BMW 128i Convertible Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
Who hasn't heard of the old adage, “Good things come in small packages.” Take Snooki of Jersey Shore fame perhaps. All four feet nine inches of her tiny height has sure been very good for cable TV during the last year or so. A lotta naughty. A lotta flaunting. A bit of super sweet nice. She's copped the over-the-top vamp spot from wee Salma Hayek , Hilary Duff and Eva Longoria (all 5'2”) and commands more celebrity interviews than rapper Lil' Kim (also 4 foot nine). We won't state that BMW's miniscule 128i Convertible for 2012 flaunts it. But is there any true convertible auto that doesn't?
An answer to that question should be answered by the first glance at the BMW 128i in top-down mode. It has a trim, petite shape that bears all the proper planes and curves a sexy sports car should have and an ability to get close up and personal with a staunch Teutonic badging without needing a degree in advanced engineering to appreciate it.
Yes, this BMW might be a bit under the radar for some folks more attuned to M6 gusto and who can't imagine the revered BMW name attached to something considered more an entry level sports car. We're not suggesting this is the ultimate driver's car, as at home tearing around a track every weekend as cruising along an oceanside drive at sunset. And we're not comparing its brawn to some of the other heartbreakers we've featured here. But this is a BMW, and that stands for everything the name implies, and that includes point and shoot accuracy with its handling that doesn't disappoint for an instant. Even as a pint-sized package, it has the same legacy its bolder, bawdier siblings bring to the playground. It's just a bit more demure about it. We can relate to that. Not every auto out there needs to peel the roof off a competitor through brute force every time the accelerator pedal is pressed. Sometimes a gentle nudge does the job.
At Road & Travel, we think the 128i nudges very well. Consider why. Gusto comes from BMW's 3.0-liter inline six that produces 230 horsepower while it generates 200 lb-ft of torque for launch power. That kind of authority, from the lightweight aluminum/magnesium engine construction and suspension treatment lends the same kind of agile strength a diminutive gymnastics competitor would bring to an international sporting contest. (Its big sister 135i version, with 300-hp and 300 torque surging from its 3.0-liter six, has a special 7-speed double clutch transmission option, adding speedy legs to its sprint capability for a 0 to 60 capability in a sparse 5.3 seconds. The 128i version can race to that speed from a dead stop in 6.4 seconds with the standard six-speed manual transmission, or as nearly as respectable 7 seconds with optional six-speed Steptronic automatic. (Figure about 18/28 MPG with the manual when you're not standing on the accelerator full time.) Another safety and performance feature is the 128i's electronic rear brake management that helps maintain best grip when there's low road traction. And we promised not to get techy.)
For the performance-oriented driver, the 128i retains the available M sport package with enhanced sports suspension, improved down force at higher speeds and a higher limit on top speeds. (Sometimes techy is good.)
The 128i brings some special treats to its appearance. While sporting only a soft top to transition to top down (a 22-second operation), it's the only BMW convertible that can add a shiny metallic Moonlight Black top to set off such trendy exterior colors as Cashmere Silver Metallic. An integrated rear spoiler trims the short rear deck for a haunchier look while solidifying handling. Special tail lamp lighting gives a distinctive BMW ID after dark, while two-stage adaptive brake lights enhance safety. The lights act in response to brake pressure and alert the driver behind to pay closer attention. Headlamp “cornering” lights enhance night time driving, while light rings glow as daytime running lights. And climate control adapts to open air driving to keep comfort at desired levels. For those opting for BMW's lush Boston leather interior, it's treated to diminish the overheating effects of hot summer sun thanks to BMW's Sun Reflective Technology. And communications and audio systems are enhanced. Among capabilities: a caller's photo can be displayed when a phone rings.
As with Snooki who reportedly commands a healthy $150,000 per Jersey Shore episode, downsizing in a BMW doesn't necessarily mean budgetizing. But a $37k base for something this heady? If you go for the 128i after all, you still are a buying a taste of the legendary marquee that in the past few decades has established a whole American driving subculture -- and “slanguage “ -- of its own. Is anything with more syllables than “Bimmer” necessary to say these days?
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