No one could have anticipated the pastel-colored monster BMW would help create 30 years ago when it introduced the 3 Series to North America.
A whole generation of young urban professionals spent the '80s equating prestige and repute with buying ugly clothes and owning a BMW. After all, they're exclusive, expensive and offer impeccable execution. Bimmers still do.
So it's no wonder why the new BMW 3 Series convertible worries me. This car is such a well-balanced machine, I fear people might start to think they look good in argyle again.
Fun to drive and great to pose in around town, this redesigned car has the potential to breathe new life into the dormant yuppie movement. Dust off those green pants and Izod shirts -- the Ultimate Status Machine has returned with more sophistication and precision than ever before.
After just a week of driving the new convertible, even I was ready to trade my cup of joe for a nonfat double latte mochaccino and move to Ann Arbor.
It's that beautiful, inside and out.
With the top up, its long lines are never interrupted by a clumsy cloth roof. Take 22 seconds to let those three steel pieces automatically stack up in the trunk and you've got fresh yuppie porn ready for a (Condé Nast Traveler) centerfold.
The $56,000 crimson red 335i I test drove always collected looks from other drivers -- no doubt wondering what kind of plastic surgeon I was or how much I made on Wall Street before the tech bubble burst.
Powerful, functional art
From the front, the new convertible is distinctive and easily recognizable as a BMW. Its strong lines are stretched horizontally, giving it broad shoulders and a firmly planted stance. The hood has almost a scalloped cut above the dual kidney-shaped grilles and wide headlights. Two creases cut down the hood, starting a V-shape carried through the vehicle's front. That completes the car's stern face, one just pretentious enough to look disapprovingly at passing cars.
The ridge that cuts from the top of the front wheel well all the way to the back of the car continues the BMW's distinctive look. Even with the front tire pushed forward and the unnaturally long space between the rear tire and the coupe's door, the convertible still maintains its good looks and proportions.
All of the edges are sharp and well defined, like a sculpture parked outside the Detroit Institute of Arts. It's purposeful, powerful, functional art.
Twin-turbo generates power
But don't let the shiny metal and high-pitched engine tone fool you. This cabriolet has more German engineering than the Messerschmitt 262.
The 335i comes with a direct injection twin-turbo charged Inline-6. A scientifically wonderful power plant, generating 300-horsepower and 300-pound-feet of torque. It can haul from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. An electronically controlled regulator limits the vehicle's top speed to 130 mph or 150 mph, the higher limit applying to sport package models. Due to the closing of the Lodge and my desire to keep my license, I never tested the top end performance.
The small twin turbos divide the work load to eliminate that pause in power commonly referred to as turbo lag. The cycle used to be: Stomp foot on accelerator; white knuckle the steering wheel; count to three and then feel your body slam back against the seat.
But BMW has connected each turbo to three cylinders. Smaller turbos work faster, and combined with a direct injection system that can burst three injections per combustion cycle into the engine, the 2007 turbo cycle now is: Press accelerator and whoooeeee!
Even with the higher performance, the 335i can get 29 miles per gallon on the highway with a manual transmission, while still hitting 20 mpg in the city, according to EPA numbers. Those numbers are even more impressive when you look at the 328i's less powerful Inline-6.
Lacking the turbo chargers and a direct injection system, the 328i's 3-liter Inline-6 gets 30 mpg on the highway with a six-speed automatic transmission and 20 mpg in the city. Its power, however, is considerably less, hitting 230-horsepower and 230-pound-feet of torque.
If money is not an object -- and for people throwing down more than 50 grand for a convertible, it probably isn't -- buy the 335i.
Both cars include an enhanced suspension system that lets them perform more like roadsters than four-passenger cars.
My 335i whipped around corners confidently and the optional 18-inch low profile tires stuck to the pavement like a rich man's kid to an au pair.
The rack-and-pinion steering is very tight and returns to center quickly, whether zipping through traffic lights or taking an exit ramp at highway speeds. Push the car and you will appreciate how it can dart quickly from where you are to where you want to go.
The double pivot McPherson strut-type front suspension and five-link independent rear suspension give the BMW a firm but stable ride. On the highway, it's honey smooth, and in the city, it feels gritty and firm but never uncomfortable.
The convertible weighs about 400 pounds more than its fixed roof counterpart but rides remarkably the same. Some of the additional weight comes from the steel added to strengthen the body. Because convertibles don't have the structural support of a roof, they must find other ways to keep the body stable. My test vehicle never felt loose on rough roads and had little cowl shake, the movement the windshield makes when a car hits a bump.
Inside, the 335i is luxurious. The dash includes a long sweeping top that blocks most sun light to let you read the instruments and navigation screen with ease. The entire cabin is elegant and well appointed.
The seats, as part of the optional sports package, include adjusting bolsters that can hold the driver and passenger firmly in place through tight cornering. They can also push out far enough to accommodate larger passengers.
The backseats are a tight fit, despite BMW adding a few more inches. At 6 feet tall, I would not want to sit back there longer than a trip to the store (and the driver would need to push his seat all the way up). However, a few neat options include: a folding down backrest that allows you to load items into the back on a flat surface and a pass-through door that connects the backseat to the trunk.
A few other interesting features include sun reflective leather seats. The color pigments in the leather reflect infrared radiation and effectively keep the surface temperatures down.
This amenity works well. Even on a sunny hot afternoon day with the top down, the seat never felt like it was about to melt my back or set fire to my thighs.
All of the luxury appointments, as well as a simplified iDrive, a dash-mounted control system that operates the vehicle's navigation, telephone, stereo and climate functions through a single spinning knob, round out the BMW as the complete package.
I've always liked the functionality of the iDrive despite claims that it was too complicated. The easiest way to understand the iDrive is to sit down, read through the owner's manual, and play with it for a few minutes while parked. If you still can't figure it out, realize the system isn't dumb, you are.
Combining performance, luxury and prestige has always been part of the BMW's calling card. And this 3 Series convertible is the best one yet.
While yuppies may have gone the way of Soccer Moms, NASCAR Dads and the AARP, the 3 Series convertible remains an image-enhancing symbol. Whether a modern day DINK, Baby Boomer or someone from a Generation to Be Named Later, the car is worth the price tag.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. You can reach him at (313) 223-3217 or email@example.com.
2007 BMW 3 Series convertible
Type: A rear-wheel drive four-passenger convertible
Models: 328i or 335i
Retail price*: $43,975 - $60,000+
Engines 3-liter Inline-6, 230 horsepower, 230-pound-feet torque; 3-liter Inline-6 with twin turbos and direct injection: 300-horsepower, 300-pound-feet torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with sequential shifting or manual gearbox
EPA mileage Regular V-6: Automatic: 20 mpg / 30 mpg Manual: 19 mpg / 29 mpg Turbo-charged V-6: Automatic: 19 mpg / 28 mpg Manual: 20 mpg / 29 mpg Notes: A pricey vehicle but worth every penny. *Includes shipping Report card
Overall: **** Performance: Excellent. The 335i's engine is quick and powerful. It feels precise. Its ride is smooth but sporty. Exterior: Excellent. Very distinctive design and well proportioned vehicle. Worthy of the self-proclaimed moniker, "The Ultimate Tanning Machine." Interior: Excellent: Luxurious and comfortable. Sports package provides best seats. Safety: Excellent: Front and side airbags. A bevy of electronic safety controls including anti lock brakes, brake assists, and stability control. Pros: An excellent all-around vehicle. The more powerful turbo-charged engine matches the less expensive engine's gas mileage. Cons: Expensive and backseat is a tight fit for adults. Grading Scale Excellent: **** Good: *** Fair:** Poor: *