It wasn’t all that long ago when BMW supplied the world’s most famous secret agent with his indestructible (yet often ultimately destroyed) company cars. The remote controlled 7-Series in Tomorrow Never Dies; The flashy little Z3 roadster in Goldeneye; and who could forget the stunning Z8 which met an untimely end in The World is Not Enough? Okay, that was one of the more forgettable Bond films. The one in which our indefatigable hero was strapped to an ornate wooden torture chair and made to suffer all kinds of undignified discomfort at the hands of the beguiling Electra King. Having spent a little time driving the 220d Convertible, I know how he must have felt.
There is something zeitgeisty about the BMW 2-Series just now. If I had any financial savvy, I’d be trying to get my hands on an M2 coupe and locking it away in storage for 30 years. But I’ll not be pursuing the 220d Convertible any time soon. At least not until my chiropractor is satisfied with my recovery from this road test.
Don’t get me wrong, BMW have built a fantastic little car and fitted it with a nice little four-cylinder engine that sufficiently balances decent performance, with decent economy. Once the turbo-lag has passed, the punchy acceleration feels faster than its official 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds, and returning over 60 mpg is not bad for a performance brand. The low CO2 emissions (117g/km) should make it easier on the pocket, but in the big cities which are about to start hammering diesel owners, it’s less clear how much it will hurt to choose this engine, over its higher performance petrol siblings.
The looks don’t hurt either. In this dark grey colour it adopts the moody presence more akin to that of its big brother, the 4-Series (above). It also suits the fabric roof, which is a tough ask for a small four-seat convertible. The car is simply too compact for a folding hard top to make any sense. Sitting into the car for the first time you’ll hear the outside ambient noise and wonder if there’s a window open, but on the move, I was impressed by how little road and wind noise entered the cabin. It might not be as quirky as a Mini Convertible, and I’d be hard pressed to call it a sports car, but for a small prestige car, it has a mature sense of class that would imply you were having fun, rather than screaming “Hey, look at me!” everywhere it goes.
Only, I didn’t have any fun in this car, at all. Not a bit. The model I had was kitted out in M-Sport trim, which includes big wheels, lots of M-Badges and leather seats. I was impressed with the way the larger alloys didn’t compromise the ride as much as they do on most cars, but the subtle M-Badges just seem to be a way of saying, “My BMW is an M-car. No really. See? …an M badge. Right there, look.”
It is not an M-car.
But my problem with this car was not the lack of hoonability normally associated with the high performance M2s and M4’s etc. Like most BMW’s, the front engine, rear wheel drive lay-out is a recipe for donuts and drifting, but I didn’t get to that part. I spent the entire time trying to get comfortable in the driving seat. After just three-and a half hours with it I couldn’t wait to get out of the thing. It was torture. My back was in agony and the sciatic pain in my leg was unbearable.
The manually-operated leather seats have to be adjusted using a combination of plastic levers and yogic flying. It’s nigh on impossible to find the right position, and just when you think you’ve cracked it, the moment you set off on your journey the whole seat shifts, clunking into place and you have to stop and re-adjust it again. How can a luxury car company, that has been pushing quality for over 100 years, allow such uncomfortable seats to enter its supply chain? At the touch of a button, you can adjust the shape of the seat-bolsters, from a cosseting pinch to a broad hug, so in theory it should accommodate a range of body shapes (and “a range of body shapes” is how I’m often described), but nothing I tried worked.
Maybe it’s me, I thought. Maybe not every car suits my knackered back. I’ve tried to think through all the hundreds of different cars I’ve had to drive over the years and I can only think of one other experience that compares. It was a BMW 1-Series Hatchback, way back in 2007. Again, a manually adjustable seat that, no matter how often I stopped to re-adjust it, left me virtually unable to walk when I got out.
A quick search on the wonder-web, after my punishing road test ended, revealed that I am not alone in finding BMW’s manually operated seats cripplingly painful. What surprised me is that it doesn’t appear to be restricted to the lower end cars, but a raft of online forums report owners of 6-series, X-series and M3 models finding theirs equally uncomfortable. At first I thought it may be a cunning ploy to encourage customers to upgrade, but these leather seats are already an £800-£1150 option depending on your chosen trim level. (If you have had a similar experience with BMW seats, I’d be interested to hear in the comments.)
Besides the seats, the interior is not a bad place to be. The driver’s controls have a quality feel, with a cleverly sculpted steering wheel from which the excellent cruise control system works very smoothly. The interior styling is generally elegant, with all the buttons and switches laid out where you’d expect to find them. When the time came to use the Sat-Nav I liked the hand-writing feature for spelling out locations on the touch sensitive controller. It is nicer to use than the equivalent system that Mercedes offers.
Scuttle-shake in the convertible 220d was a little worse than I expected. That’s inherent in most convertibles – a downside of removing the rigid roof. BMW has added reinforcement to the 2-Series convertible, resulting in a body that is around 20% stiffer than its predecessor, the 1-Series soft top, but at motorway speeds the shake was still very apparent. If you’re just going to be buzzing about town or commuting in it, that’s something you could easily live with.
There is a lot to like about the BMW 220d Convertible. The overall package is a tempting prospect. But, as our heroic spy learned from the equally tempting Electra King, be very careful which seat you choose.