One-day Test: BMW 435i Convertible
I like convertibles. Taking down the roof has a sense of occasion attached to it, and there is something revitalising about being able to drive around with infinite headroom. It is just relaxing; and because the drive itself is so much more enjoyable, I tend to be more relaxed when piloting a convertible.
I quite often find myself taking the longer, but more scenic route.
As far as convertible driving goes, nothing is better than driving with the roof down on a summer’s night, when the African sun is not radiating every part of your body, and the cooler night air can roll through the cabin unrestricted. That is driving bliss.
So I was excited to have BMW’s new 4-Series Convertible on the testing block – but as many of you might have noticed, it is not summer anymore. At the moment, when the sun sets in the afternoon, we would much rather retreat to our houses to curl up in front of a fire than out on the road, let alone in a car with no roof!
But then drop-top driving has come a long way since my first Mazda MX-5, mostly in terms of making your trip more comfortable when it comes to exposing yourself to the elements. I guess we can thank the European winters for this, since a cold day in the Black Forest is hardly comparable to a chilling Joburg morning…
Leading the charge against the cold is a feature that BMW calls Air Collar. By pushing down on a button next to the roof-down switch, a vent wedged in between the headrest and the upper back support will start belting out hot air directly on your neck.
The result is a gloriously warm sensation that fights away the chills. The only down side is that you should consider also taking the lane departure warning system as an option since the chance of falling asleep while under the influence of the air collar is quite high.
The air collar and heated seats allowed me to strafe my way into the office one morning at 5:30 am, at a temperature of 7 degrees C according to the car, and without thinking that it was far too cold to be doing this (gloves are a must though).
There is a slight problem with the 4-Series convertible, though, and that is that it is a four-seater coupé that has been turned into a convertible. You might think that this is the most practical option – I mean you have two extra seats opposed to something like the Z4. But what you gain in seating space you lose in wind resistance.
A critical part of a convertible is a wind deflector because it keeps the wind (and if you are moving forward at 80 km/h the wind is a pretty serious 80 km/h gust) from dipping in below the windscreen line and into the cabin. Two-seater convertibles normally have a wind deflector built in, but with four seats that option is not there automatically. With the 4-Series, some assembly is required and as any child would know, that could be a death sentence on an otherwise perfect present.
Luckily the 4-Series deflector is relatively easy to set up, but does demand you getting out of the car, pulling back the rear seats, unfolding the thing, and then slotting it into the rear space, and stretching a canvas covering over the top of the seats. This is not something that you want to be doing every time you take the roof down, but keeping it up also means losing all the practicality of having four seats.
You might be wondering if having the wind deflector up is actually necessary; well since this is the top of the range 435i convertible, the answer is yes. It is less necessary and more a necessity, seeing as the 3,0-litre turbocharged straight-six is capable of more than just 80 km/h with a the gentlest of nudges.
That is thanks to 225 kW and 400 Nm of torque, which when linked to the eight-speed ZF-produced automatic gearbox, is able to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 5.5 seconds.
The engine is effortless, but not as quick as I remember it being, and not even close to what is achievable in the M135i. On paper it should not be that much slower, but in practice it does feel it.
Drop-top aside, you still get everything else that you would expect from a 4-Series, including one of the best looking exteriors that BMW makes and a cutting edge interior, as well as a great engine.
The only real problem is the price, which when loaded with options can end up being very close to the R800 000 mark. But that is what this degree of motoring costs, and to be honest, the quality does feel like it is worth it – if you can life with a wind deflector permanently fixed to the rear…