Fifty shades of grey may be a box-office phenomenon this weekend, but at BMW, it's business as usual. Ever see a Bavarian brochure without some halftone hue? Or five of them? If grey could be anthropomorphized, it'd be the brand mascot.
Somehow BMW manages to conjure grey outside of showrooms, too. Even in usually sunny Austin, they've brought with them a pallid sky as a backdrop for a fleet of silver-on-silver droptop 2-Series convertibles. There's a reason you don't see those photos here: it all blended together, and the cars vampired out on us. Sucks, we know.
We took it as a blessing and maybe a clever mind trick by BMW's event-planning Jedi. The anonymity gave us cover to scour Texas' flat planes outside the Circuit of the Americas F1 track in a fleet of 228i convertibles, up to triple-digit speeds, arousing the attention only of a longhorn staring down our leather seats with genealogical curiosity.
What we realized is no matter which BMW passenger car you're driving--even this one, which could be damned with faint praise as a German Sebring, as a Playskool-flavored My First BMW--there's still a warm mechanical vim, an engineering affluence, that transcends the rental fleet of four-seater convertibles.
Given our druthers--it's Texas, indulge us in some local color--we'd even swap a 3-Series for something as spiritually attuned to the road as the 2-Series. It's righteously sized, equipped with the road manners we used to crow about in the more legendary E30 3-Series, and as a convertible, it's a ruffle-free zone. It's also priced under $40,000 base, something exceedingly rare on anything else wearing this logo.
So, despite being told by our hosts, "Don't drive, as we say, with a knife in your mouth," we went on a quest for the far reach of the tach and speedo. (A knife? Hi, have you been to America? We're not even allowed to run with scissors.) And we attempted to answer some obvious softball questions: Is it as fun to flog as bigger BMWs? Or even a hardtop 2-Series?
Aside from the soft top, the 228i is essentially identical to its coupe cousin. It's a pretty car, with the stubby nub of the old 1-Series massaged out with a little extra length in the sideview. It's longer and wider, and that pays off with more interior space, but it's mostly at work giving the 1-Series a more lithe look. The hood lays out the case with classic long-nose, stubby-tail proportions. The convertible top latches into place with a keen slope. A deep stamp in the door panels directs the eye up and out toward the taillamps. The cues we'd leave off the 2-Series plate? The air intakes are big like the ones on the latest BMWs, and bigger as they are than the headlights, they compete for attention with the BMW grille. And no BMW owner wants you to see anything but those twin kidneys when you check your six.
Sport Line cars like ours have their own 18-inch wheel designs, snappier than the base wheels, along with other interior trim a cut above base. On uprated M235i convertibles (not at our drive), there's an aero body kit affixed to the ends and sills.
Absent as well here are any all-wheel-drive cars, though it's an option across the 2-Series lineup, and no manual transmissions either--the six-speed is limited to the 320-hp M235i.
Those M235i convertibles were missed, but the 2-Series Convertible isn't dishwater when it's saddled up with the base turbo four. The 228i rates 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Zero to 60 mph acceleration occurs in just 5.7 seconds. It's the best fit for this engine across all of BMW's lineup, in power to weight terms, and in the open-air appreciation for its mechanical noises. The Muzak BMW pipes into bigger hardtops isn't here, and there's a pleasant throwback quality to the E30 when this four-cylinder winds toward redline.
An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment, and it's intertwined with Driving Dynamics Control, with its four driving modes. We dial past Eco Pro, Comfort, and stop at Sport, with Sport+ still left in the bank in case we find a road with more than a few degrees of directional or camber change.