Ah summertime! What better time is there than this to drive a BMW convertible? Sometimes, we in the automotive press, spend too much time talking about the latest and greatest, forgetting about the here and now. This realization dawned on me while taking in the stunning view of the low slung, wide M-Sport package 2012 E93 Convertible, top down in the shimmering sunlight next to the lake in LeMans Blue Metallic with its cream beige Dakota leather.
Technology and Motoring
The E93 3 series convertible was launched in 2008 with a folding hard top. This marked a first for BMW who seemed to be moving on from their folding fabric tops or at least I thought until the new F13 6 Series convertible debuted last year with a cloth top.
The benefits of the folding hard top include much improved rearward visibility with the top up compared to the previous E46 3 Series convertible as well as increased sound deadening. BMW states you do get some chassis stiffening with the hard top up though my seat of the pants feel didn’t reveal any discernible difference.
With the hard top up, you do get a very reasonable 9.0 cubic feet of trunk space complete with an optional large pass through folding rear seat. This pass through however has BMW’s folded bag to keep the cabin clean from whatever it is you are stuffing through. This folded bag in my experience is a huge PITA to fold back properly flat once unfurled.
The E90 sedan debuted in 2006 and received its mid-cycle refresh in 2009 and concluded its run in 2011. However, the E92/E93 3 Series coupe and convertible were introduced as a 2008 model, and these received their mid-cycle refresh in 2011 which included an addition in overall vehicle length of 1.3 inches. This was mostly accomplished through a different front clip. I believe this to be in the name of pedestrian safety, though I couldn’t confirm my opinion.
The most significant mid-cycle change to the E93 cab 335i was pulling the twin-turbo N54 out of the 335i and stuffing a N55 single twin-scroll turbo in, though power outputs remained the same at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Starting in 2011, the 328i variant soldiers on with the same N52 inline 6. BMW added a new top-end enthusiast oriented model, the 335is for 2011 and onward models which has a faster version of the older motor N54, the likes of which found its way into the 1M. If you’re interested in a more in-depth review of the differences between the N54 and N55 see this previous BMWBLOG post.
iDrive received an updated in 2011 and this test model I drove had the fourth generation iDrive with its beautiful and wide 8.8” display. BMW Apps became available beginning with March 2011 production. I absolutely love BMW Apps. I had the convertible tweeting in German about the temperature and what I was driving or listening to. Check out @chuckvossler to see the actual tweets.
I realize that these are preordained tweets from BMW but I think its really cool how they can plug things that are going on around you in the text of the tweet, like what song you are listening to or what the temperature is outside. How did I get mine to tweet in German? Well, I have been trying to learn German and have my iPhone’s default language set to Deutsch. I had no idea that BMW would then automatically start tweeting in German. Cool huh? Listening to Pandora or playlists off your iPhone is super easy with BMWs. Furthermore, the 8.8” display shows the album art work.
BMW is the first car manufacture to install sun-reflective leather for cooler seating. How do they make the leather cooler? Simple, the leather contain a unique pigment that is imbedded in it that reflects infrared radiation at a wavelength of 720 nanometers.
BMW also offers a a special wind deflector that helps reduce air swirling within the cabin. At highway speeds with windows up and top down, the wind deflector was maybe responsible for 20-30% less wind on my head, but this is of course non-scientific.
As with other BMW convertibles, automatic rollover hoops deploy to provide an extra safety cushion in the case of a rollover. This is complimented with integrated seat side-airbags that offer protection from side impact no matter the angle of the seat back. BMW has reinforced the floor pan that helps transmit side impact forces away from the passengers. The front A-pillar and the rest of the windshield frame act as a front roll over brace. All of these reinforcement and the electric motors and hardware for the drop top account for the majority of the extra 400 lbs over the coupe’s weight.
The BMW 328i has the N52 3.0-liter engine which makes 230 hp with 200 lb-ft of torque. It has a lot of light weight materials such as aluminum and magnesium as well as hollow camshafts, but not Direct Fuel Injection. Though I didn’t drive this particular motor in 3 Series convertible, we own a BMW with the N52 motor. To me, the in-line 6 motor defines BMW and has been BMW’s signature motor for 30+ years. I can be walking down a sidewalk and tell that one is coming up the street without even seeing it be it an E30 or an E90. There is just something unique about its low frequency rumble when they are running. The turbo N54/N55 have this same rumble, but I find myself rolling on the throttle to feel the massive early onset wave of torque.
