2008 BMW 335i Convertible Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 BMW 335i Convertible
BMW has made 3-Series convertibles for years, but until the release of the newest model just over a year ago all were conventional cloth-top cars. With the current 3-Series convertible lineup, BMW has joined the ranks hardtop-convertible manufacturers, to give owners the best of both body styles.
Like the 3-Series coupe, the convertible has a two-door body. But only the bodywork from the windshield forward is shared. The three-piece steel top folds into the top of the trunk automatically, courtesy of electric and hydraulic operation. It can go from closed to open in 22 seconds, and open to close in 23. Up, the car has protection from the elements as good as any sedan or coupe; top-down it's motoring hedonism incarnate.
The pleasure of driving the 3-Series convertible stems, no surprise, not only from its convertible nature, but also from its being a BMW, with first-rate chassis dynamics and powertrains. As with other current 3-Series cars - in sedan, coupe, and wagon styles - engines are a pair of 3.0-liter inline sixes, one (328i) naturally-aspirated and the other (335i) with forced induction from twin turbochargers. (And, to be more exact, the wagon comes only in 328 form.) The turbo engine is BMW's first road-going gasoline turbo in decades - the only previous examples were found in the 745i sedan in 1981 and the 2002 Turbo in 1976. Neither of those cars were officially imported to the US.
Both new engines are lighter, more powerful, and more efficient than the powerplants they replace. That means more performance - and better fuel economy. The 335i mill makes 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque from its 3.0-liter displacement, nearly as much as the previous-generation M3 engine. It's capable of propelling the 335i convertible from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, or 5.7 seconds with the optional six-speed automatic. Yet I averaged 22 mpg during a week of driving that encompassed everything from running errands to backroad fun, with as little highway driving as possible.
Solo or with four people aboard, the 335i convertible was thoroughly capable. Yes, its extra weight, compared to the coupe or sedan, undoubtedly detracted some from ultimate abilities, but not in a way anyone would notice in the everyday world. A convertible is for a relaxed, fun-in-the-sun experience, and with 300 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1400 through 5000 rpm and instant response from the engine, plenty of adrenaline was available with little movement of my right foot. My test car came with the optional automatic. While I prefer a manual, this automatic was a great match for the engine's "shifting optional" torque curve. No need to explore the upper portion of the power, just relax and cruise - quickly, smoothly, and efficiently.
And in comfort, with excellent front seats, very good rear room, and even a useful trunk with the top down. BMW does not rest on its considerable laurels, which may cause frustration for its competitors but is to the benefit of its customers.
APPEARANCE: With its unmistakable four-eyed, twin-kidney front end, there is no mistaking the 3-Series convertible for anything but a BMW. It's just as identifiable from the sides, with strong shoulder lines and full wheel arches. The rear has been cleaned up from the earlier, more baroque, style, and features a small ducktail at the rear lip of the double-jointed trunk lid and LED taillights covered by traditional red lenses. Top-up it's roofline is more sedan-like than the coupe's, benefitting rear passengers, and chrome trim around the side windows adds a luxury touch. Top-down, it's handsome, well-proportioned, and ready to go.
COMFORT: Much is expected of a car at the 335i convertible's $50,000 price point, and it delivers. Leather seats, steering wheel, shift knob, and trim, wood accents on the dash, console, and doors, power-adjustability of most things power-adjustable (and manual adjustment of the rest), and the driver-centered design for which BMW is well-known are all included. Beside the regular window lifts on the driver's door is a master switch that can put all up or down at one touch. The top goes up or down quickly. Visibility is unsurprisingly excellent with it down, but top-up visibility is very good. No, really - the windows are larger than in previous 3 convertibles, and the C-pillar is narrower, one advantage of metal over cloth. The driver has the current BMW interface for driving, with easily-visible instrumentation and well-placed controls. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes manually, and the power sports seats fitted to my test car had manual cushion length adjustment to complement power everything else. Yes, iDrive is still the interface to the programmable climate functions, internal information and navigation systems, and most audio system functions, but it's been simplified over the years and use will make it familiar. Interior ambiance lighting and external lights under the door handles aid access at night.
