When you think about convertibles, you often imagine sunny days, beautiful roads and breathtaking scenery. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But can a convertible be more practical than it looks on paper? To find the answer to this question, we set out to test drive the new 2021 BMW M440i Convertible during a road trip from Chicago to Cleveland, Ohio. The idea was similar to the previous road trip we completed aboard the BMW X7: How much can we pack in a convertible and how practical is it?
And while the X7 was born to be the ideal family hauler, the convertible was conceived as a car for two and without much luggage to haul around. So this is certainly not your conventional test drive, yet it’s a part of quirky series of articles that we plan to deliver in the future.
Before I dive into the planning behind this fairly long road trip, let’s look at the specs of the new BMW 4 Series Convertible. For this second-generation of drop-top 4 Series, the roof has been converted from the previous-generation’s folding metal hard-top, to a fabric soft-top. That might not sound like a big change but it actually is quite a big deal and makes a world of a difference. The decision to make the switch wasn’t met with universal praise from the BMW fanbase. Many customers preferred the old metal roof to fabric tops for various reason.
The removal of a fixed roof requires extra structural bracing to regain some of the stiffness lost by literally cutting a structural panel out of the car. That additional bracing adds quite a bit of weight. With a folding metal roof, that additional weight goes up dramatically. The previous roof setup was 40 percent heavier.
Also, you’re going to get better cargo space with a soft-top, therefore the new 4 Series Convertible has 1.2 cubic feet of additional cargo space, versus its metal-topped predecessor, bumping it to a total of 9.0 cubic feet.
Additional front bracing connects the front shock towers to the bulkhead as well as the front end and more bracing was added to the rear axle as well. New side skirts with additional rigidity have been added, as well as a sheer panel to the front end, a new rear floor plate and a reinforced transmission tunnel. All of which are designed to make the Convertible as close to the Coupe, in terms of rigidity, as possible.
Can You Fit A Car Seat In A Convertible?
And that’s all great if you plan to attack some windy roads with the 4 Series Convertible, but the Chicago to Ohio drive is flatter than a pancake so there is very little to test in terms of driving dynamics. Instead, I wanted to focus on the practicality angle: two adults and a toddler, with some luggage, surviving a 12-hour round-trip.
The biggest challenge came from the necessary addition of a car seat. Considering how very little room there is behind the front seats, one has to carefully take into account the specs of a car seat. The Clek Foonf is a convertible car seat which can be used in a rear or front-facing setup. At a first glance, the car seat looks extremely bulky. But in reality, it is fairly slim and its dimensions inside the car vary depending on the forward vs. rear facing, and height of your child. The compact dimensions measure in at 17.5 L x 17 W x 28-32.5 H.
Children between 14 and 50 pounds, with a height range of 25 to 43 inches are suitable for the Clek Foonf in the rear-facing mode. In our case, the toddler was within those ranges and younger than 2 years old. I also had to consider the height requirement, especially since the 4 Series Convertible has a coupeish roofline. The Foonf’s specs call for a minimum of one inch under the top of the headrest for safety. Space wise, things get easier with a front-facing setup. You can fit children between 20 and 65 pounds, with a height range of 30 to 49 inches.
It’s definitely a solid car seat with advanced safety features, like Cleck’s patented REACT energy management system, a steel anti-rebound bar, rigid-LATCH and advanced side-impact protection. But back to the initial issue: Can it fit inside the tight space of a convertible?
Luckily, the passenger was on the smaller side at 5″7 so very small adjustments had to be made. The front seat was placed in a more upright position than you’d normal ride in, yet with a decent legroom even for a fairly long road trip. Luckily, my co-driver was adventurous enough to be my guinea pig in this experiment.
Enough Cargo Space For A Weekend Trip
Next thing on my list: cargo space for our bags. You don’t need a lot of luggage for a weekend trip, but the toddler’s needs require a bit more bags than usual. Therefore, some concessions had to be made: no more than two pairs of sneakers (that really hurt my feelings) and a more compact stroller (that really hurt the toddler’s feelings). Hey, we all have to make sacrifices….
The stroller easily fit inside the trunk, along with a travel-size carry-on and a couple of small duffle bags. The rear bench was able to further accommodate a large backpack filled with equipment (work never stops) and plenty of toys, snacks and drinks for the road.
And while I thought that my packing skills were top notch, the looks on my neighbor’s face painted a different story. But that would have not deterred me from completing this experiment. Especially since the toddler’s smile indicated a high level of comfort in this spacious Clek Foonf car seat.
The Driving Experience
There was one adjustment that I had to make though: riding mostly in ADAPTIVE mode versus the usual SPORT PLUS. Firstly because the adaptive suspension plays well on the uneven roads surrounding city of Chicago and secondly, there was far less interior engine noise. And on a six-hour long road trip, all you can hope for is for the children to get a long nap.
But nonetheless, some fun was still in the books and when it comes to that, the 3.0 liter six-cylinder powerplant never disappoints. The B58 engine delivers 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque and for the first time it also gets a 48-volt mild-hybrid setup.
All new 2021 BMW 4 Series Convertible variants are offered with an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. Even though this is a purely logical decision, considering that the previous generation had a 30% market share in the U.S., it is still a shame that the manual transmission has disappeared for another model range. But in all fairness, on flat and boring highways, the eight-speed automatic is what you’d want anyway.
Once you got behind the wheel, you will appreciate the benefits of the automatic transmission. Not only the refined transmission is able to keep the car at any moment in the most efficient and yet sportiest gear, it now also offers a so called Sprint function. The new feature is activated by using the left shift paddle for at least a second while running in Sport Mode. Next, the transmission switches straight into the lowest possible gear for maximum power. Pretty cool for overtaking!
The top M440i xDrive models come standard with a range of M Performance specific options, such as the M sport suspension. It also includes even stiffer settings for the lift-related damping and springs. If you think the poor road conditions in your area are contributing already enough to a stiffer ride quality, you can order the Adaptive M suspension as an option. The electronically controlled dampers offer the widest possible range, from a soft ride quality in COMFORT to a seriously sporty setting in SPORT.
And those are exactly some of the things that I love in the new 4 Series Convertible. There is a wider range of comfort between the driving modes, therefore, customers don’t have make any compromises. You can ride in your new convertible in full comfort, or you can switch to SPORT mode for a more dynamic and aggressive ride.
For a convertible with a soft top, the new BMW 4 Series Cabrio is also extremely quiet with the roof closed. At no point during this long trip I craved for a quieter cabin, a testament to the great engineering behind these latest convertibles. The top can be electrically opened or closed within 18 seconds and up to a speed of 31 mph, so that’s pretty quick in case of unexpected showers.
Inside, the 2021 BMW M440i Convertible makes use of the familiar interior design of the 3 Series. Only a few additional buttons, such as the switch for the retractable roof or for the neck heating control are hinting at an open-top. In the end, this is what BMW does best inside: a combination of premium materials with sporty accents, and the typical driver-oriented layout.
The Grille Is Large, But The Drive Is Fun
There was one thing clear at the end of the 800 miles trip: The 4 Series Convertible wasn’t built as a family hauler, there are plenty of other BMW models that can serve that purpose. But, at the same time, it offers enough versatility and space that can be used once in a while as your family weekend car, especially if you have older kids who might not require a car seat.
The convertible also proves that minimalism can solve a lot of problems. You don’t have to overpack, nor you need extra things to have fun in a road trip. All you need to bring is a little bit of Bavaria with you, some smiles and good music.