N55 engine is part of BMW’s new corporate approach to improved fuel economy that will most likely continue for sometime, namely direct fuel injection, turbocharging and variable valve timing. The 3.0-liter unit produces 300 bhp at 5,800 rpm and 300 lb.-ft of torque from 1,200-5,000 rpm. Per Car and Driver a 2011 335i is quicker off the line and BMW says the convertible hits 60 mph in a claimed 5.5, a mere 0.2 second penalty over the 335i coupe.
With the top up, the driving experience was unlike any convertible I’ve driven before. The view wasn’t blocked as much and the road noise was more consistent with a genuine coupe compared to an actual convertible. It hits expansion strips on bridges and gaps in the road with a thud with zero cowl shake. You can’t really hear the exhaust of this sweet inline-6 N55 until you put the top down, which is a pity because it sounds great.
The seating position was easy to perfect with the power adjustable seats which contain a side impact bag and seatbelts. The M-Sport steering wheel with the optional sport shift paddles were perfect. God, I love hydraulic steering. I hate that the trend is to get rid of it. With the paddle shifts, it was easy to change gear the way you wanted to, when you wanted to. Just looked it once and I was good to go. This is so unlike the cumbersome thumb push button wheel shifter that Porsche does the PDK on their cars. The last PDK I drove was a 2012 911S and I found it annoying and even counterintuitive. Porsche does offer paddle shifters but you loose the multifunction steering wheel. Not so with the BMW models where you can have your multifunction wheel and keep your shifter paddles.
The acceleration was impressive with the 335i’s early onset thrust from the 300 ft-lbs of torque from a ridiculously low 1,200 rpm pulling hard all the way to 5,000 rpm. The tip into the throttle to rapid acceleration is simply awesome. Only occasionally would I hear the turbo spool up when something would reflect the sound back. Though this six speed automatic is one of the oldest in BMW’s lineup, it shifts rapidly and crisply and complements the car well. I found myself some what apprehensive while modulating the throttle when approaching the handling limits. I realized this during a series of my favorite clover leaf interchanges that I take over and over. I just think the nature of a turbo motor makes it more difficult to throttle steer than a naturally aspirated screaming V8.
Brakes were very stout hauling the 4,000 lbs down quickly allowing me to go deeper and deeper with confidence in the clover leaf. Powering out the corner I did notice some body rolling motion, that I’d prefer not have existed but absolutely no cowl shake or flex that I could sense. I don’t think a little body roll on extreme cornering a bad thing since otherwise it has a great solid ride. If this were the M3 convertible, it might be unforgivable, but this is aimed at those who enjoy a sporting solid BMW feel whom I doubt have little intention of going to the track. I could easily see this being someones year round, daily driver car.
I was really surprised how much better run flats are now than when they first came out. The 335i I tested came with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A. I’ve owned a set of these and while they have great handling characteristics, they wear incredibly quickly if you drive hard and are very expensive. Tire Rack lists the rears at $ 353 a piece for the 255/35/18’s!
BMW’s mechanism for the folding hardtop involves a ballet of metal, plastic and cloth. It folds in three pieces with the back glass one, and the flat top in two roughly equal parts. The symphony starts by the windows dropping and then the trunk opening. Then, well, its hard to describe but the best view is from the back quarter panel if you want to see the mechanism. That’s the view we shot our video from.
It’s really amazing and I couldn’t get enough of it. It seems to flow better if the car is running as I imagine there’s quite a draw on the battery if you keep playing with it like I did with the car off. There were a lot of videos out there on the folding roof but none really focused in on the mechanism so we shot what I think is a unique angle on this so you can see the intricate maneuvers going on.
BMW states the 335i’s top can open in just 22 seconds and close in 23. You have to press and hold the actuation button which is located on the console between the front seats. BMW states that the hard top roof adds to the vehicle’s torsional stiffness. I found little difference while driving with the top up or down but I suspect it might be more pronounced if the 335i had a stiffer suspension. Hmmm, I don’t know but sounds like M3 Convertible might make a good test subject this summer too! I don’t recall a manufacturer ever stating the car was stiffer with a top up, but after watching the solid locking mechanism in the last bit of engagement of closing the roof, I wouldn’t doubt their claim.
