeful, courtesy of sharper lines for the familiar and now broader Single frame grille. The headlights are flatter, with distinctive outer contours and can now be ordered in Matrix LED form, so they are significantly brighter and constantly adapt themselves to avoid dazzling other road users, plus of course they never need to be dipped. Equally subtle changes at the rear aim to accentuate the width of this car - with the horizontal illuminated graphics of the rear lights and the separation edge above the redesigned diffuser.
Inside, the 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display used in the TT and other pricier Audis is now available in this one as an option. This displays the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a 12.3-inch diagonal TFT screen. The driver can switch between two views by pressing the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel. In addition, the menu structure that works the centre dash MMI infotainment screen has been redesigned and is now more intuitive.
As before, the soft fabric roof is stretched over a magnesium-steel 'skeleton'. The opens or closes electro-hydraulically in less than 18 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. When retracted, the top - folded into three layers - rests in a tray that barely affects luggage capacity, which is 287-litres (10.14 cubic ft). There's a proper glass rear window and the roof can be specified in black, grey and brown - while the inner liner is available in black or lunar silver.
This A3 Cabriolet remains an elegant thing and a strong ownership proposition. Of course, it's always possible to spoil things. Adding big wheels and firmer suspension options that spoil the ride quality. Doing without the excellent acoustic roof that makes this car so refined. Loading the car with pricey extras that won't pay for themselves come resale time. But all of these things are in your hands. Audi's job was to provide the market's most desirable compact convertible and it's a task that's been completed with consummate skill.
Provided you don't enter the purchasing process with unrealistic expectations that this model will be mainstream brand-affordable - or some sort of sportscar - it's hard to see how you could be disappointed by what's on offer here. The A3 Cabriolet has matured - got a little more Vorsprung durch Technik. And the compact convertible class has a strong benchmark.Click here to find out more about our Audi A3 Cabriolet range