2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible

By July 9, 2007
2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible

Competition in the convertible market has reached new heights. No longer is it enough for carmakers to have just a convertible. Now, to be truly a contender in this niche market, they must offer a hardtop convertible, one that replaces the traditional folding fabric top with a retractable hardtop. Witness the Volkswagen Eos, the Volvo C70, and the Chrysler Sebring.

Always one to avoid being left behind in any competition, BMW stepped up with a new 3 Series Convertible for 2007 that comes with a three-piece, fully automatic, one-button up-and-down hardtop. Each way takes less than a half-minute. When the top’s up, the car is as close to a two-door hardtop in ride, handling and interior comfort as is possible with a removable roof. With the top down, it’s everything a convertible should be but with almost none of the penalties, like overly blustery, hairdo-destroying wind and vision-blurring cowl shake, commonly associated with open-top cars.

BMW compensated for the 200-plus pounds added by the top and its supporting mechanicals by raising the energy levels under the hood. The base engine, if there is such a thing in a BMW, is the same displacement, 3.0 liters, as the top engine in the ’06 convertible, but with 230 horsepower, five more than that engine. The up-level engine also displaces 3.0-liters but, boosted by dual turbochargers, pumps out 300 horsepower, up 75 from the ’06’s top engine. At the same time, both of the ’07’s engines earn higher fuel economy ratings from the EPA than their predecessors, the dual-turbocharged by four miles per gallon on the highway.

The 2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible comes in two trim designations, both two-door, four-passenger models with the marque’s first-ever, retractable hard top supplanting the soft-tops of previous editions. Neither model name relates any longer to engine family. The 328i comes with the normally aspirated engine, while the 335i comes with the turbocharged engine. Standard is a six-speed manual transmission; optional is a six-speed automatic transmission allowing manual gear selection with the Steptronic feature.

Much of what has allowed BMW to claim to be the ultimate driving machine survives on the new 3 Series Convertible, and, for that matter, on its coupe and sedan siblings. It’s a superbly balanced car, and in unadulterated form, sinfully fun to drive. Steering is light when it should be, that is, at low speeds, and with proper resistance and feedback at the elevated speeds the car constantly tempts drivers to explore. Nearly equal front/rear weight distribution leaves the driver in full command of where the car goes and when, with a high-threshold stability control system reassuringly keeping watch should a driver somehow manage to venture beyond the car’s almost limitless capabilities. For those extreme times, the brakes, too, stand ever ready to add vital safety margins.

Sadly, at least for long-time, BMW purists, another field in which BMW feels compelled to stay competitive, if not lead the field, is in using electronics to manage its cars’ functions. And the 3 Series Convertible has not been immune to this creeping plague of numbing isolation. For example, some of the electronic assists to the car’s brakes are welcome, like systems that keep the discs dry in wet weather, compensate for overheating-related fade and prime the system when a panic stop seems imminent. On the other hand, the system can’t seem to leave things well enough alone in normal driving, abruptly adding pressure, for instance, as the car slows to a stop quite independent of how the driver is attempting to feather the pedal to achieve a stable, non-rocking stop.

There are other features that BMW insists on improving that didn’t need improvement, like Active Steering, and a few that have lost some of their excellence, like the manual transmission. But the point is that the 3 Series may well be an endangered species, the s

Model Lineup

The 2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible comes in two trim levels. The 328i ($43,200) is powered by a 230-horsepower inline-6, the 335i ($49,100) by a 300-horsepower, twin-turbocharged inline-6. Both engines come with a six-speed, manual transmission. Optional on both is the six-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic ($1275).

Standard features include leatherette upholstery; automatic dual-zone climate control; cruise control; heated outside mirrors; remote lowering of the top; tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with spoke-mounted, secondary audio and cruise controls; a 10-speaker (including two subwoofers), multi-media audio system; multi-adjustable driver and front passenger seats, including two driver-memory settings for seat and mirrors; and choice of four interior trims, three with wood, one with brushed aluminum. Also standard: adaptive Xenon headlights that swivel in the direction of a turn to improve lighting around a curve; rain-sensing windshield wipers; halogen foglights; heated windshield washer jets; and 255/45R17 all-season run-flat tires on 17×8-inch alloy wheels.