Another convenient feature is that the roof can open by remote control when the car is equipped with the Comfort Access option, though I found you had to be rather close to the car. The button must be pressed down during the entire opening process because movement of the roof elements is interrupted whenever the button is released. Why Comfort Access isn’t standard on BMW’s is beyond me as its standard on some much less expensive cars.
In the trunk, there is a little tray that moves up to give you more storage space but it needs to be down if you want to put the top down. It’s probably put there as a device to remind you that space is limited with the top down. This tray must be in the down position for the top to drop and several times I found it necessitated a trip out of car to the trunk. Try doing that a stop light. Doesn’t work. At least BMW gives you an idiot warning light when you’ve left the storage tray up giving you the reason for the hard top not moving. What could be in the way you say? Well the windscreen stows in there but was somewhat cumbersome yanking it in and out of the car for pics and scientific testing.
As a comparison, the Porsche 911 can drop its softtop by a button on the center console or by the vehicle key. Its top and opens or closes in approximately 13 seconds, at speeds up to 30 mph. BMW, well, you have to be at a complete stop. Is this a big deal? Probably not, and in truth it most likely saves wear and tear on the mechanical choreography BMW orchestrates when opening and closing the folding hardtop. This top’s movement is so incredible, I am not sure why they wouldn’t use something similar on the M6 cabriolet but perhaps they were worried about adding to its 4,509 lbs. At the Detroit Autoshow, however, BMW designer Adrian van Hooydonk did say the cloth top version was chosen for aesthetic reasons and I must say looks pretty cool especially by the 6‘s back glass.
|Model||Base Price||Notable Options||Power||0-60 (BMW figures)|
N/C Steptronic, leather costs $ 1500, venerable N52 inline 6cyl.
230 hp @ 6500 rpm 200 lb-ft torque @ 2750rpm
N/C Steptronic, N/C Leather, N55 twinpower single turbo w/ DFI
300hp @ 5800 rpm 300 lb-ft torque from 1200rpm – 5000 rpm
Manual Standard, DCT Avail $ 450, N54 twin turbo motor DFI, 1Mʼs Motor! replete w/ overboost
5900 rpm 332 lb-ft from 1500 – 5000 rpm. Over boost torque of 370 lb-ft
5.2 sec same w/ DCT or manual
Criticisms? Not many, but I would point out that in a killer looking interior of the 335i convertible, the “1999 era” Steptronic gearshift looks out of place. The sleek new DCT gearshift used in the 335is model looks much much better and is used in other BMW’s that are automatics, such as the X5. However, with the fantastic M steering wheel and mounted paddle shifters, I quickly forgot about it.
And being a typical German car, the cup holders SUCK. They may as well call them Starbucks coffee flingers with those big fulcrum arms amplifying the cars motions.
And then there’s the 4,000lbs. There’s just something spooky when you look at a 4,000lb weight listed on this car when the E30 325 Convertible was less than 3,000lbs per E30world.com. On paper and in theory it bothered me more than driving it. I just cant figure out how BMW makes these cars handle so well with all that weight, but they do time and time again.
2012 model year changes? Not many, just minor option package and price changes. Now the automatic Steptronic six-speed transmission is offered as a no cost option, previously it was $ 1,375. The cost of the DCT in the 335is decreased from $ 1,575 to $ 450, though the base price has increased for 335is by $ 1,225. The M Sport Package price drops from the 2011 price of $ 3,000 to $ 2,800 for 2012 in the 335i cab but again note that the base price has increased by $ 1,225 in the 335i. Also note that BMW had discontinued the “basic” $ 1,400 sport package.
The 2012 335i Convertible still looks remarkably fresh and drives as good as it looks. IMHO the E93 convertible, be it from a N52 motor all the way to the M3 monster V8, remains one of the best convertibles on the market today. The E93 convertibles should remain in production for the rest of 2012 and have their last year as a 2013.
Base MSRP comparison E93 Convertible to Coupe:
335is convertible $ 60,800 vs 335is coupe is $ 52,100 yields a delta of $ 8,700
335i convertible $ 53,800 vs 335i coupe is $ 45,100 yields a delta of $ 8,700
328i convertible $ 47,600 vs 328i coupe is $ 38,700 yields a delta of $ 8,900, $ 200 more but they throw in power seats and mirrors with memory which are not present on the base 328i coupe one of BMW’s best values for $ 200 IMHO.
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