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The new BMW 3-series convertible.

Story by BMW - 26 May 2000

The third generation of BMW's benchmark four-seater 3 Series Convertible is launched this month, just in time to make the most of summer. It is the fourth model in the much praised E46 3 Series range, joining the Saloon, Coupé and Touring, all of which are enjoying great success in their respective markets. The new Convertible offers a host of new features to make soft-top motoring more practical and safer, as well as stylish and sheer good fun.

One model is available initially, the 170 bhp BMW 323Ci, which will be joined by the new 231 bhp 330Ci in July. Previous incarnations of the 3 Series Convertible have become firm best sellers in the growing market for practical convertibles, securing over 30 per cent of the sector. Equal success is expected of the latest model.

Based on the 3 Series Coupé, the BMW 323Ci is not merely a hard top with the roof removed. It is identical to the Coupé from the nose to the A pillar but has a lower waistline to accentuate its svelte good looks, a flatter bootlid with a boldly-styled trailing edge, a steeply-raked windscreen to provide an elegant profile and, of course, a smart soft top.

The roof for the new 323Ci is triple lined for insulation and electrically operated as standard. It folds in 25 seconds, which is quicker than any competitor, and is concealed beneath a neat cover. It is equipped with a heated, scratch proof glass rear window, addressing one of the few criticisms of previous 3 Series Convertibles.

Unique to the new BMW 3 Series Convertible is the collapsible roof cartridge which contains the roof when it is down. This sturdy, waterproof cartridge can be folded up when the roof is raised or removed to provide 40 litres more boot space (total 300 litres). A fail-safe device prevents the roof being lowered when the cartridge is folded.

A factory-painted matching hard top is available too. It has a heated rear window, front grab handles, shaped roof lining, rear courtesy lights and costs £1,595. It weighs only 28kg, can be installed by two people in as many minutes and can even be fitted with BMW's roof racking system.

The interior of the 323Ci boasts a range of features unique to the Convertible - a new three spoke sports, multi-function steering wheel and a seat-integrated belt system (SGS). The latter provides better fitting of the belts to the body, stops them flapping and allows easier access to the rear, as does a switch at the top of the backrest which moves the seat forward at double its normal speed.

Safety was a major priority during the development of the new 3 Series Convertible and it features a new roll-over system as standard. This consists of high strength roll over bars within the rear head restraints which pop up in 110 milliseconds if sensors detect that there is a danger of the car rolling over. To protect front passengers the windscreen frame is even stronger than before and forms an integral part of the passenger safety cell.

The new 3 Series Convertible has four airbags (driver, passenger and front seat side units) whilst rear side airbags are an option. It also has ASC+T traction control, Cornering Brake Control (CBC) with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC III) as an option and of course the dynamic excellence of all BMWs to give an unbeatable array of active safety features. The rear seats are equipped with ISOFIX child seat mountings.

Frequently convertibles are criticised for lacking torsional rigidity, but there are no such problems with the new 3 Series. BMW engineers have stiffened the floor pan, seat supports, side impact tubes in the doors and incorporated the windscreen frame as part of the roll cage to form an exceptionally rigid passenger compartment. The result is a car with a 20 per cent improvement in rigidity (now 10,900 Nm/degree) over the previous model. This makes the car outstandingly quiet with low vibration and exceptional driving qualities.

These are supplemented by the smooth 2.5 litre six cylinder in-line engine powering the 323Ci. Delivering 170 bhp @ 5,500 rpm and 245 Nm @ 3,500 rpm, it covers 0-62 mph in 8.6 seconds and reaches a top speed of 140 mph. Despite the additional body weight above the Coupé of 170kg (for chassis reinforcement, new seats and the roll over system) a creditable combined fuel consumption figure of 29.1 mpg and a CO2 emissions value of 232 g/km are achieved. (Figures quoted for manual version.)

A very high standard specification includes electric roof, 16 inch seven star alloy wheels x 7J with 205/55 R16 tyres, an integrated BMW Business radio/cassette unit with CD preparation, ABS, automatic air conditioning, car/key memory, electric windows front and rear, on board computer and a remote alarm. Options include satellite navigation, tyre pressure control, larger alloy wheels and a wind deflector.

The 323Ci with five speed manual gearbox is priced at £28,995 or for a further £1,220 a five speed adaptive automatic transmission with steptronic operation can be specified. The 330Ci Convertible will cost £32,050 when it is launched in July.

"The new 3 Series Convertible offers the performance of a sports coupe, without any of the compromises traditionally associated with an open top car," said Jim O'Donnell, Managing Director of BMW (GB) Ltd. "I believe the new 323Ci moves the goal posts for our competitors and I am confident we will attract more customers than ever once the full range is available."

BMW GB expects to sell 4,000 of the new range in a full year with all models.