BMW M235iBMW_435i_Convertible

We want to give the reader fair warning before we get into the review. This is not a “test drive” so much as a “I looked at it up close, sat in it and took it for a short spin” article.

Sorry to all the BMW fanboys, there won’t be much in this about squealing tyres and blazing around Vegas like a lunatic. You can blame the Nevada cops, who seemed to be all over our test route for “our protection” or you can blame BMW for picking such a place to test a car which has 302 horses under the hood.

But we guess the silver lining is that Shannon Teoh could spend his time concentrating on the other aspects of the 435i Convertible and find out how it fares in the world of open-top driving. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind after the jump.

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For some reason, BMW loves to showcase its entry-level four-seater droptops in the American winter. Nearly exactly seven years ago, keys to the E93 3-Series Convertible were dropped into journalists hands in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I was (un)fortunate enough to arrive during the only snow in the launch period.

Seeing as our route this time through the Nevada desert was via the Valley of Fire State Park, there was aptly, no snow or treacherous black ice on the road.

Perhaps a shame, as ironically, it was a completely unfiery, sedate, vacation-style drive and gave us little chance to test the driving dynamics of the car.

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But if the 4 Convertible is anything like the 4 Coupe (the two-door cousins of the 3-series were developed in parallel) released last July, then I’ll guess that it can handle any punishment you throw at it just fine.

But just like it’s predecessor, the 3 Convertible, this doesn’t seem to be the point. Sure, there’s 40 percent more torsional rigidity than in the droptop 3, but once you see where the new features are heading, you’ll realise, while this is still about driving pleasure, it’s less about dynamics and more about ease.

“It’s the first BMW car with a neckwarmer option,” BMW said of the nifty vents under the headrest, which provided some comfort against the chilly winds when the hardtop roof was down.

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“It allows for carrying surf or wakeboards,” BMW said of the rather cavernous 370-litre boot for a convertible and how the rear bench combines with it for a flat and level storage area.

But perhaps the feature that most makes you want to keep the top down as often as possible is the electro-hydraulic loading assistance system which pivots and positions the folded three-piece hardtop in the boot to allow maximum access to the 220 litres available when the top is stowed away.

While it does little for the cabin experience, it’s just one of those nifty things that makes a car special. And in this sense, BMW has got its finger on what it means to want a convertible.

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There are other special things, such as the mentioned neckwarmer that blows three levels of hot air of your choice, nearly eerie low noise levels once the top is up along practically none of that customary juddering you get from a droptop. The cowl shake, however, does come in and say hello once in awhile when the top is down.

BMW says the main consideration in the design was efficiency, and you can tangibly feel this, from the big stuff like its 20 kg weight loss to the drag coefficient of just 0.33 with the top down.

More impressive is how the top can be lowered while the vehicle is moving at up to 18 km/h, all done in 20 seconds, or two faster than the 3 Convertible.

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It’s also efficient with fuel, of course, the 335i drinking just 7.5 litres per 100 km, thanks in part to the lower weight, but also other innovations. Some have existed for awhile such as the Auto Start Stop and Brake Energy Regeneration.

But the 4 Convertible also packs in some of BMW’s newer fuel-saving technologies like a coasting mode which decouples the powertrain as soon as the driver backs off the accelerator at speeds between 50 and 160 km/h.

It also controls on-demand power for ancillary units and has an innovative Proactive Driving Assistant that tells the driver when to ease off the accelerator when approaching corners and speed-restricted zones.

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All these are part of the ECO PRO mode (as opposed to the Sport+) is said to give up to 20 percent better fuel consumption which for the 420d, the most efficient of the lot, is just 4.8 litres per 100 km.

These cars, are of course, also fast, ranging from 5.5 to 6.4 to 8.2 seconds in the century sprint for the 435i, 428i and 420d respectively.

But then you think, wait a minute, these are not nearly as fast as the Coupes – about 0.3 seconds slower in the 0-100 for the 435i variant. It is half a second faster than the outgoing 335i Convertible, but altogether, it doesn’t keep pace with say, the M235i that was introduced simultaneously (doing the ton in a prodigious 4.8 seconds).

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And you can sense tangibly the 435i is not as agile as either the 4 or 2 Coupes, both in the straight line and in the bends. After all, it gains nothing in power from its predecessor whereas the M235i has added a few ponies.

But this somehow seems right. The car does not look or feel like a performance monster, but a confident car for those countryside cruises.

And it’s in the looks department where the Convertible does beat the Coupe, which doesn’t seem to take on the design cues for the platform as handsomely as the sumptuous 3 Sedan does.

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Where the Coupe shape (and by default the Convertible with its top up) seems overly stylish and more befitting a sportscar brand than the elegance that BMW usually tries to achieve, the topless Convertible is slightly more geometric, less about lines and more about proportions. The droptop is, as expected, lower and wider than the outgoing 3 Convertible.

It’s extended by 26 mm with a wheelbase that has grown by a satisfying 50 mm and, with four and eight centrimetres of wider track in the front and back respectively, this gives the 4 Convertible a kind of elegant athleticism. Think Zidane rather than Ronaldo.

If you can recall the 3 Convertible, it was already quite an elegant option in the kitschy world of open-top driving, but the 4 pushes the fashion buttons a bit further, with shorter overhangs and the set-back passenger compartment accenting the silhouette of a car ready to take you on a long drive in scenic environs.

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Existing design highlights on the 4-series does sit well with the Convertible as well, such as the twin headlights, aerodynamic apertures for the “Air Curtains” at the edges of the air intakes and just behind the front wheels are “Air Breathers” designed to reduce drag around the wheel arches. The language continues around the rear with the pleasing L-shaped tail lights that accentuate the wider track.

The cabin is also well-appointed and is a happy place to be in. BMW likes to call it a “boat deck” and it does feel that BMW has slowly come to a good balance ever since introducing its iDrive system all those years ago.

There are fewer buttons on the dash but plenty on the steering wheel, which makes sense when you have a central system like the iDrive. The infotainment screen is also huge and very readable when using the sat-nav, even when a third of it is split away to display a different function.

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So, lighter, more space, better features, better ride and quite the looker. Surely, anyone who considered the old 3 Convertible must now consider the 4. Indeed, this is true.

But it appears the appeal of open-sky driving seems to be shrinking all the time, according to sales figures in America anyway. Perhaps the 4 might be the car to save the future of the Convertible. It’s a car that brings closed-roof practicality to the slightly insane world of cabriolets.

With the 435i Coupe M Sport going for over RM525,000, expect the equivalent Convertible to hit over RM550,000. But you know, why do you need all that poke anyway? A RM400,000 428i droptop might make more sense.

But only just.