Agile and surprisingly roomy, but hard to justify over the diesel model

What is it?

It’s the cheaper, four-pot petrol version of BMW’s smallest cabrio, the 120i Convertible.

We drove this car’s six-cylinder cousin, the blue-and-white propeller’s 125i drop-top, back in January, and it attracted an impressive four star verdict.

That car had Munich’s award-winning magnesium 3.0-litre petrol six under the bonnet though; now we find out if it stands out as clearly with a lesser 2.0-litre petrol four-pot doing the donkey work.

What’s it like?

Our first steer in a 120i Convertible is also our first chance to try one in right-hand drive form. Moving the car’s primary controls to the right has brought no compromises to the position of the steering wheel or pedals.

BMW has even moved the handbrake from left to right: less fastidious continental manufacturers should follow its lead.

The 120i Convertible’s Hams Hall-built petrol four-pot serves up 168bhp and 155lb ft of twist – outputs which the car’s 1.5-tonnes smother to a noticeable extent. The engine likes to be revved, and does its best work between 4000- and 7000rpm; below 4000rpm it’s a little lacking in potency.

Still, the 120i driver can maintain a decent pace, and can even take advantage of the car’s rear-wheel drive layout now and again. You just have to work that little bit harder for your fun.

Our second drive in a 1-series ragtop gave us another look at this car’s cabin, and although the majority of its passenger-facing surfaces feel solid to the touch, one of the 1-series’ long-standing bugbears recurred in the shape of some cheap-feeling plastics under the steering column.

BMW claims to have sorted this quality issue once; frankly, from the maker of the E90 3-series and the new X5, you expect better.

Should I buy one?

Yes – if you’re either mad or allergic to diesel fuel. Because for all its agility, compactness, surprising roominess and zest, what should stop people from buying a 120i Convertible isn’t a few flimsy plastics; it’s the existence of its more powerful, more economical, quicker, and only marginally more expensive four-cylinder range mate: the 120d Convertible.

With the car market now used to the idea of a diesel drop-top, wouldn’t you have to be mad to shun the 175bhp, 55mpg option in BMW’s smallest drop-top range for the 168bhp, 43mpg model – particularly when it’s only £805 more expensive, and probably no less refined?

Diesels are often hard to turn down when they’re marginally less powerful than the equivalent petrol option; this one’s a no-brainer.

We’ll wait to confirm it for definite once we’ve driven BMW’s smallest diesel cabrio. However, knowing how good its four-cylinder oil-burner is, we’d advise against backing the 120i as Munich biggest-selling little cabrio.

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tommallett 15 March 2008

Re: BMW 120i Convertible

Having seen both cars in the metal the 1 series is far prettier than the a3 cab, and is far better to drive in my humble opinion. Personally i don't mind diesels and find the the 2.0 petrol pretty seriously gutless in comparison. The 4 pots are better i'd say.

Anonymous 15 March 2008

Re: BMW 120i Convertible

I don't move in BMW circles so I'm probably not qualified to comment but hey, let me say in my bigoted way that if I drive a diesel I can't bear to put down the window let alone the roof; all that clatter and smoke. And only poseurs drive convertibles. And most BMW drivers don't appreciate their commitment to engineering excellence (which frankly most non-petrolheads would dismiss as nerdish). So what we have here is Autocar recommending car for badge obsessed and vain motoring ignoramuses too tight or joyless to buy a petrol engine. Wonderful.

Note to self: don't post while drunk.

yankee2 31 August 2017

BMW convertibles

For one thing, modern diesels don't smoke, much, though they do still clatter a bit. I also tend to think convertibles are a bit frivolous. I had a Mazda Miata (MX-5 to you I think) once (for 11 years), and after a while, the top-down experience lost its charm, even in Southern California. So recently, when the time came for me to get another drivers' car, I decided I liked the BMW 1-series. I wanted a small Bimmer, in part because I didn't want to feel like I was showing off too much, and partly because I wanted a small, personal car, like the BMW 2002 used to be. So I bought a 2013 BMW 128i coupe (available in Europe?), which is one of exactly 2 1-series BMWs available in the US, the other being the turbocharged, blisteringly fast 135i. Both were available here as either a coupe or a convertible. I shouldn't complain, because these are after all the fastest of the lot, but I do regret the fact that the cheaper, smaller-engine versions, as well as the hatchback are not availabl heree. Did I mention I didn't want to show off? I could have been perfectly happy with one of those...