BMW 335i Convertible long-term test – September
This is the life: a sunny morning, an appointment in Milton Keynes some 60 miles away, and quiet A-roads ahead of me. The perfect opportunity to reflect on the 335i M Sport convertible, which today finishes its ten-month tour of duty on CAR.
Drivers of the current E90/E92 range know the drill: the 3-series is the sweetest-handling car in its class. But what’s life like with the convertible version, and that rare engine: the twin turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol six, which gets the 335i badge?
The 335i model looks exposed: shouldn’t you go for broke with the 414bhp V8 M3 or penny pinch with more frugal four- or six-cylinder engines? Not so: the turbo’d six is stunning, with its 295lb ft of torque identical to M3 grunt yet kicking in 2600revs lower. That makes for relaxed, effortless acceleration, although you can still ring the engine out to 7000revs with a growling crescendo.
The 335i is just 0.5sec slower to 62mph than an M3 convertible, but officially covers 6.6miles more to the gallon. With Audi turning back the clock from V8 to V6 kompressor for the latest S5, who’s to say the twin turbo six won’t power future M cars? That would certainly improve fuel economy: over time, 335i consumption climbed from low 20s to 25.6mpg. Over ten months, we averaged 24.2mpg and spent almost £2500 on fuel. Ouch.
We stuck with the standard six-speed manual. It has a heavy, baulky action, and you need to balance the revs delicately when changing up to second and third, else heads will nod. Road test ed Chilton has never forgiven me for not going automatic, but unless you do a lot of urban crawling, save the £1640. You’ll need to, because even on the £41k 335i M Sport Convertible, essentials like leather and sat-nav cost us £1065 and £1970 respectively.
I also plumped for some convenience options, which I now accept as essentials. Bluetooth ‘phone compatibility is £535, and adding USB and iPod connectivity to the armrest cubby totals £265. Comfort access costs £430, but it’s the most intuitive keyless entry system around, and you can operate the roof from the key fob. Talking of comfort, this 2+2 can seat four adults, assuming the front occupants can sacrifice a little legroom. I swept my parents to Nottingham on a 90-mile round trip, miraculously without grumbling.
And how was the 335i’s final drive? Superb. The fluid, meaty steering is up there with the brilliant engine, hustling the 335i along twisting A roads. Pedal actions are crisp, with linear brakes and an eager throttle. Upgrading to the 19inch double spoke alloys (£465) and sports suspension can make the ride crashy on potholed urban streets, but on a point-to-point blast, the impeccable body control, neutral handling and tenacious grip more than compensate and ensure seriously rapid progress.
And what of BMW’s first folding hard top, soon to be rolled out on the new Z4? Like any convertible, the 335i’s chassis can shudder and skip over bumps, but it’s worth it on days like this, with the down and driving sensations in high definition widescreen. It’s a shame you can’t operate the roof at low speeds, and boot access with the roof stowed is akin to a letterbox. But the roof never missed a beat during 10 months. And pretty much every journey made our heart race. Quite simply, the 335i is the best car I’ve ever run.
By Phil McNamara
Since Last Report
Since Last report
What it’s worth
12,373 miles (arrived with 131)
Price new: £40,670 – plus £5310 of options
Value now: £30,805 (part-ex), £31,730 (private)
Watch our new video of the editor’s BMW 335i Convertible – with Phil McNamara talking us through the highs and lows of his year in BM’s first folding metal-roof cabrio.
Is the latest twin-turbo six a good choice? Is it worth spending £41,000 on a petrol-fed 3-series convertible? Shouldn’t you save up for a drop-top M3 instead? See our short film in the player below and make your own mind up.
As a quick recap, we're testing the 335i for two reasons: it's our first extended test of BMW's twin-turbo six and it's also the first time BMW has dabbled in an origami-metal folding roof. Will they stand up to our abuse over 12,000 hard miles? Is the Convertible luxurious and sporting enough to distance it from the endless 320d ES models that pound British motorways? We're finding out in our long-term test.
One thing’s certain: McNamara really didn’t want to give up the keys to his 335i…
By Tim Pollard
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A few thoughts on the editor’s long-term 3-series. Now, I’m a 3-series fan. I drove a 320d four-door when the E90 first came out and enjoyed each of the 25,000 miles we piled on in a year. The one massive chink in the junior BM’s armour? The saloon’s dull-as-ditchwater, Bangle-lite styling. I really couldn’t get on with the way the Three looked – a real cop-out after a string of edgy, modern saloons.
The latest Convertible (and Coupe, for that matter) tackles this problem head on. It’s a sleeker affair, especially with an injection of Munich steroids: Phil’s 335i has the M-Sport pack and looks the better for it, and all two-door 3-series now have a more elegantly styled rump. Few will mourn the passing of the Mitsubishi Carisma’s rear lights.
