KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
The 3 Series has long served as BMW's most popular line – up until the recent arrival of the 1 Series – and the most affordable entrée to the realm of the Ultimate Driving Machine. While convertibles have been part of the 3 Series lineup for over 20 years, the fourth and latest generation introduced in 2007 is the first to have a retractable top made of lightweight steel instead of conventional fabric. In offering this impressive open-and-shut case for itself, the Convertible does sacrifice some people and cargo space compared to the Coupe. However, both the 328i and more powerful 335i have the dynamic character to please enthusiast drivers and maintain strong competitive positions against prime four-passenger drop-top rivals, including the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz CLK 350, Saab 9-3 and Volvo C70.
You'll Like This Car If...
Anyone who loves the idea of being able to enjoy spirited open-air motoring and steel-topped security will find either of the 3 Series convertibles ready to deliver on both counts.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Buyers expecting to carry adults in the rear seat should try before they buy a 3 Series Convertible, and lowering its top trims the already mini-scaled trunk capacity from 12.4 to 7.4 cubic feet. Like all BMW's, the optional iDrive and navigation system combination still requires plenty of familiarization time to master.
What's New for 2008
The fourth-generation 3 Series Convertibles enter their sophomore year as virtual carryovers, although the 328i does gain the 335i's standard chrome exhaust tips and adds paddle shifters to the optional Steptronic automatic transmission on any car also fitted with the Sport Package.
Top up or top down, the 3 Series Convertible has the overall performance to pass muster with even the most demanding BMW critics. Exceptional structural reinforcing leaves both the 328i and 335i feeling almost as rigid as their Coupe counterparts, although the convertibles do weigh nearly 400 pounds more than the coupes. Effort level on the base power steering feels slightly high, but it's positive, linear and a great match for the well-sorted suspension. Balancing control and comfort in a typically BMW manner, these cars deliver loads of driving confidence. While the 335i's additional muscle is destined to make it the clear favorite with enthusiasts, even the 328i has abundant dynamic charms. And big, fade-resistant anti-lock brakes stop either with powerful and consistent capability.
Sun Reflective Leather Upholstery
An industry first, the leather seat coverings in the 3 Series convertible use color pigments that have been modified to reflect and reject infrared rays and reduce ambient surface temperatures by 27-36 degrees (depending upon specific interior colors), an innovation that makes top-down cruising on hot days an even cooler experience.
Retractable Steel Hardtop
Cycling in less than 25 seconds with the push or pull of a console-mounted controller, the Convertible's three-piece, fully lined, lightweight-steel top uses an electro-hydraulic actuation mechanism to fold into a compact stack that tucks neatly away under a hard tonneau.
Well-finished and well-appointed, the 3 Series Convertible's subcompact-scaled cabin has a clear driver orientation, from legible white-on-black analog gauges and bright orange digital readouts to a finger-friendly array of function levers and switchgear. The 328i is outfitted in leatherette upholstery and the 335i has real leather, but both offer the choice of wood or brushed-aluminum accent trim, have impressively contoured power adjustable front seats, a locking glovebox and four cupholders. Although the belted-for-two rear bench is a far happier place for medium-sized kids than full-sized adults, its one-piece back folds to reveal a sizable pass-through to a not-so-sizable trunk.
The 3 Series Convertible embodies the same basic visual themes as its Coupe kin, sharing common front quarters but with unique – although stylistically similar – rear fenders and decklid treatments to accommodate its retractable hard top. Although there are slight variations on the taillamps and soft fascia, the most visible difference is seen in the Convertible's upper body, where packaging requirements dictate a slightly less sweeping C-pillar and back-glass configuration. Like the Coupes, the 328i/335i Convertibles fill their nicely-flared fenders with 245/45 run-flat tires on 17-inch alloy wheels and offer an 18-inch upgrade with conventional performance tires.
Notable Standard Equipment
Beyond a one-button, power-retractable steel hardtop and their respective engine and transmission fitments, the 3 Series Convertibles share a formidable array of power assists, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel on a tilt and telescoping column, dual-zone climate control, keyless remote, start and stop button and cruise control. The 328i has a 10-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX sound system, while the 335i has a Logic7 system with an additional speaker, Digital Sound Processing and Surround Sound. Both models have corner-following xenon adaptive headlamps, LED adaptive brake lights, anti-lock brakes with Dynamic Brake Control and an advanced Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control system with Start-off Assistant, Brake Fade Compensation, Brake Stand-by and Brake Drying. Also on hand are dual front, front-side and knee airbags and pop-up rollover hoops.
Notable Optional Equipment
Both 3 Series convertibles offer a trio of group upgrades: The Premium Package (power lumbar-support front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, power folding outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, BMW Assist comprehensive telematics with Automatic Collision Notification and BMW Universal Transceiver – plus leather upholstery on the 328i), the Sport Package (sport suspension, sport seats, 18-inch staggered-width performance tires and wheels) and the Cold Weather Package (heated seats, headlight washers and ski bag). Major single options include speed-sensitive variable-ratio Active Steering, iDrive integrated controller with GPS navigation, distance-maintaining Active Cruise Control, six-disc CD changer, HD radio, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a wind deflector and Bluetooth, iPod and USB adapters. The premium LOGIC7 sound system also is available for the 328i.
Under the Hood
Both 3 Series Convertibles are powered by smooth, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engines. Each of these free-revvers is fitted with BMW's performance-pumping, continuously variable timing system on both intake and exhaust valves. The 328i's naturally-aspirated engine makes 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, sufficient to send the car sprinting from zero to 60 mph in an energetic 6.7 seconds when matched with the six-speed manual or 7.2 seconds with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. The 335i's twin-turbocharged, direct-injected alternative makes a scorching 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque – which it cranks out from 1400-5000 rpm - and can accomplish the zero-to-60-mph run in a super-quick 5.5 seconds with the manual or 5.7 with the automatic. Equally impressive, the surprisingly frugal 335i either matches or trails by just one mpg the 328i's already-impressive EPA fuel economy numbers.
3.0-liter in-line 6
230 horsepower @ 6500 rpm
200 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/27 (manual), 18/27 (automatic)
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged in-line 6
300 horsepower @ 5800 rpm
300 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1400-5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/26
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the BMW 328i is just above $44,000 and the 335i starts slightly over $50,000. Fitting either with the Steptronic automatic transmission will add about $1,300 to those base numbers, which places these convertibles in a competitive to slightly-high window relative to their principal competition. That position also reflects their likely future valuations, as well. BMW's 3 Series has a well-proven track record when it comes to being a solid automotive investment, and these latest hard-top convertibles appear fully prepared to carry on that tradition. While residual value percentages are projected to be somewhat higher for the 328i than the 335i, both significantly exceed comparative figures for the Audi A4 or Saab 9-3 and are expected to fare at least slightly better than a Mercedes-Benz CLK 350 or Volvo C70 as long-run investments.