The BMW 335i Convertible is the perfect solution for those who can’t decide between a performance coupe and a performance convertible.
by Lawrence Ulrich
Year in and year out, perhaps no car has shrugged off more challenges than the BMW 3 Series. But while Asian and American rivals have yet to equal the BMW”s refinement and pure handling capabilities, they have certainly been cranking up the power. They seem to feel that if they can”t out-finesse the Bimmer, they”ll simply crush it instead.
BMW has certainly heard those footsteps coming up behind them, especially the 306 thundering hooves of the Infiniti G35. So to keep pace in the horsepower race, the fifth-generation 3 Series delivers something BMW hasn’t used in decades: turbo technology.
Downscaling the Flagship ““ Acura RL
The Ford Mustang is Galloping Under an Open Sky
Luxury for Less ““ Hyundai Azera
Off-Road King Refined ““ Land Rover Range Rover
More than a Dressed Up Camry ““ Lexus ES 350
A twin-turbocharged version of its acclaimed inline six-cylinder engine puts out 300 hp and is tremendously enjoyable “” one of the most satisfying turbocharged engines ever made. And now, dropped into the all-new 335i convertible, it creates what will certainly go down as one of the year”s best all-around luxury rides: Not just a Summer of Love convertible, full of sweetness and shapely curves, but also a dead-serious performance coupe, with a smartly designed power hardtop for year-round action. Throw in unmatched prestige in this class and top resale value, and it”s harder than ever to find a chink in the 3 Series” armor.
BMW”s first-ever hardtop convertible is beautiful, period. Whereas some four-seat convertibles come off as bloated, the 3 Series looks fast, chiseled and purposeful, with the top up or down.
Give credit in part to that marvelously engineered hardtop, a compact design that blossoms open in a class-best 22 seconds; it takes just 23 seconds to close. The three-piece steel roof stacks together tightly “” BMW claims it is this arrangement that helped designers avoid the tall, chunky rear ends of competing models that need more space to swallow their folding roofs.
Compared to the sedan, the hood, headlamps and air dams on the convertible create a lower, sportier face. Xenon headlamps are also a standard feature on the convertible.
A wind deflector helps tame the breeze during a topless fling at high speed; we dropped the roof for one run with the outside temperature at a mere 54 degrees and were impressed by how hospitable the cabin remained. Of course, we did have the climate control cranked up, and the heated seats helped, too.
One common complaint about some convertibles is that they create large blindspots due to small rear windows. Compared with the soft top of the outgoing 3 Series Convertible, the new model features side- and rear-glass areas that are 30 percent larger, creating notably good visibility for driver and passengers alike. The top and its mechanisms do add about 300 pounds to the coupe”s weight, and the beefed-up structure required to minimize shakes in the cabin when the roof is retracted adds about 100 more, for a curb weight of 3,936 pounds.
Out back, there”s about 12 cubic feet of trunk space, which drops to 7 cubic feet when the top is lowered. With the top stowed, the narrow slot of remaining space is especially difficult to access.
For an extra $500, the Comfort Access option adds a smart key that you can keep in your pocket and start the car simply by pushing a button. More importantly, that fob lets you partially raise the stored roof for easier access to the trunk, without having to erect it entirely: The fob can also fully open or close the roof.
Our test model”s Sport Package, a worthwhile option at $1,300, includes bigger, racier 18-inch wheels with summer performance tires and a sport-calibrated suspension.
The 3 Series” well-crafted cabin exudes a confidence born of long experience. It is elegant yet simple, geared to both hard-charging drivers and relaxing passengers.
The driving position and fat, grippy steering wheel remain benchmarks for the class. The Sport Package on our test vehicle adds a comfortable 12-way power-adjustable driver”s seat with a manual thigh-support extender.
Metal trim on the gauges, steering wheel, knobs and door handles contrasts with curvy strips of dark burl walnut; light brown, gray poplar wood and brushed aluminum trim are all options. Ambient lighting spills from doors and dash panels.
Drivers who drop the top on a hot summer day can experience BMW”s first-ever application of its Sun Reflective Technology: a special UV-resistant coating that keeps the leather seats and armrests cool. BMW claims the technology can reduce the temperature of the black leather interiors by up to 35 degrees compared to conventional seats.
We were mildly put off by the manual tilt-and-telescoping wheel; we”ve come to expect a powered version for a car at this price. The same goes for the seemingly chintzy Logic 7 audio system and control panel, replete with tiny buttons, underwhelming sound and a small, poorly lit display.
