Updated: September 30, 2019
To roof or not to roof. This is a question than many Cabriolet drivers had faced since the dawn of the, eh, cabriolet. It's not something I had to contend with until very recently, when I finally got a chance to drive a BMW 218d Cabriolet, with two doors, M Sport kit and signature Estoril Blue paint, and some black canvas for the roof.
I had the car for two days and about 550 km of driving, including open highways, jammed urban traffic, but also some nice twisty roads in the hills and mountains, which gave me an opportunity to test the vehicle's dynamics in all three dimensions. The weather was favorable too, so there's that. Follow me.
This was a rather interesting model. The car comes equipped with a four-cylinder turbo-charged 2.0-liter diesel, with 150 HP and 320 Nm of torque, somewhat similar to the engine I had in the VW Passat test. But instead of a six-speed manual gearbox, there was the eight-speed auto. With a rear-wheel drive and favorable wind, you can accelerate the 218d from 0-100 km/h in 8.2 seconds, which is a rather respectable figure for a diesel. The top speed is about 212 km/h.
The M Sport kit also makes the difference - we've seen this with BMW 330d, which I tested a few years ago. The visual profile is more aggressive, you get sculpted seats, the steering wheel is classic three-spoke, and there's a nice blue accent line across the dashboard. The car was also equipped with climate control (separate knobs for the driver and the passenger), park sensors, nice ambient lighting, hexagon cloth/alcantara seats, double-spoke 18-inch alloys and run-flat 245/35 R18 tires. Oh, you also get a nice, manual handbrake. A real one!
Like most German cars, BMW comes with a recognizable style that spans all models. BMW 2-series is a pretty nice one, sort of squat, stubby 4-series. The convertible lacks some of the robustness of the hard-top model, and the black canvas makes it look smaller and less sturdy than it is. However, the M Sport kit helps quite a bit in this domain, adding just the right dose of aggressiveness.
With the roof down, it's a different picture [sic]. The 218d looks classy, relaxed. I think white leather, the kind we witnessed in the 330d review, would work even better, but the dark-gray cloth isn't bad, creating a sense of reserved sporty drama. There's a single chrome exhaust pipe in the back. We all know, the more the merrier, but then, this is still just a respectable, mid-range diesel.
Quintessentially BMW, which means predictable, precise and fun. The driving position is excellent, cozy and snug, with the sporty seat offering great lumbar support. The model did not have electric seats, but you still get all the buttons that let you adjust your seating in six or eight dimensions. The one annoying bit is that the back rest inclination is not done using a cog but rather a spring lever, and I've never ever liked that. The seat were comfortable, and even after roughly five hours of continuous driving in one day, I was feeling fresh.
While there was plenty of room in the front, there wasn't that much in the back. As it happens, I also had a chance to be driven around in a 1-series hatchback with the same people around the same time, and there was no issue of legroom there. The 220d had a smaller - or rather shorter - interior. It has to be the combination of its coupe profile and the presence of the roof mechanism. The end result was a rather tight and slightly uncomfortable fit for a 190cm male and a 168cm female sitting one behind the other. Side by side, two people can fit, but the legroom issue remains. Ideally, you will use the rear seats for luggage, children - unlikely to be accounted for in the typical 220d demographic, or people you don't like. It's a 2+2 seater.
This becomes even more evident when you realize the boot compartment is fairly small, only 280 liters. To collapse the roof, you actually have to extend a cloth flap inside, so the folded roof canvas can fit it, which further reduces the available volume, especially height wise. This wasn't instantly intuitive, so I spent a few minutes fumbling around, trying to locate the flap.
I only used the roof mechanism while stationary (I don't know if one should try it while driving), and the full sequence took about 30 seconds. Once the roof is stowed, you can put an anti-wind netting behind the front pair seats, but that completely blocks the rear bench, so the car becomes a two-seater in this configuration.
On top of the trim details I've already mentioned, the car had a basic 6.5-inch infotainment, without navigation, plus six speakers. I was able to pair a couple of different Android phones via Bluetooth without any problems. The A/C did its job well, and it was never too dry, or too biting as some systems are wont to do. With the roof down, you can still enjoy mechanically produced cooled (or heated) air.
