In the Autoblog Garage: BMW 335i Convertible
Thanksgiving is when I put the snow tires back on the cars. Here in New England, you never know what's going to happen; we've had our first snowfall already. Freezing temperatures also tend to herald the end of convertible season, though there still may be one or two Indian Summer days where dropping the top without freezing your earlobes is possible. Sadly, the BMW 335i convertible left our driveway long before the first frost, leaving us only memories.
The Thanksgiving holiday also heralds the beginning of the special hell that is the holiday shopping season. Don't know what to get that special someone? Drawing a blank when composing your wish list? Pencil this in: BMW 335i Convertible. Done and done.
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It's all true. The decades of rhapsodic prose about BMW's 3-Series is on the mark. That goes nearly double for the coupe. The 335i is the automotive canvas where flame surfacing came of age. None of the awkwardness of the 3-Series sedan made it to the coupe. The lines are clean and taut, and the way reflections are controlled is beautiful instead of busy. This low, muscular design looks particularly evil rolling down the road, and the angry slant of the headlamps keeps the left lane clear for you.
The rear of the coupe is especially handsome when you compare it to the lemon-sucking arse that the sedans ended up with. The lamps are much more graceful, and overall, the back end avoids the sedan's imitation of a '95 Maxima. The wide swage along the flanks adds a nice crease to the sides, and running as it does from front to back, it ties the whole car together. There are a couple of awkward elements, mainly due to the fact that this car employs a folding hardtop. Tintop convertibles are all the rage lately, with Volvo, Chrysler, Volkswagen and even Pontiac offering hardtop convertibles. The profiles are prettier than fabric-roofed convertibles, but the price you pay for that is vastly diminished trunk space when the top is stowed and plenty of extra weight from the hydraulic mechanism.
The 335i Convertible's trunklid does get a cutline that interrupts the elegant light control along the top of the bodysides, and the area at the base of the C-pillar and around the backlight is a collection of panel gaps. Gaps atop the C-pillar and through the middle of the roof also interrupt the purity, but overall the car has a slick look because of the metal top. The 335 coupe's lines are so striking that a cloth top would probably look vastly out of place, anyway.
The trunk gets a lot less functional with the top down, but BMW thoughtfully included a retractable shield that allows you to load items underneath it before you lower the panel. There's a surprising amount of usable space underneath the plastic guard, and you can still wedge a few things in the trunk after you've gone alfresco, but you're not going to be hauling buckets of joint compound in the 335i Cab.
Not that you'd use this car for a run to the home center to begin with. The 335 is one of the BMWiest of BMWs. They mean it when they say "Driving Machine." The 335i's mission is to devour miles. When you're behind the wheel, it's easy to forget mundane things like work, caught up as you are in apex-clipping joy. This is one of those cars that will have you seeking out the windy, hilly, un-crowded way. Retract the roof, hit the seat heaters if it's chilly, and listen to the cannonade from the twin pipes peal off the countryside.
There's 300 horsepower available from BMW's 3.0-liter inline six with two diminutive turbochargers hung off the passenger's side of the cylinder head. Lilliput's own huffers imbue the engine with freight train torque delivery. A 10.2 compression ratio doesn't hurt, either; torque is there even when the turbos aren't spooled (not often). The moderately sized six is definitely a performance engine. A mechanical snarl emanates from the engine bay, and the cold idle has a few thumps and bumps, just like a small block with an extreme cam. For all the sound and fury the 335 whips up, it's still surprisingly difficult to dip the fuel mileage out of the 20s on the low end.
Driving the 335i is a pretty simple affair – select first, wind to 5,000 rpm, go directly to sixth. Torque is on tap anywhere the tach needle cares to point, and all those gears in between are largely not necessary. If you're squeamish, you could stop at 3rd on your way to 6th. If you must make a visit to every ratio on your way to top gear, you'll at some point say to yourself "boy, six speeds is a lot." Once at terminal velocity, cruising is relaxed. The buttoned-down ride and precision steering feel allow you to settle back and figure out where the next twisty bits might be.