There is room for two adults in the rear, although access is easiest with the top down. Run-flat tires mean no spare, which means that even with the top down there is useful trunk storage. The available Cold Weather Package includes the "Through Loading System", a passthrough in the center of the rear seat for skis or a small set of golf clubs.
SAFETY: The BMW 3-Series convertible's unibody structure is designed and constructed to channel any crash energy away from occupants. The floor pan is reinforced compared to the coupe, to counteract strength and rigidity lost with the solid top. The windshield frame is meant to be a rollover bar, and is aided by sensors that will automatically deploy rollbars behind the rear headrests. Dual front and seat-mounted front side airbags that extend to the bottom of the headrests complete passive safety features. First-class maneuverability and braking aid active safety, and if the BMW owner (or anyone else, for that matter) feels the need to learn how to best use the car in a high-performance or accident-avoidance situation, BMW has very good schools available at its Spartanburg, SC facility.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Even with the Performance Package fitted to my test car, the 335i convertible is only moderately firm in suspension tuning, and quite comfortable. It has the most rigid structure ever for a BMW convertible, so there is no flex, even from the heavy top mechanism. The extra reinforcement that ensures this adds about 400 pounds to the car, compared to an equivalent coupe, but such is the price for convertible sun. It's well worth it, compared to the alternative - noise, metal fatigue, and imprecise handling. The 3-Series formula of double-pivot struts at the front, a five-link setup at the rear, a low center of gravity, and excellent weight distribution works its usual wonders. The sport suspension adds firmer springs and shocks for better control and minimal body roll, and larger-diameter wheels with lower-profile speed-rated tires for improved turn-in. It should be made standard fare on all 3-Series cars.
PERFORMANCE: 300 horsepower, no waiting, little thirst. In the N54 engine, BMW has yet another propulsive masterpiece. Two small turbos, one for each three cylinders, are used, for faster response to load demands. An air-to-air intercooler reduces intake charge temperature and density, while piezoelectric fuel injectors provide more precise fuel metering, benefitting both fuel economy and emissions. Aluminum alloy is used for the block and heads, with cast-iron cylinder liners for maximum strength and durability. Continuously-variable "VANOS" cam phasing on both camshafts and use of the patented "valvetronic" variable valve lift system ensure fast but civilized throttle response and clean, efficient power. With 300 lb-ft of torque developed between 1400 and 5000 rpm, and maximum horsepower of 300 at 5800 rpm, there is no need to press the engine to redline for maximum acceleration. And with that torque curve, the optional six-speed automatic transmission works perfectly well, in D, just about anywhere and any time - and I'm a dedicated shift-it-myself Luddite saying that.
CONCLUSIONS: BMW raises the bar in the compact sports-luxury convertible segment with its 3-Series convertible.
2008 BMW 335i Convertible
Base Price $ 49,100 Price As Tested $ 59,270 Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam 24-valve inline 6-cylinder with twin turbochargers, intercooler, and continuously-variable cam phasing and adjustable valve lift Engine Size 3.0 liters / 182 cu. in. Horsepower 300 @ 5800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 300 @ 1400-5000 rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode (opt) Wheelbase / Length 108.7 in. / 180.6 in. Curb Weight 3957 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.2 Fuel Capacity 16 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires Bridgestone Potenza Runflat, F: 225/40 WR18 R: 255/35 WR18 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, Suspension, front/rear independent double-pivot strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 26 / 22 0 to 60 mph 5.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Barbera Red Metallic paint $ 475 Cold Weather Package - includes: through-loading system, heated front seats, retractable headlight washers $ 750 Premium Package - includes: universal garage door opener, digital compass mirror, auto-dimming mirrors, lumbar support, BMW Assist $ 1,550 Sport Package - includes: 18" wheels with performance tires, sport seats, sport suspension $ 1,300 Sport steering wheel with paddles $ 100 STEPTRONIC automatic transmission $ 1,275 Comfort Access $ 500 iPod and USB adapter $ 400 Navigation system $ 2,100 HD Radio $ 350 Satellite Radio $ 595 Destination charge $ 775