The overall experience was just as I expected. Sharp, tight, enjoyable. The 2.0-liter diesel has a solid pull, but it is not a sport engine, nor is this a proper sport car. It has some sporty traits, but overall, you need more grunt and more torque if you want WARP speed.
Now, you can change the car's response by using the Driving Experience Control button, which allows you to go from rather tardy ECO PRO to COMFORT (default) to briskly SPORT and then even SPORT+. In turn, the car alters the steering precision and stiffness, the engine behavior and throttle response. Typically, flicking into the SPORT mode means a gear shift down, plus the car will hold gears for longer. Alas, you don't get the paddle shifters like the 330d.
Driving in COMFORT was all right, but I soon shifted to SPORT and kept it there. The acceleration is good, but the gearbox is a bit frenetic - too many cogs for an engine that isn't elastic enough. I had a somewhat similar experience with the Volvo XC60. On the other hand, in the 330d, the eight-speed auto does phenomenal work, but then, the inline-six also has almost twice as much torque, and you can feel this.
The engine sound is a bit tractor-like, especially in low-revs. The 220d responds best if you don't force it, and it holds nicely in the mid-range. Overall though, I kept going back to its bigger 3.0-liter brother and comparing. The larger saloon has an almost instant kick, there's virtually no latency when you're accelerating, and when you floor it, you get that spaceship feel. The 220d works well, but you are aware of the limitations. I think the manual gearbox is a better idea for this particular drivetrain combo.
The grip was pretty good, thanks to the M suspension, but in very tight corners, you can feel some body roll, even in the more dynamic setting. However, you always know where the front is going, and the steering is phenomenal. If you're not in a hurry, you can cruise elegantly at any speed you like. You get stable, linear response anywhere between 80-130 km/h. By default, the car also beeps if you exceed the max. allowed highway limit by 4 km/h.
The wind noise is higher than in metal-shell cars, so the canvas is really for people who likes this kind of thing, or they live in a seaside town where they are expected to spend a lot of time driving slowly and showing off in front of their neighbors. Moreover, above 70 km/h, the wind also becomes somewhat unpleasant with the roof down. The whole Cabriolet experience is more about glamor than practicality.
All in all, if you want a sporty diesel, you need more than the 150HP 2.0-liter engine. If you want a respectable and fuel-efficient car, this is more than enough. Speaking of efficiency, with three adults with a combined mass of about 260 kg (before lunch), almost constant use of aircon, SPORT mode, aggressive acceleration, and mixed driving cycle, the thirst rate stands at about 6.5 liters/100 km. That's quite all right.
I did struggle figuring out the roof mechanism, but we talked about that. Other than that, there were no real issues with the car. Solid and dependable.
BMW 218d Cabriolet is a very nice car. Wait, let me rephrase this. BMW 218d is a nice car. The optional removable-roof model does add some charm, but it also adds complexity, like the reduced boot volume, the extra noise, and the wind factor, which counter somewhat the Saint Tropez glamor. I've had a chance to appraise a few cabriolet here and there (without driving them), including some high-end vehicles, and almost always, they would come with a black roof that darkens the interior, and there's a sense of closeness if not outright claustrophobia as a result. BMW 218d share some of that, so unless you plan on leisurely trips in places with lots of sun, this particular model makes less sense than a car with a wholly metal shell.
Other than the roof factor, it was pretty good. Delightful styling, comfortable interior, the supple steering wheel and the handbrake, the good driving dynamics despite the somewhat rattly aurals, decent speed and economy. The gearbox is somewhat frenetic, and it's better suited to bigger, torqueier engines. The 218d is not a racer, it favors midrange gaiety to unbridled fun. After all, you need to remember this is a two-liter diesel, and it still has enough grunt to keep up with many patrol-slurping family hatchbacks and saloons. But it could be a bit livelier, a bit sharper. All in all, 8.5/10. And we're done.