Plenty of verbiage has been expended on the slick action of BMW shifters – we didn't find that to be entirely the case here. Our 335's gearbox felt like we were fighting the synchros from time to time. Underway it's largely fine, but engaging first gear without a quick preemptive dip into second was mushy. It's likely just a case of becoming familiar with the car. By the end of our blissful week we were tearing through all six ratios, so it's not like it's a slow gearbox.
Driving the 335, you first notice how loose other cars feel. The suspension is snubbed in that Bavarian manner, though the ride is a tisch stiff – you will bounce here and there over whoops and dips. There's a nice heft to the steering, and turning the chunky rim of the small-diameter wheel is met with direct results. The nearly 4,000-pound weight is hidden well by the quick reflexes and ready availability of power. Sure, the current 3-Series is heavier, softer and larger than previous iterations, but taken on its own, it delights. If you're looking for something more raw, seek out an E46 M3 CSL. Or an Evo. The 335i Convertible is a sexy ride that's as fast as the E46 M3 while delivering a ride you can live with daily and not shorting you on comfort, either.
Weight distribution is close to 50/50, and it's hard to put a wheel wrong with the array of technology included in the 335i. First, there's that delightfully tuned suspension, rendered largely in aluminum. Also on board to assist should you need it is Dynamic Stability Control. DSC helps you start off on hills by holding the car still, dries the brake pads when they get doused, compensates for fade, and even snugs the pads up to the rotors in anticipation of impending application. All of this sounds busy, and you'd expect to be serenaded by a cacaphony of whirrs from the brake system and feel all sorts of percussion through the pedal, but it all just works. The behind the scenes systems seamlessly go about their business, leaving very little noise to filter back to the driver.
Did we mention that our 335i was a convertible? There's not much that can top a flashy blue BMW droptop as a way to garner attention; possibly a Yellow Lab puppy. The exhaust note announces your presence before you arrive, like a trumpet fanfare. The fact that it's a brand-new BMW already works in your favor if you're looking to be noticed. Sit there long enough with your finger on the button and the roof will disappear into the trunk, then you can notice that the population at large tends to crane its respective neck at these things. Some convertibles look better with their top down, some with their top up. The 335 looks great in either state. We're pleased that flame surfacing has gone from an initial mess to something so pleasing in this instance, too.
The interior reeks of quality, or at least leather. The seats are plenty adjustable and some of the finest we've ever parked our posteriors in. At first the ergonomics are little intimidating; there's plenty of buttons with cryptic pictograms on them. After about 20 minutes of driving the 335, you've gotten it all sorted out and the controls make perfect sense. We'd rather have a slight learning curve than some sort of LCD screen and control knob BS.
The materials in the 335 are very high quality, though the competition is keeping the heat on. The interior of a G35 is an extremely good facsimile of the BMW's driving environment. Comfort for the front seat passengers is exceptional, while backseaters are shorted a bit on legroom. The backs of the front seats are scalloped out to make way for human knees, which does help, and the back seat is comfortable – if a bit tight – if you measure less than six feet in stature.
All of the controls feel high quality, which you'd expect, and they also meet expectations in operation. Twist the knob for the HVAC temperature, and you can make the cabin warmer or cooler, imagine that! No up/down buttons, no layered menus, just grab and twirl. Beige with wood trim and black and metal accents makes the interior inviting and serious at the same time. The 335's cabin suggests that weighty business goes on there, the same way high-end offices are all leathery, woody, expensive and purposeful.
This is a car that will not only make you look good, it will make you feel like a hero. The limits are high, yet it doesn't beat your kidneys to mush on less than perfect roads. It's a little intimidating at first because its demeanor is serious and it is such a capable vehicle. Serious doesn't mean stodgy, though. The 335i Convertible has a flair of fun, perfectly weighted controls, and is one of the prettiest BMWs in the last few years. If anyone ever says "I just don't get it" when talking about the Bayerische mystique, grab them by the scruff of the neck and drag them to one of these cars. If experiencing the perfect clutch takeup, the real-world friendly ride and handling, the fleet footed speed, seemingly boundless well of power, and the cherry-on-top folding roof doesn't do it, there was never any hope to begin with.
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