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Get your top off

Weather like we’ve been having lately in the Big Smoke might make you yearn for a cruise out of town with the wind ruffling up your hair. But then this weather is a bit of an anomaly because, frankly, our summers aren’t usually this good, and the sun only occasionally puts in an appearance in the other seasons, so what you really want is a car that makes your hair fly back – metaphorically – during the rest of the year. You want a coupe that can flip open into a slick convertible when you are taken with a whim to go topless. Ideally one with room in the back for adults, and enough space in the boot to make it a practical proposition for an everyday run around rather than a self-indulgent car that’s only good for weekend getaways or commuting to work.

With that in mind, I thought I’d baste myself in factor 50 and hop behind the wheel of the new BMW 3 Series Convertible. Brits have long loved BMW’s 3 Series saloon (it’s the BMW brand’s best selling model) and also have a weakness for diesels and convertibles. Which means, if the engine is good enough, in the BMW 320d Convertible you can have a sporty but frugal Beamer coupe that can also be a convertible – on the rare occasions it’s required. Which surely must be the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. So from the get go, one wonders, when it comes to the BMW 320d Convertible, what’s not to like?

Looks-wise, the car is a charmer. This generation has sharper lines, a sleeker look and the folding roof is so seamlessly integrated into the design that the car looks almost the same as the coupe version. Normally such roofs have a negative effect on the overall shape of the car. This one, of course, is a tin top technical marvel – just watching it unfurl out of or fold into the boot is automotive ballet.

Inside, the car feels luxurious and intuitive and still has the kind of no-nonsense layout that has come to define BMW when rivals have lost the way. Despite being the very latest in the range, the interior has a pleasant old-school feel to it, thanks to elements such as its beautifully simple vents that look like they haven’t changed since the 80s, and an economy needle on the dash that is wonderfully analogue in an age of ugly LEDs, which tells you how many mpg you are achieving. The leather sports steering wheel felt really good in what was a highly functional, if austere interior, even considering its satin silver trim elements and black Dakota leather. It would be fair to say that it is isn’t the most inspiring place to be on the inside, although it does confirm the car’s sense of purpose and ensures you focus on the driving. What’s more, we found that the back seats can genuinely accommodate two adults, or even one adult and a child seat too. Which is unusual, to say the least.

The stop/start system makes the car fuel-efficient and more eco-friendly, and is straightforward enough to use. The quality of the engineering means that rather than making the car feel like it has stalled every time the stop/start kicks in, it functions without interrupting the flow of your driving experience.

That said, it’s a shame that the car doesn’t yet feature BMW’s EfficientDynamics system, which makes motors phenomenally economical. This 320d does make use of BMW’s auto start/stop and brake energy regeneration system but it does not yet feature the full gamut of EfficientDynamics technologies seen in its 3 Series saloon sibling, which delivers a minuscule 109g/km of CO2 without tarnishing the kind of performance that BMW is known for. We’re still waiting for an ED version of the convertible. But in the meantime, these figures are economical enough for a car that feels as fast as this one does.

Performance-wise it’s satisfyingly BMW. It’s a trip to drive, because it does so much so well. The suspension is stiff and the handling excellent. There are no rattles and no shakes, which is confirmation of how good a job BMW has done with the folding roof system. There seemed to be no significant compromises with the roof down – at least not discernible to me – and the car offers a firm and sporty ride despite being heavier than its fixed roof sibling.

Most impressive of all, perhaps, is the fact that when the roof is down, road and wind noise remains unobtrusive, yet with the roof up it’s easy to forget that you’re even in a convertible at all. It’s a shame that the engine noise just isn’t quite lovely enough – one yearns for a nice note to swoop along to. Thankfully the audio system is really rather good.

THE FACTS:
BMW 320d Convertible
price: £35,105
0-62mph: 8.3 secs
Top speed: 142 mph
CO2 g/km: 135
MPG Combined: 55.4 mpg