One of the finest-handling four seat cabrios available, but not as much of a driver's car as the Coupe

What is it?

It’s a new, compact, four-seat cabriolet from BMW – the first premium compact cabrio, BMW claims – and anyone who likes driving will find the it very easy to like. That’s because the 1-series Convertible is a much more enjoyable driver’s car than a VW Eos or a Volvo C70, and it’s likely to be a better steer than the new Audi A3 Cabrio too. And that’s about the size of the fledgling compact four-seater cabrio class, neatly enough.

What’s it like?

The range begins with the £22,325 118i ES and ends with the £32,405 135i M Sport. All models should be available from the car’s April UK on sale date; our test car was a £26,195, 215bhp 125i SE.

This middle-sitting option uses BMW’s 3.0-litre straight six, which dominates the 125i’s driving experience like only a BMW six can. Instantaneous throttle response, creamy linearity of power delivery and an unburstable mid-range are its hallmarks, and it makes this little open-top feel both desirable and expensive.

The car’s cloth hood goes from folded to unfurled in 22sec. In place it allows a little more wind rustle into the cabin at motorway speeds than a folding metal roof would, and it’s a minor hindrance to over-shoulder visibility, but it’s light and easy to package, leaving the 1-series with a pretty profile with the roof down, and a respectable 305-litre boot.

Interior accommodation is pretty good. There’s enough legroom in the cabin for medium sized adults to sit line astern, although shoulder room in the back is limited.

And driving the 125i is, without question, an enjoyable exercise. This car weighs over 1600kg, so the engine’s 215bhp never feels all-that-generous, but it does have a pleasingly neutral handling balance, strong levels of grip, and feels much more agile and entertaining than most small four-seater cabrios.

It’s a good car then; the problem is that it just isn’t the driver’s car that the 1-series Coupe is. Couldn’t be: Munich had to sacrifice body rigidity to make it, and so it isn’t as stiff, doesn’t turn in to corners as crisply, doesn’t ride bumps as imperviously – just isn’t as quick or as nimble.

Should I buy one?

If you think that it’s worth sacrificing a few of the fundamentals of a fine driver’s car for one in which you can sunbathe, go ahead; you’ll be buying one of the finest-handling four-seat cabrios on the market at any price.

But, if you like driving, you’ll also be buying the wrong 1-series. Just as Porsche did with its 911 and Nissan with its 350Z, BMW has taken one of its greatest driver’s cars and, for us, only really reduced its core appeal for the sake of a little more sun.

If you do buy one, just don’t test drive the Coupe beforehand: that way you won’t know what you’re missing.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
Vidge 123 6 October 2011

Re: BMW 125i Convertible

toptidy wrote:

Never could understand the M3 or previous-gen Z4M convertibles - probably most were autos or SMG anyway, so an auto 3.0-litre version would probably have suited most owners better.

I currently have a Z4 3.0 and although i love it i am very tempted to buy an M version as i want that engine!! i accept that if were to go racing i would be better with a hardtop, but i just love having the top down, and want that power and engine noise, the same applys to things like the M3 convertable, yes its a bit softer than the Coupe, but the noise you get with top down is magnificent and really adds to the experience

Maxycat 6 October 2011

Re: BMW 125i Convertible

Overdrive wrote:
I've always thought going for convertibles in the UK is rather pointless, given the usual weather.
The UK buys more drop tops than sunny countries because we value the odd sunny day unlike Southern Europeans who tend to hide from the sun.

Maxycat 6 October 2011

Re: BMW 125i Convertible

oaffie wrote:
If I want to get open top motoring I'll go out on my motorbike which is also ludicrously fast - and luckily I'm young fit and healthy so don't look ridiculous in my leather romper suit unlike most bikers.

But you make yourself look ridiculous by your comments instead.