What is it?
We’ve already driven the range-topping BMW 435i convertible, now it’s the turn of the car which will make most of the volume - the 420d. Aside from the engine, this is much the same car; a lower, longer and wider prospect than the model it replaces, and one that continues to sport a retractable metal hard-top roof.
From launch, the familiar 181bhp 2.0-litre unit will be the only diesel engine available with the convertible, and its frugality affords the car 55.4mpg economy and 133g/km CO2 emissions in conjunction with the six-speed manual gearbox. Select BMW’s eight-speed automatic, and they improve to 58.9mpg and 127g/km.
There are five trim levels to choose from, starting with the SE sampled here (although not on UK roads). The mechanics of a life cycle change means the 420d ends up with more standard kit than its predecessor - including the current 3 Series’s large infotainment screen, iDrive controller, Drive Performance Control, 17-inch alloy wheels and heated front seats.
The price difference is a modest £495. But that still sees the model start at £36,675 - almost £2500 more than the equivalent Audi A5 cabriolet 2.0 TDI SE. The example tested also featured a number of options - BMW’s Professional media system, 18-inch wheels, adaptive suspension - hiking its final total to £43,850.
What's it like?
Much like the 435i - hardly short on quality, but overall a disappointment. The blame for this is not difficult to spread around. The bulk of it, appropriately and inevitably, must be placed on the vast, mechanism-festooned roof which barely fits in the boot and weighs the dynamic equivalent of a planet.
Watching it slowly unfold from its overstuffed hiding place, a lengthy, 20-second process which plays out with with all the irksome methodicalness of an elderly scout leader opening a map, one wonders why BMW insisted on persevering with the three-piece tin-top.
Its benefits are negligible - under it, the 420d is no more refined than a contemporary fabric roof - and the penalty unavoidable.
The 320d SE weighs 1495kg. The 420d SE weighs 1755kg. That extra burden is not easily hidden. The 435i buries it under 302bhp of straight-six concealer; the 420d, even with a healthy 280lb ft of torque available, is less able to do the same - especially when the four-cylinder engine’s well-known shortfall in refinement is taken into account.
However, the vocal, gearknob-rattling motor is at least game; the suspension tune is not.
BMW’s engineers have certainly beavered away underneath to shoulder the strain - ultra-stiff control arms and axle subframes have been slightly repositioned, pivot points adjusted, the camber angle and roll centre fine-tuned - but even in the most aggressive of its four modes (Sport+), the conspicuously doughy result never settles into quick progress like the 3 Series.
Clearly, a more benign, agreeably cushioned car was the intention here, and driven in a manner more befitting a mobile sun lounger, the 420d is at least comfortable.