Optional on the 3 Series Convertible are Active Steering with vehicle speed-sensitive variable assist ($1400); Comfort Access with keyless entry and remote raising and lowering of hard top ($500); heated front seats ($500); rear-seat, pass-through trunk storage with cargo bag ($175); rear-only park distance control ($350); active cruise control, which auto-adjusts speed for following distance ($2400); on-board navigation combined with BMW’s trademark iDrive managing climate, entertainment and communication functions and, where available, Real Time Traffic Information ($2100); BMW Assist emergency and convenience services with Bluetooth capability ($750 for four-year term); HD radio ($500); Sirius satellite radio with one-year subscription ($595); iPod/USB adapter ($400); and choice of 11 metallic paint colors ($475).

Optional on the 328i but standard on the 335i are the Logic 7 Sound System, adding a speaker (for a total of 11 including the subwoofers), DSP and simulated surround sound ($1200); Dakota leather upholstery with a sun-reflective, surface heat-reducing treatment ($1550).

The Cold Weather Package ($750) is the same for both and comprises heated front seats, retractable headlight washers and pass-through trunk storage with cargo bag. The 328i Premium Package ($2650) includes a universal, remote, programmable garage/gate opener; auto-dimming interior and outside, power-folding mirrors; four-way, front-seat power lumbar; four-year, BMW Assist subscription; and the Dakota leather upholstery. The 335i Premium Package ($1550) matches the 328i’s save the Dakota leather, which is standard on the 335i. Sport Packages (328i: $1200; 335i: $1300) add sport seats with adjustable side bolsters, a specially tuned sport suspension, increased top speed limiter (150 miles per hour vs. the standard, electronically limited 130 mph) and high-performance, run-flat, 225/40R18 front tires and 255/35R18 rear tires on 18×8.0 front and 18×8.5 rear alloy wheels with styles unique to each model.

Safety features include the usual array of front and side airbags, plus lower dash-mounted, anti-submarine knee airbags. Front seat belts have automatic pretensioners and force limiters, all four seating positions have three-point belts and adjustable head restraints, and rear seats are equipped with child safety seat footings and tether anchors (LATCH). Rear seats are also fitted with pop-up roll bars behind the head restraints that deploy in a fraction of a second when sensors detect signs of an impending rollover. The driver’s feet get added protection from pedals that retract during a frontal crash and a dead pedal constructed to collapse under crash-force pressures. A tire-pressure monitoring system comes standard. Active safety features: ABS, Dynamic Stability Control, electronic brake-force distribution, DCS, brake drying, brake standby, start-off

Walkaround

The BMW 3 Series is the last of the BMW automotive family to fall prey to the marque's new-Bangled design vocabulary. As such, given that the design has encountered something significantly less than universal acclaim, the 3 Series is the least radicalized, leaving it the best looking, most cohesively styled and visually balanced BMW of the current lot.

Up front, the new 3 Series easily passes what some automotive stylists call the rearview mirror test, whether a driver can recognize a car's brand from a quick glance in the mirror. The traditional, twin-kidney grille is braced by deep-set, organic-shaped, compound headlamps that so far have been spared the drooping eyelid-look of many of its brand mates. A broad, multi-faceted bumper tops a three-segment, sharply edged, lower air intake with fog lights parked at the extremes. The outline of a low-profile power bulge traces back across the hood from the upper corners of the grille to the base of the A-pillars (the side frames of the windshield). The wide track (distance between the tires side to side) pushes the tires to the outer limits of the body, giving the '07 a solid, planted stance.

Side view shows a silhouette that keeps the faith with the traditional overall proportions of the 3 Series coupes in its long hood and short deck topped by an expansive greenhouse. Short front and rear overhangs (distance between the tires and the ends of the car's body) bear eyewitness to the car's standard-setting handling. Picking up on the seam between the hood and the front fender, the beltline flows rearward with the slightest suggestion of a wedge. The character line running the length of the car from just aft of the front wheel well to the taillight follows the prevailing BMW styling cue of a crease above compound-curve (as in, part concave and part convex) body panels; it's not the traditional 3 Series' slender groove in convex panels, but the look is close enough.

Drivers who didn't recognize the new convertible in the mirror will have more difficulty as it disappears into the distance after flashing by in a quick overtaking. The once-distinctive rear fascia suffers from the housing demands imposed by the retractable hardtop and associated hardware. The boot, or trunk lid, is lengthened, for instance, and the fenders upper flanks are widened and more vertically aligned with the lower fender panels. The final result mixes both good and not so good. That the back end looks somewhat bland, even generic, to the point some Pacific-rim cars look more like a BMW than this 3 Series, is the not so good. The good, at least to long-time, die-hard BMW fans, is that this saves the convertible from the rounded fenders with proud trunk lid of the current 7 Series and 6 Series and to a lesser extent the 5 Series.

Interior Features

Inside, there's all the grace and goodness of a BMW for people who enjoy the trip as much as getting to the destination.

