BMW 120i Automatic

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Description: BMW 1 Series Convertible 120i SE car review from the AA. Overall car review rating: 8 out 10. Value for money: 7 out 10.

    Drop-top conversion works well Good choice of engines - petrol and diesel High quality cabin Spacious boot, even with the roof down
    Not the Ultimate Driving Machine BMW would have you believe Fabric folding roof susceptible to damage; not as robust as a metal item Modest standard equipment levels on lower cost variants Larger optional alloy wheels impair ride quality

With most of the premium niches filled, makers of executive cars have turned their attention to other areas. In the case of BMW it has focused on the compact convertible market. It's not alone, but the German maker's reputation for producing capable and quality cars is likely to strengthen its hand in the face of determined competition.

BMW's basis for its compact convertible, the 1 Series, was met with mixed reactions when first launched. It's fair to say that, like the 5, 6 and 7 Series before it, the 1 Series boasted controversial looks. With more variants available - three, five-door, coupe and convertible - public opinion appears to have softened.

Of all the cars, probably the three-door hatch and this drop-top prove the most appealing visually. In the case of the latter, opting for a body colour to complement the roof improves matters enormously. Fortunately the car looks good with the hood up as well as down, which is not often the case. And with the roof down the little 1 Series does look stylish.

BMW's decision to go with a fabric and not a metal roof does have its advantages. Style-wise there's no awkward-looking boxy rear end required to store bulky metal panels. Then there's the weight advantage, which also helps improves a car's handling and ultimately the driver enjoyment.

Overall, though, the 1 Series Convertible isn't the sharpest of the range. The driving experience is a little muted - blame the car's lack of fixed metal roof. However, the car's target audience is unlikely to complain, with one of the primary reasons for ownership being looks and desirability.

An enjoyable and, no question, desirable proposition, BMW's 1 Series Convertible is a welcome addition to the line-up. A comprehensive engine range, including a diesel and BMW's stop-start function on selected models, should ensure broad appeal and sensible running costs. Rear-wheel drive is unusual at this level but keen drivers will welcome its inclusion. Overall, a desirable package.

Sporting the familiar BMW badge, the 1 Series Convertible will always command a price premium - new or used. You might also have to spend a bit extra for a few choice options. As for running costs, insurance aside, fuel economy and CO2 ratings are very good, which should translate into costs more akin to that of a run of the mill family hatch.

The 1 Series Convertible is not designed to meet the needs of a demanding family. It will, however, cope well as a second car or transport for singletons and couples. Roof up, boot space is good but won't win prizes for swallowing pushchairs. Roof down the space available is acceptable. Inside, it's much like any other 1 Series: good size glove box, door pockets and arm rest.

With sturdy rear head restraints in place, rollover protection appears suitable - often a worry with convertibles. Elsewhere you get all the usual kit associated with small BMWs: anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. Airbags aren't in short supply either.

The rear-wheel drive 1 Series Convertible - unusual in this sector - is a pleasing car to drive. Although not quite as sharp as its tin-top relatives - blame the absence of a roof and extra weight - it can be hustled along for fun at a decent pace. The six-cylinder cars sound nice, but even the more affordable four-pot engines do a good job. On the daily commute the car copes well with poorly surfaced roads.

BMW can do no wrong if fans of the marque can be believed. The aspirational qualities of the various models are well documented, and the small convertible market is a potentially lucrative one. The car itself is well built - all 1 Series variants received a slew of important upgrades soon after launch.

Roof up or down it's easy to get in and out of the 1 Series Convertible. Despite the car's compact dimensions the cabin never feels cramped for two adults, while the car's doors open wide - a mixed blessing in a tight car park. At the rear the boot opens to reveal surprisingly spacious load area. This is reduced with the roof down but access remains straightforward.

Standard fit is a perfectly acceptable radio and CD unit. Sound quality with the roof up or down is very good, and the unit's controls are intuitive. Moving up the scale, optional choices include CD disc changers and sat-nav. The latter rises from the top of the fascia and boasts a colour screen. As you would expect, steering wheel audio controls and MP3 player compatibility also feature.

As with any BMW large or small, the 1 Series Convertible looks best in sombre, mature colours such as the stereotypical silver. Metallic shades are essential, and not just to maintain solid residual values. Inside, the car's predominantly dark cabin benefits from strategically placed light coloured trim accents.

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