Add the BMW 3-Series to the lengthening list of convertibles that have abandoned the traditional soft top for a retractable hardtop, the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.
The upside: No longer can any cretin with a dime-store pocketknife gain access to your car's interior. And I've yet to test one that, top up, isn't quieter on the road than a cloth-top equivalent. They seal better against the rain and wind and in car washes, too.
The downside: more weight, more complexity, more cost. But it's undeniably the trend.
The test car was a 2007 BMW 328i convertible, the less expensive of the two 3-Series drop-tops. The main difference is the engine: The 328i has a smooth, mild-mannered, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder with 230 horsepower. The 335i also has a 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine, but with twin turbochargers, it has 300 horsepower.
Which also means a difference in price: The 328i convertible starts at $43,200, and the 335i starts at $49,100. Those numbers are with a manual transmission: Our tester had the six-speed automatic, which adds $1,275, and several other features including leather seats. Bottom line on the test car, with shipping, was $48,400. It did not have several features, including a navigation system and (thankfully) BMW's annoying i-Drive system, which uses a joysticklike control to handle, and consequently complicate, several features.
In fact, instruments and controls in the test car were simple, straightforward and easy to use. The operation of the hardtop is handled by a single switch in the console: Top down or top up takes only 22 seconds, BMW says, and that's about right. The top stows itself in the trunk, unseen and out of the way, but it does cut the trunk space roughly in half with the top down.
On the road, the 328i convertible is nimble and very solid, regardless of whether the top is up or down. Handling is typically BMW -- sure-footed but surprisingly smooth-riding. Tires are "run flats," which mean they can operate for an extended period, even if they're deflated. Run-flats tend to ride a little rougher than regular tires, but -- in this case, at least -- they eliminate the need for a spare.
Outside, the profile of the 328i was, I think, one of the most handsome BMWs yet -- cloth-topped 3-Series cars from previous generations never looked quite right. Inside, though, the 328i's interior is pretty chilly -- aluminum, plastic and leather. Front seats are superb, rear seats are a pain to get in and out of, and when you are finally back there, cramped.
The 328i's engine does not feel quite like 230 horsepower, but it is more than adequate. Fuel mileage is rated at 20 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway for the automatic, 19/29 for the manual. And that'll be premium, please.
The latest issue of Car and Driver magazine selected the 328i convertible as the winner of a comparison test, beating the Audi A4, Saab 9-3, Volkswagen Eos and Volvo C70. Those are all very good cars, and the win for BMW means a very solid endorsement. There isn't much to add.