BMW's most affordable convertible shines in the sun

Driving with the wind blowing through your hair is one of life's simple pleasures, but the means of delivering that pleasure has grown increasingly sophisticated over the years. The latest step forward comes courtesy of BMW, which chose the roads in and around Austin, Texas to debut the new 2 Series Convertible.

Specifically, the $38,850 (and up) 2015 228i Convertible, which this year becomes BMW's most-affordable drop-top. Lowest-priced, but far from ill-equipped. We spent a few hours in a Glacier Silver 228i, equipped with the standard 2.0-liter, 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder. Those wanting a bit more can step up to the M235i, which swaps in the turbocharged inline-six with 326 horsepower -- and starts at a rather more dear $47,700 here in the US. (International pricing was not available at the time of publication.)

The 228i, though, is more about casual cruising with a sporty feel. A 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds is no slouch, and it certainly squirts from traffic lights and accelerates past slower traffic with aplomb. That time, by the way, is with the eight-speed automatic transmission, which will be standard fare. It shifts quickly and cleanly, either with the steering wheel paddles or left to its own devices, but for those who prefer to row their own a proper six-speed manual will (thankfully) be offered. Fuel economy with the automatic is EPA rated at 24 city, 34 highway and 27 combined.

Fuel economy with the automatic is EPA rated at 24 city, 34 highway and 27 combined. Tim Stevens/CNET

As with most BMWs, the options list here is far too long and broad to possibly iterate here, but the car we drove was equipped with a healthy selection of add-ons, bringing its price up to $53,825. Part of that was the $2,200 Track Handling Package, which includes both bigger brakes and M adaptive suspension. With the touch of a button you can go from a plush, comfortable ride to a firmer, more poised stance. This sort of dual-purpose ability is high on our wish list, and we'd definitely recommend it.

That cloth top provides the biggest talking point of the car, and the biggest personality shift. A small switch nestled between the seats raises or lowers the contraption, a process that takes just 20 seconds and can be executed even while you're motoring along at up to 30 mph. While down, a series of air diffusers in the rear seats keeps the buffeting to a minimum. When up, the top is remarkably quiet, even when cruising past triple-digit speeds. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that I was driving a convertible. The plush liner and the glass rear window do a remarkably good job of pretending to be a hard-top.

You will notice the difference in visibility, however. Massive A-pillars up front are paired with sweeping blind spots from the fabric rear. Sadly, the 228i doesn't offer BMW's Active Blind Spot Detection, which would really come in handy here. Headroom in the front, at least, is plentiful -- even with the top up.

The rear deck on the 228i Convertible is trim and taut. Tim Stevens/CNET

While some convertibles look just as good with the top up as down, I can't quite say this isn't one of them. When down, the flat rear deck and hard tonneau cover give the rear rigid, purposeful look, trunk lid swooping down then subtly back up. It's definitely a great looking, sophisticated machine.

The inside is typically great as well, comfortable seats and great materials on every surface. Rear seat legroom is limited, but enough for four adults to cruise down to the beach in reasonable comfort. The 6.5-inch display slotted into the top of the dashboard is easy for driver or passenger to read, and BMW notes that this is the first of its cars able to receive navigation updates over the air. There's a cellular connection in the car and, free of charge, owners can update the internal maps four times per year.

Those looking for a bit more performance in their drop-top may want to wait for our take on the M235i Convertible, but the few hours we spent in the new 228i impressed. It's a more than capable handler, offers plenty of power and few will find it lacking in, well, anything.

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