For the review of the sedan, click here.
Known for its success as a compact luxury sedan, the BMW 3 Series is BMW’s most important model. It combines dynamic excellence and typical BMW virtues into a small package. Adding to its appeal is its variety of body styles available. One of those body styles includes a convertible. The 3 Series convertible made its introduction in the E30 iteration in 1987. Fast forward to 2007 to the E90 iteration. The convertible body style always employed a traditional cloth top, but due to current trends, BMW ditched the traditional soft top for a metal hard top. This is surprising considering that the more expensive 6 Series convertible uses a cloth top. Nonetheless, the metal hardtop was a first for the 3 Series convertible.
The thing I like best about the 3 series coupe and convertible’s designs is that they look different than the sedan. The front and rear are unique to both the coupe and convertible. Both the owner and I agree that there is a kitty essence to the front. There is no palpable reason as to why, but the slightly recessed headlights, grille, and wheels give it a cat like quality. With hardtop convertibles, compromises are made with the styling in order to fit the roof in the trunk. The top itself is divided in numerous places and looks unfinished, and the window line is awkward. However, put the top down, and the silhouette is nicely streamlined. The interior is primarily function, but it is still attractive.
It still drives like a true BMW. Compared to the sedan/coupe, it does feel heavier and slower to respond. But overall, it drives very well. The steering is quick and there is good heft to it. It is cumbersome at parking lots speeds though. It is brimming with road feel, and it is precise. It is very capable when it comes to its handling ability, and there is virtually no body lean. It also grips well. It is genuinely fun to drive despite that it is 400 pounds heavier than the sedan. Because convertibles sacrifice body rigidity, they usually experience body wobble or shake over rough roads. The added weight adds more stability. The ride is supple enough, but it does get bumpy on poor roads.
The heart of the 328i is an inline six cylinder engine making 230 horsepower, and the transmission is a six speed automatic. Don’t let the added weight fool you, the car is stronger than you’d expect. It is flexible, and it has decent pickup power. The transmission is smooth, but the paddle shifters are confusing. On the steering wheel, you have to press either one of the front buttons in order to downshift and either of the back buttons in order to downshift. A 300 horsepower turbocharged version of the six cylinder is available as is a six speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is not the best at around 21 mpg overall. It may have a relatively generous range but the miles to range gap decreases quickly.
Refinement is sound except for some road noise. With the top up, it is quiet enough so that you can talk or listen to music. The six cylinder emits a glorious engine note when pressed. One feature that I like is when you fire up the engine, it “wakes up” and lets out a growl.
The interior feels well assembled, and plush. The cup holders seem unstable. The gauges are slightly cluttered but not difficult to read. The controls are complicated; the radio controls force you to take your eyes from the road and small and hard to read buttons dominate the radio interface. The AC controls are also hard to use. The seats feel like they are hugging you. There is adequate room in the front, but the rear is cramped. Visibility is average. Trunk space is decent with the top up, but it is limited with the top down.
I generally don’t like convertibles. I just cannot stomach the tradeoffs of a convertible compared to the coupe equivalent. But the 328i convertible more than makes up for it with an engaging driving experience. When the top is down, it seems like you are driving faster than you really are. The six cylinder engine has the right amount of horsepower. It is more than enough for normal driving, but it allows you to wring all the horses out of it and have fun doing it. Add that with the talkative steering and the well calibrated suspension, and you have a car that is great for a mountain drive.