BMW 120i SE Convertible (2008) driven review

Published:25 April 2008

BMW 120i SE Convertible (2008) driven review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

Remember when the BMW 3-series convertible had a fabric roof? It wasn’t always an upmarket folding tin-top. So a gap’s opened up beneath it. A gap that’s a perfect fit for a smart and decently engineered rag-top that’s just about big enough to squeeze your kids in the back. Enter the BMW 1-series Convertible.

Hang on. £25k? Sounds a bit steep to me!

True, you can save £3000 and drive a VW Eos out of the showroom but, somehow, the BMW manages to feel a class above. One or two people I introduced the 120i to were surprised to learn it isn’t even more expensive – and the range starts at £22,335 for the 118i ES, which features a 141bhp version of the 2.0-litre 16-valve engine.

The 120i pumps out 168bhp but, to be honest, it’s not that exciting to wring out and never actually feels quite as racy as its 8.4sec 0-62mph sprint time suggests. It’s neither as peaky as a high-revving petrol-drinker nor as low-down punchy as a diesel. Instead, it’s suave and strong all the way round the clock, performing unobtrusively and rarely raising its voice above a subdued whine.

A slow BMW. That's a nice change!

Acceleration is brisk without being mind-blowing, and the gearchange is quick, accurate and lacks the stickiness of some BMW manual transmissions. In short, it’s (just) rewarding enough for keen drivers, and refined for those who are happy merely to drift along.

Click 'Next' to read the rest of CAR's first drive

So, the 1-series Convertible is boring then...

Not at all. The test car came in gold with wood trim and ran on standard suspension settings, yet the Saga spec suits this car better than the over-firm M-Sport treatment. Steering is linear and firm in response, never too light, and the 1-series feels well balanced and poised at every turn.

It’s entertaining to punt quickly along B-roads and supple enough to remain composed when the going gets bumpy. In fact it rides buoyantly on most surfaces at any speed, with little of the harshness that’s afflicted so many recent Beemers.

Don’t you wish it had a folding steel roof?

Not really. That would make it that bit closer to the 3-series in character and price (this one’s £6k cheaper than a 320i SE) and the electrically folding fabric roof works brilliantly, dropping or re-erecting in around 22sec at the touch of a button.

Roof-up, it’s snug and pretty quiet at a cruise, only succumbing to excessive wind noise if you drive through cross-winds. Roof down, there’s a wind-blocker you can fit across the back seats that works well at keeping the draught away from the driver’s neck. Take it away and you’ll get a couple of compact adults in the back (if they don’t mind a breezy drive), though it’s pretty claustrophobic back there with the hood up. The boot will easily take a couple of large soft bags or a full supermarket shop load.

Click 'Next' for CAR's verdict


You can take it as read that the 3-series coupe-convertible is a more mature, more rounded car than the 1-series Convertible. It also starts at £9k more than the cheapest soft-top 1-series, which puts it into perspective.

In this case, £25k gets you a well equipped and characterful convertible that’s practical enough to cope with the demands of a young family while being entertaining to drive - and certainly worth posing in. We rather liked it.


Price when new: £25,215
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1995cc 16v 4cyl petrol, 168bhp @ 6700rpm, 155lb ft @ 4250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 8.4secs 0-62mph, 137mph, 42.8mpg, 158g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1505kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4360/1870/1411


Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • BMW 120i SE Convertible: interior shot
  • BMW 120i SE Convertible: rear three-quarter shot
  • BMW 120i SE Convertible: side shot
  • BMW 120i SE Convertible: interior shot
  • BMW 120i SE Convertible: front three-quarter shot