It's difficult to find anything that isn't perfect or at least approaching perfection in the way the new 3 Series Convertible relates to its driver and occupants. Instruments are the picture of unfettered communication. They're old-school analogs, with white-on-black alpha-numerics and bathed at night in BMW's traditional, orange-red lighting. Perhaps the speedometer is a bit crowded, with an outer ring for miles per hour and a busy inner ring for kilometers per hour, but in this case the familiar, easily scanned white needles breed comfort.

Our main complaint with the interior centers around the push-button start and stop. We think it's a gimmick that adds complexity without adding value to the driving experience.

The audio and climate controls on the center stack could be positioned higher for easier access, and the rocker buttons for station presets and assorted functions demand more concentration than they should, but beyond these minor wishes, that area is faultless. Even the iDrive knob, which in the 2007 3 Series also controls a GPS-based navigation system, is comfortably positioned for driver or passenger to operate.

The front seats look right and at first feel comfortable but firm, with medium-deep side bolsters and, thanks to the manually extendable bottom cushions, provide ideal thigh support for occupants of any stature. Beware, though, of spending long hours belted into them. For many, their tightly drawn dimensions aren't perfect fits. This is especially true of the sport seats, which left us squirming in quest of a relaxing position less than two hours into a daylong drive. It's as if, in an otherwise commendable effort to offer an infinite spectrum of adjustments, both manual and power, the seats have been packed with so much hardware, in terms of wiring, pumps and bladders, that they've been left with inadequate flexibility for any body other than the master mold after which they're patterned. Head room, both front and rear, is respectable, with more than enough clearance in front even for people several inches taller than six feet.

The rear seats are adequate only for short stature adults or children into maybe their early teens, especially with anybody taller than 5-foot-6 in the front seats.

Against the Volkswagen Eos and the Volvo C70, the BMW 3 Series Convertible compares favorably, measuring within an inch in headroom and legroom in both front and rear seats in all but the C70's rear-seat legroom, which bests the 3 Series by a full two inches.

Cubbies and convenience features abound. Front-seat occupants get as many as three cup holders, one (which the iDrive displaces) in the console between the seats and two wimpy contraptions that pop out of the dash on the passenger side above the glove box. Two cup holders hidden under a flip-cover in the rear portion of the full-length center console serve rear seat occupants. Both front and rear seats have a covered storage bin in their respective center consoles. The front doors host hard plastic, flip-out map pockets. A lockable glove box accommodates owner's manuals and feature guides, a re-chargeable flashlight and a spare key bracket. Front seatbacks have mesh pouches for magazines.

The trunk offers more flexibility and more room than appearances first suggest, albeit in a quirky sort of way. For lowering or raising the top, a process managed by a single button and consuming less than half a minute each way, it opens like a clamshell, hinged at the rear. For use as a trunk it opens normally, hinged at the front and with an impressively low lift-over height, making it easy to load and unload groceries and heavier cargo. With the top up, it will hold a golf bag, though longitudinally, stuffed into the cargo bag that comes with the optional rear seat pass-through and that

Driving Impressions

From the driver's seat, the BMW 3 Series Convertible communicates its understanding and acceptance of the responsibility of living up to the brand's heritage. Unlike most of its kin, this BMW remains a car a driver puts on and wears more than climbs into. And save for a few areas where electronics numb messages the car and the driver wish to exchange, it's what people should expect a BMW to be.

Put more plainly, the 3 Series Convertible, like the 3 Series Sedan and Coupe, is a joy to drive. Step on the gas, and the car goes. Step heavily on the gas, and it flat out scoots. More rapidly, of course, in the 335i, with its twin turbos, than in the 328i. But the latter is no slouch, and is, in fact, all most everybody will ever need. Don't count on saving any money at the gas pump, however. The EPA rates the smaller engine at but one mile per gallon better than the larger engine and this only in town; on the highway, their fuel economy is about the same.

For those few who want more than they can use, there's the 335i, and for a turbocharged engine, its power delivery is decently managed. The idea is simple, really. Use a small turbocharger, which spools up relatively quickly, to get the power boost started early on at lower engine speed. Then, as that unit begins to top out, bring in a larger turbocharger that's been spooling up and hits its stride about the time the smaller one fades. This gives the best of both worlds for an atmospherically enhanced engine: decent torque at low engine speeds and more horsepower at high engine speeds. It also minimizes dreaded turbo lag throughout the power curve and, with due gratitude to the engine's electronic brain, shows a barely perceptible surge as the tachometer needle passes 4000 rpm when the larger turbo takes over. Running gear sounds making their way inside the car are muted but pleasantly mechanical. From outside, sadly, the exhaust sounds more like a hopped up Accord with a coffee can muffler than one of Germany's finest.

