The new, fourth-generation BMW 3 Series Convertible is a two-door, four-seat, power-windowed (ilo manual winders) coupé with a three-piece folding (electro-hydraulically, in around 22 seconds) metal roof – which, technically, makes it a drophead coupé. But BMW insists on calling the car a convertible, not even a CC. And, yes, there is a pukka 3 Series Coupé available that, roof up, looks pretty much the same, but in return for a cost saving of nearly R90 000 it naturally cannot offer the joys of al fresco motoring. Some may consider that a high premium for a car some 110 kg heavier and with less luggage space. But, having called the 335i Coupé “super sub” in our January 2007 road test (suggesting it as being a “real world” substitute for the outgoing M3), where does that leave the CC, er, Convertible?
Quite simply, still right there with its more sporting siblings. BMW’s magnificent new 3,0-litre, twinturbocharged, intercooled in-line six – with direct fuel injection, and full variable valve and cam timing – not only sounds magnificent (top up or, even better, top down), but in conjunction with the Steptronic six-speed autobox, propels this near-1,9 ton machine to 100 km/h in 5,99 seconds, and covers a standing kilometre in 25,54 seconds at a terminal speed of 210 km/h. These figures are a fraction slower than those we recorded with the manual Coupé, but the gearing is different, and our test unit was fitted with a set of optional 18-inch wheels in place of the standard 17-inchers worn by the Coupé, so it still easily qualifies as a performance machine. On both models, top speed is limited to a nominal 250 km/h. Interestingly, though, the Convertible’s kick-down 60-120 km/h time of 5,35 seconds bettered the Coupé’s third gear overtaking acceleration time by more than half a second.
Roof erect, noise levels are much as the Coupé’s, and with roof down, all four side windows raised and the very effective clip-in draught screen installed, normal conversation is possible even at high speed. And the general absence of scuttle shake – this car’s torsional stiffness sets a BMW open car benchmark – heightens the feeling of travelling in something substantial. At low speeds, the ride is hard, exacerbated by the run-flat tyres, but in true sportscar tradition, the harder you charge the better it gets, with no discernable roll through corners. Steering is a tad heavy by modern standards, but get involved and you soon appreciate its feedback. A typically comprehensive dynamic stability control system is built in to the car’s systems, but it allows plenty of free play for enthusiastic driving. The tyres – 225/40 up front, 255/35 behind – grip tenaciously. Big brakes – with “dry braking”, and permanently activated wear indicators – do an effective job when called upon.
In the rear, there are passable chairs for two people, and the boot will hold 112 dm3 of our ISO-standard blocks as well as the folded roof, with an extra 96 dm3 available with the roof up. (Through-loading is an option.) Opening and closing the roof can be accomplished with the central locking fob – this car has keyless entry/exit and start/ stop – including a party trick of being able to partially raise the roof for easier loading of the boot, then lower it again.
Oh, and for those times when you have to travel with a roof over your head, an increased glasshouse area means the cabin is airier than before, and the fully lined roof does a good job of sealing itself against the frameless side-glass – the noise level at 120 km/h is only marginally greater than that of the Coupé. All the expected passive safety items – “active” seatbelts, front/ head/thorax airbags, pop-up roll hoops – are fitted. Headlamps are bixenon, and LED tail-lamps are fitted. Test summary Here we have a BMW that is handsome – where did those Bangle bashers disappear to? – rapid, reasonably practical, and capable of delivering a rewarding driving experience with or without a roof. In essence, there are few better ways to enjoy motoring than with this car. At R591 500 without options, the 335i Steptronic version is not cheap, but then you are paying for some state-of-the-art technology. A CC tour de force.