When the BMW dealer handed me the plastic fob, he insisted I drive the 335i Convertible with the top down. Despite the cool, foggy San Francisco weather, I held the plipper’s unlock button down and watched the show. As the hardtop began its elaborate three part dance into the trunk, I felt that old familiar flutter. The feeling was born when I started driving lessons in my Dad’s 1963 Chevrolet Impala rag top, survived my first car (a 1962 VW Beetle convertible) and lead to my current stable of drop tops. Would the 335i live up to its predecessors?
The 335i Convertible’s roof design preserves its tin top twin’s clean lines. The drop top's rear deck provides the main visual difference between the two models; the convertible’s is significantly larger and thus, more handsome than the sedan's. Other than that, the convertible’s got a chrome strip outlining the retractable roof, a sat/nav dingus on the trunk lid (it wouldn’t survive roof origami for long) and panel gaps on the rear roof pillar. Both vehicles offer such an aesthetically elegant design that they almost seem, dare I say it, Italian.
I intended to drive with the top down for a few blocks. A few blocks turned into a few miles and before I knew it, I’d driven 60 miles, moving from the city fog to Napa Valley sunshine. The 335i Convertible’s windshield is pushed well forward; you feel quite exposed to the elements. Luckily, the air movement in the cabin is well controlled– to the point where I eventually noticed that I was driving lethargically. So I installed the roof and prepared to attack the back roads.
Exploring the gizmology, I became convinced that Bimmer’s boffins have decided to make it as difficult as possible to make adjustments, so that iDrive seems better by default. For example, I wanted to adjust the turn signal so that it winked thrice when lightly touched. The manual doesn’t explain this procedure, so I will.
First, the vehicle must be running but not in motion. Next, push down twice on the toggle switch located on the front of the turn signal stalk. Then engage another switch at the tip of this same stalk. Flip the first switch five times and the one at the tip once. Flip the first switch once and then the one at the tip again and be quick about it; if you take more than eight seconds, it reverts back to the original display and setting. Done.
Thankfully, I only had to go through this one time; iDrive owners face a lifetime of questioning (did you really intend to change this radio station? Of course I did, you electronic ninny, why would I push the button in the first place?).
Anyway, with the roof in place, the 335i Convertible’s body integrity is luxuriously outstanding. Many retractable hardtops creak and groan on rough roads. Although footwear differences between the two models may account for the aural disparity, I swear the 335i Convertible is quieter than the 335i Coupe. The tin top dished all the silence I needed to fully enjoy the Bimmer’s superb sound system and my easily paired Bluetooth compatible phone.
Which was just as well: BMW could have phoned-in the 335i Convertible’s dynamics. All its controls and responses felt heavier and more remote than the coupe’s. Turn in wasn’t nearly as crisp. Braking seemed far less immediate. Worst of all, the convertible’s tardy throttle response evoked an unreasonable facsimile of turbo lag. In the 335i coupe, simply thinking about the go-pedal brings immediate satisfaction. In this application, you have to step on the pedal like you mean it.
From a pure performance standpoint, the convertible is 85 percent of the coupe. Some of the difference can be attributed to the smaller wheels on my tester, which lacked the sport package. On the positive side, the softer tire setup muted all harshness from road blemishes and provided an astonishingly unruffled ride. I missed the paddle shifters, only available with the sport package, but the 335i Convertible’s magic carpet composure sang its siren song to my inner geezer.
My tester included BMW’s much maligned [optional] active steering. I admit that it takes time to get used to the helm’s abrupt turn in, but I appreciate how the wheel-by-wire system improves navigating at low speeds in parking lots. The price for all this technology: $57k MSRP. That's only $3k more than the previous drop top. Not bad for a brace of turbos and a retractable hardtop.
Has BMW built the ultimate convertible? If you’re a prestige convertible shopper who values comfort over performance, or someone who wants to schlep the kids al fresco without risking interior defilement, that’s a yes. If you’re looking for a no compromise wind-in-the-hair thrill ride, the new M3 convertible is bound to be all that.