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A world of contrasts. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

A world of contrasts
Think that a comfy four-seat convertible can't have sporting prowess? Take a closer look at the new 3 Series Convertible.

 



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#02#Spain is a country of contrasts. Within a mile of a huge nuclear power station, we spotted a much more appealing wind farm. The Valencia region is steeped in history, yet the inhabitants embrace new technology and industry. The roads away from the city are completely deserted, yet in places wide and long enough to allegedly prove that, yes, the new 3 Series Convertible is perfectly stable and comfortable at its top speed. With the roof folded.

Ah yes, the new 3 Series Convertible, the reason we're in Valencia; not only to enjoy the aforementioned road network, but also to 'kindly' do BMW a favour, by driving one of the company's launch cars back to Britain. In just a couple of days.

The new 3 Series Convertible is the fourth generation of its kind and probably incorporates the largest change in concept since the first was released in 1986, with the introduction of a folding hardtop. It must have been a difficult decision to make for BMW's management. After all, folding hardtops generally take up more space and are heavier than their fabric counterparts. However, the proliferation of this style of vehicle in recent years has been noted and though we suspect the reason is more to do with buyers' wishes for more security and isolation from the outside world, BMW cites cabin airiness and glass area as some of its major benefits. #p##02# Roof up, the new Convertible looks good; not as good as the new Coupé granted, but still stylish enough to turn heads and it's the first 3 Series Convertible to retain BMW's characteristic 'Hofmeister Kink' at the C-pillar. From inside, it feels far cosier than most regular convertibles, though there is a little more wind noise than in the Coupé at elevated speeds. This is likely to be due to the extra shutlines necessary in the three-piece roof, though, as you'd expect, BMW has done a good job on minimising the visual impact of the joins between the panels. Choose a dark colour and they are all but invisible.

Not that any of that matters when you get a chance to lower the roof. We're used to folding hardtops now, so watching the smooth, choreographed movement of the various panels as they fold themselves out of sight is not quite as spellbinding as it used to be, but it will still stop passers by in their tracks for a gawp. What's more, if you opt for the 'Comfort access system' (£430) then you can sit across the car park and operate the roof from the key and admire the process with everyone else.

BMW has thankfully not sacrificed the Convertible's roof-down styling in the name of practicality. So, just like every other generation of open-topped 3 Series, the rear end is completely flat. The 3 Series shape lends itself well to having the roof cut off, though the enhanced appearance is partly due to a lower windscreen, which is apparently 20mm lower even than the svelte Coupé. #p##03# We thoroughly recommend the optional wind deflector (£220), which we found highly effective at reducing buffeting, even at some quite significant speeds. It features a neat folding system that allows access to the rear seat, but note that its use rules out carrying rear passengers. We didn't have a chance to test whether a pair of extra heads in the rear have the same effect as a deflector... Note that the new Convertible is in fact a strict four-seater, with storage compartments filling the centre space at the rear, a feature that is optional on the Coupé.

In practical terms, the 3 Series Convertible is undoubtedly a compromise, but one we expect most convertible buyers to be familiar with. Saying that, the new car has 50 litres more luggage space with the roof up than the previous car, though 50 litres less with the roof in the boot. You need to plan your trip. Peer into the rear with the roof folded and you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's even tinier than expected. In fact, the majority of the space is hidden towards the front of the boot and it can be accessed via a feature on the key without the need to raise the whole roof. As I said, there are compromises to make in terms of convenience with this type of car.

Now crunch time; the 3 Series Convertible is still a BMW and so must live by the 'Ultimate Driving Machine' ethos. Does its owner have to compromise on driving dynamics too, just so they can soak up a few rays whenever the opportunity arises? I doubt I'm spoiling your surprise by simply telling you, no; there is little or no compromise.

To go along with the to-the-horizon straights, the Spanish road authorities specialise in traversing steep mountains using as little tarmac as possible. What that means is triple-apex hairpins after tight corner and big, big elevation changes. Thankfully, the Spanish generally do a great job of surfacing the roads, so allied to the lack of any other traffic, you can have lots of fun. The 3 Series Convertible attacks these roads with aplomb. Turn in is really sharp, with the dependable front end slightly edging out under duress, but ease the power back in and the rear end comes out to play. The traction control system is very well judged, but should you opt to turn it off completely, the chassis will not bite you. Instead you are rewarded with a gentle transition from full grip to a controllable and rewarding drift. Progress on a twisty mountain road is outrageous, especially for a car that many will see as for people only interested in looking good. #p##07# On the limit driving will be far from the majority of buyers' minds, so it will be comforting to know that the new Convertible does a good job as a cruiser too. Having had our fill of the twisty bits and a well-needed rest in Barcelona, we set the satnav for Calais and moved onto the motorway. It's quite sobering to see over 800 miles to your destination on the screen, but the Convertible coped with ease. The cruise control is an excellent, easy to use system, though it would have been nice to have an active radar-controlled feature at times. Other than that, the car was crushingly capable, cosseting and comfortable for the whole journey.

Another advantage to the convertible layout is of course the ability to hear the exhaust note. We tried both 325i and range-topping 335i variants and the aural experience is notably enhanced over the Coupé.

Both the 325i and 335i models go on sale today (March 24th) in the UK in SE trim, with the range really filling out next month thanks to the addition of 320i, 330i and 330d models. At the same time, BMW will release M Sport versions for sale. There was one M Sport-equipped Convertible on hand at the launch and it looks simply sensational thanks to its subtly enhanced body kit and larger alloy wheels. No wonder BMW is launching it on the market so soon; apparently 80% of buyers of the outgoing Convertible opted for the M Sport version.

So you still think that a four-seat convertible can't have sporting prowess, especially one with a folding hardtop? It may sound like a conflict of interests, but like Spain, it just works.
2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible range overview

- BMW 320i SE Convertible: £ 30,630
- BMW 325i SE Convertible: £ 33,065
- BMW 320i M Sport Convertible: £ 33,255
- BMW 325i M Sport Convertible: £ 35,690
- BMW 330i SE Convertible: £ 36,395
- BMW 330d SE Convertible: £ 36,770
- BMW 335i SE Convertible: £ 37,930
- BMW 330i M Sport Convertible: £ 38,950
- BMW 330d M Sport Convertible: £ 39,325
- BMW 335i M Sport Convertible: £ 40,250

Shane O' Donoghue - 24 Mar 2007









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2007 BMW 3 Series specifications:
Technical specifications for 2007 BMW 325i SE manual
Technical specifications for 2007 BMW 335i SE manual
Technical specifications for 2007 BMW 335i SE automatic

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by BMW.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 BMW 3 Series Convertible. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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