The Steptronic automatic gets that power to the road as effectively as the manual transmission. Not so much in stopwatch-measured quickness as in smoothness, precision and ease of use. Shifts are superbly executed, whether up or down and at partial or full throttle. Drivers intent on rowing their own can use the Steptronic to pick and hold a gear, but this is hardly necessary. The automatic's brain does a masterful job of choosing the best gear, whether it's to power out of a tight corner or to squeeze the most miles out of a tank of premium fuel on a relaxed Sunday drive.

The manual gearbox, on the other hand, feels mushy, like it's moving the gears with cables and pulleys. Perchance it's the result of cramming slots for six forward gears into a shift pattern more properly proportioned for five gears, but whatever, this is a distinct step backward from previous 3 Series manual gearboxes. Given BMW's aspirations as the premier driver's car, it also comes off poorly in comparison to the manual boxes in the VW Eos and the Volvo C70, both of which are as good, or nearly so, as the 3's; what has to be even more galling to the marque is that the six-speed manual Nissan has put in the new, sub-$30,000, '08 Altima Coupe is quantum degrees better, more like what a BMW box should be than this 3's. Overlooking the spongy touch, upshifts flow naturally from gear to gear, even if the driver skips a gear or two, a not uncommon inclination when crawling through rush hour traffic. Coming back down through the gears, drivers must take care if they wish to take a gear out of its normal sequence, as this requires some careful aiming of the shift lever to land in the desired slot.

Steering gives good feel and feedback, provided the box for the optional Active Steering has been left unchecked. This is yet another case of BMW trying to make better something that was fine the way it was. First, the basic,

Summary

The new BMW 3 Series Convertible proves BMW hasn't completely forsaken fans of the marque who want to believe it builds the ultimate driving machine. There are still more layers of electronic interference between the driver and the machine than many think is necessary, but enough of the connection between driver and pavement survives to make this car, and its sedan and coupe siblings, the best, most fun BMW still around.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report after driving BMW 3 Series Convertibles in South Florida and Central California.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:BMW 328i Convertible ($43,200); 335i Convertible ($49,100)
Engines:230-hp 3.0-liter inline-6; 300-hp 3.0-liter dual-turbocharged inline-6
Transmissions:6-speed manual; 6-speed Steptronic automatic
Safety equipment (standard):twin, dual-stage frontal airbags; front seat-mounted, torso-and-head-protecting side airbags; lower dash-mounted, knee airbags; roll-over protection system; dynamic stability control system; tire pressure monitor; active knee protection; crash-activated pedal retraction; rear seat child safety seat anchors and tethers (LATCH); adaptive brake lights
Safety equipment (optional):BMW Assist ($750)
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Regensburg. Germany
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):BMW 328i Convertible ($43,200)
Standard equipment:automatic, dual-zone climate control; cruise control; power windows, central locking and folding and heated outside mirrors with right-side parking tilt-down; AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with 10 speakers, including two sub-woofers, and RDS, diversity antenna and auxiliary input; tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with redundant audio and climate controls; 10-way driver and 8-way front passenger power seats; two-setting driver seat and outside mirror memory; remote window and top lowering; rain-sensing windshield wipers; automatic headlights; and halogen fog lights
Options as tested (MSPR):Premium Package ($2650); Active Steering ($1400); park distance control ($350); Sirius satellite radio ($595)
Destination charge:$775
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$48970
Layout:rear-wheel drive
Engine:3.0-liter, dohc, 24-valve, inline-6
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):230 @ 6500
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):200 @ 2750
Transmission:6-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:19/29 mpg
Wheelbase:108.7 in.
Length/width/height:180.6/70.2/54.5 in.
Track, f/r:59.1/59.6 in.
Turning circle:36.1 ft.
Seating Capacity:4
Head/hip/leg room, f:38.0/na/41.8 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:36.5/na/31.9 in.
Cargo volume:9.0 cu. ft.
Payload:N/A
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:independent, strut, coil spring, twin-tube gas-pressurized shock, stabilizer bar
Suspension, r:independent, five-link, coil spring, twin-tube gas-pressurized shock, stabilizer bar
Ground clearance:5.4 in.
Curb weigth:3792 lbs.
Tires:225/45R17
Brakes, f/r:vented disc/vented disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Fuel capacity:16.1 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of July 9, 2007.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-831-1117 - www.bmwusa.com