Although rear-seat visibility is excellent, it”s not spacious. Long-legged adults will find the going tough over any significant distance, unless the folks up front will slide quite far forward. The rear seat back cleverly drops forward to create a parcel shelf, good for storing items without scratching the supple leather. And mobster golfers, take note: There”s also a wide pass-through to the trunk area, big enough to store a set of golf clubs longitudinally and still leave room for two bodies in the trunk.
Rollover sensors can trigger safety hoops behind the rear seat if they sense an impending disaster. The front windshield frame also acts as a rollover shield; front knee airbags are another standard safety feature.
Best of all, the rotary iDrive knob, the bane of all things logical in automotive controls, is an option, bundled together with the navigation system. We recommend against it so you can concentrate on the fantastic driving experience.
Forget the stereotypical nonsense about how convertibles aren”t “real” performance cars: The 335i may be a couple of ticks slower than the coupe, but it”s a sheer blast to drive. There”s also an advantage: Drivers and passengers get the top-down treat of hearing those six glorious cylinders in concert.
The direct-injection, 3.0-liter engine is a fierce, flexible instrument, with 45 hp more than the previous soft-top convertible. But equally important is the 300 pound-feet of torque, a broad swath of power that”s available at seemingly any engine speed.
Unlike most turbocharged engines, notorious for their delay in delivering power when you hit the gas “” a phenomenon known as turbo lag “” the BMW”s engine is ready when you are, spooling up sensational thrust all the way to its giddy 7,000-rpm redline.
Despite weighing nearly 4,000 pounds, the convertible rushes from 0-60 mph in a fleet 5.5 seconds, just 0.2 seconds behind the coupe.
Note that the Sport Package, because of its more capable performance tires, can hit 150 mph before the electronic limiter steps in; skip that package and the fun stops at 130 mph.
For the purists, bless their hearts, there”s the dynamic tandem of six-speed manual shifter and well-weighted clutch. Then there”s the optional ZF six-speed automatic transmission ($1,275), among the slickest and quickest automatics in the industry. Paddle shifters for the automatic are a $100 stand-alone option, and are available only with the Sport Package.
The optional Active Steering varies the steering ratio as a function of road speed: At lower speeds, the steering ratio speeds up, meaning the car turns more sharply relative to how far you”re turning the steering wheel; at higher speeds, a slower ratio is designed to improve straight-line stability. In truth, Active Steering doesn”t seem to do much for performance, but does make it easier to park, allowing you to veer into spots with much less cranking of the wheel.
Strong, sensitive brakes can handle any performance task, including a few you may not have thought of: A brake-drying feature periodically wipes water from the brakes to maintain full stopping power in the rain. The brakes also automatically keep the car from rolling backward on uphill slopes for three seconds, allowing for smooth start-ups, which is especially welcome in heavy traffic.
The inevitable upward price-creep of the 3 Series lineup has become vexing “” especially to hardworking folks who aspire to own their first BMW. But for the BMW premium, the 335i delivers the goods in thrilling fashion. The 335i Convertible starts at about $50,000 and our well-equipped test model stickered for $54,450. If you want the sun and style but can settle for a bit less performance, the 328i Convertible is no slouch with 230 hp from its non-turbocharged 3.0-liter six. It’s more affordable, starting around $44,000.
Is the BMW 3 Series Convertible for You?
Buy the 3 Series Convertible if
You want a four-seat convertible that runs rings around competing models from Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Saab; you want a convertible that you can use all year long.
Keep Looking if
You prefer the lighter, slightly faster 3 Series Coupe, the added practicality of the 3 Series Sedan, or the lower-price of the 328i model; you”re happy with a tamer luxury convertible, as long as you can still catch some rays.
Options Worth Splurging on
Sport package ($1,300); premium package ($1,550); Comfort Access ($500); iPod/USB adapter ($400). We don”t recommend the pricey iDrive/navigation system ($2,100); Active Steering ($1,400); adaptive cruise control ($2,400).
Audi A4 Cabriolet, Mercedes-Benz CLK Convertible, Saab 9-3 Convertible, Volkswagen Eos, Volvo C70
Did You Know?
The 3 Series has enjoyed a 30-year run in the United States. It arrived here in 1977, a successor to BMW”s groundbreaking 2002 sport sedan. And compared to that disco-era original, today”s 300-hp version is practically a race car: The 320i of 1977 squeezed a scant 110 hp from its 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine.
BMW 3-Series Convertible Gallery: