The roof peels off at the press of a button, and without the car having to come to a stop. Picture: Denis Droppa.
BMW’s engine gurus seldom seem to rest, and as part of a recent power upgrade across several ranges the previous M235i slipped into something a little more powerful and became the M240i.

The engine’s still a turbocharged petrol 3-litre straight-six but uprated from 240kW/450Nm to 250kW and 500Nm. Those are impressive outputs and match the muscle of the 1 Series M Coupe of 2011.

The M240i is available in coupé and soft-top convertible body styles, with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmissions. It’s the soft-top Steptronic on test here, priced at R775 786 with the inclusion of a five-year/100 000km Motorplan.

The 240i Convertible is enlivened with assorted visual M Sport touches such as grey-coloured 18-inch M Double-spoke light-alloy wheels and black chrome exhaust tips, among others. The interior lays on the charm with selected features from the M Sport package including front sports seats and an M sport steering wheel.

The sun-loving Beemer comes with a fairly comprehensive spec sheet with standard items like navigation, keyless engine start, rain and light sensors, and cruise control, but for the price it’s a surprise that there are no electrically adjustable seats nor seat warmers - these have to be bought at extra cost.

The R11 200 electric seats would be my first tick on that options list as BMW’s manual seat adjusters aren’t very user friendly, particularly the spring-loaded height adjuster which requires you to swing yourself up off the seat in order to raise it. It’s a curious ergonomic boo-boo by the usually efficient Germans, when a ratchet or twist-style adjuster works so much better.

Also available on the options hitlist is Driving Assist, a safety feature inherited from larger Beemers that employs a camera-based driver assistance system to give Lane Departure Warning, Approach Control Warning and Attentiveness Assist.

Three new features from BMW ConnectedDrive, which were previously only available for the 7 Series and 6 Series, have found their way into the 2 Series coupé and convertible. These include a new menu display and higher screen resolution for the infotainment system, and optional wireless smartphone charging. The speech recognition feature recognises normally spoken sentences instead of predefined text instructions.

The electric soft top is fully automatic and opens and closes at the press of a button. It’s helpful, especially if it starts drizzling unexpectedly, that you don’t have to bring the car to a stop and that the roof folds and unfolds at driving speeds up to 50km/h. Providing rollover protection are high-strength A-pillars and pop-up bars behind the rear headrests.

With the soft top over your head there’s more wind noise than in a steel-roofed car but it’s not excessively loud. It’s well padded and passengers can chat without shouting.

Slicing off the roof causes cars to lose some body rigidity and in this topless 240i you can feel some distinct scuttle shake, particularly on rougher roads. It’s not a happy car on bumps and ripples, with a firm and fidgety ride that’s exacerbated by stiffened M Sport suspension and low-profile 18” tyres.

Handling-wise this Beemer is a much more appealing prospect, and the rear-wheel drive machine carves the curves (as long as the road’s smooth) with typical BMW poise. The M Sport suspension is lowered by 10mm and the variable sport steering adapts to the car’s speed, while an electronic differential lock optimises acceleration out of sharp bends. The car also gets an M Sport braking system.

In Sport and Sport Plus modes the steering loads up with more feel, and the throttle and gearshifting adopt racier attitudes. There are also Comfort and Eco Pro modes which put the car into a more relaxed, fuel-saving vibe, with lighter steering and earlier gearchanges.

The 3-litre turbo engine isn’t wildly charismatic in terms of sound, but it makes a decently hearty howl when the revs approach the upper ranges, especially with the roof open.

While not quite in tar-scorching sportscar territory, the 240i has no shortage of performance on offer from its 250kW and 500Nm outputs. Top speed is an electrically governed 250km/h and BMW claims a sea-level 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.7 seconds. In our Gauteng test with a Vbox the car did the deed in a still very brisk 4.9 seconds, just 0.3 secs slower than we managed in the 2 Series range’s high-performance flagship, the BMW M2.

The 240i’s lusty power delivery quickly gets into its stride with no turbo-induced hesitation, and makes swift work of overtaking. The eight-speed Steptronic is a picture of smoothness and efficiency when left to shift in automatic mode, but there are steering wheel paddles for drivers who prefer to do the cog-swapping themselves.

It’s quite a thirsty car however, and guzzled 12.5 litres per 100km (BMW claims 8.3).

Space in the back seat is pretty cramped, and adults will only fit there if the front seat occupants sacrifice a lot of their own legroom. The 335-litre boot is roomy enough for a couple of bags with the roof up, but shrinks to 280 litres with the soft-top open.

VERDICT

The topless BMW 240i gives sun-loving motorists some high-flying performance in the compact executive market. It’s more powerful than its only real rival, the 228kW/400Nm Audi S3 Cabriolet 2.0T Quattro, which sells for R758 000.