Do I love the 335i Convertible as much as the editor? In a word, no. The twin-turbo engine is exceptional, if a little light on character. It really offers close to M3 performance levels, in speed if not outright excitement. But I think a boulevardier like this should be mated to an auto slusher, not Phil’s chosen manual ’box. I’ve never especially liked the Three’s notchy manual, although every other control has that delicious BM precision.
My other gripe with the 335 is the ride. Phil reckons the 19s do a great job of balancing the aesthetics with the role of comfort management. I’m not so sure. The 3-series has a natural compliance to it and I remember driving 4000 miles on my honeymoon in my 320d and revelling in the featherbed ride it afforded. We might have enjoyed more sunshine in this Convertible, but we’d arrive at the other end less relaxed.
By Tim Pollard
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My first go in the editor’s BMW long-termer. And I loved the 335i.
I had it for the weekend and had every limb crossed on Friday, hoping for bright blue skies and sunshine. This being Britain in 2008, I was hardly surprised when it rained on Friday and Saturday – stymieing my hopes to whack the roof down and enjoy the rays.
The weather came good on Sunday and the roof stayed down. I barely stopped driving all day and it was my first proper experience of BM’s 3-series cab. I found the ride more comfortable than my ageing Fiat Punto’s and the car is incredibly responsive and easy to drive.
Would I buy one, were funds no problem? I like the looks: it’s sleek and smooth and I enjoyed looking at it parked outside as much as driving it. I don’t normally like this type of car, but my weekend’s experience would possibly make me think twice.
By Sarah-Jayne Harrison
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The roof on the BMW 335i Convertible is one of the real highlights of this car. It’s easy to lower. Easy to raise. No complicated buttons to confuse. It’s quick. And you can even do it from the keyfob. What a rare treat to see something operate exactly as its maker intended.
There are many wonderful things about our CC long-termer, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t choose this 335i spec if it were my money. Which engine would I choose in these credit-crunched times? Simple. I’d order the 330d in SE spec. Nearly the same go, plenty more eco. It’s the modern cabrio of choice for me.
By Glen Waddington
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This week the good weather has come. And gone. I sit inside, forlornly looking out of the window at the overcast grey skies that typify the British summer. Will there be any sun this weekend? Will I get to put the roof down? I doubt it.
I got the BMW 335i in September 2007, just in time for winter. That means the next few months will be my first chance to consistently have the roof down. It’s just a pity I don’t think that’s going to happen.
By Phil McNamara
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I’m not sure if I adore our editor’s long-term BMW 335i, or hate it. Set off with the other half for a weekend trip over some bumpy B-roads for a decent Saturday lunch - and everything came apart. The ride was hard and fidgety, the steering numb and the M-Sport wheel far too thick (a common BMW problem). I also found the gearchange too notchy, and despite having a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six the car didn’t feel all that fast.
But on the way back we put the roof down. The sun was shining (and snow was falling!) and it was wonderful to cruise around in. I’m not sure the spec is right, as our car lacks heated seats and an auto’ box. But put the 335i up against the ageing opposition from Merc, Audi and Saab, and the BMW has them all licked. For its target audience this car is nigh-on perfect.
I don’t love it though, and the other half sealed the deal. Her opinion? ‘It does nothing for me. And you can quote me on that.’ That’s that then.
By Ben Pulman
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A BMW 135i passed through the office this week and made an interesting comparison to our 335i. Both cars are powered by BMW's glorious twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six, but the One felt the quicker of the two. And by a long way.
Blame the weight difference. Our 335i is a hefty 1810kg, which makes the 135i’s 1560kg seem lithe by comparison. The 335i never feels slow, but all that torque disguises how fast you’re going. But with 250kg less the 1-series leaves the 335i standing. BMW's smallest coupe also feels so much more exploitable than our long-termer, and gets sideways more easily as well.
So now that his car has been found wanting maybe the editor will consider chipping it. An extra 50bhp wouldn’t do any harm, apart from to the already rather poor 24.5mpg the trip computer is claiming.
By Ben Pulman
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With murky grey clouds hanging overhead and spitting out infrequent showers, I won’t be dropping the roof for this inaugural run. Although getting soaked and frozen would be good preparation for the weekend – we’re going coasteering. To the uninitiated (and sensible ) that’s donning a wet suit and trekking around Dartmouth’s watery coves, occasionally scrambling up cliffs and jumping into the sea. It’s my friend Ben Paviour’s stag do, and he’s vowed to shake us out of our comfort zone.
And what of the 335i’s comfort? It’s a good first test for the run flat tyres: 255/30 R19 Bridgestone Potenza rubber. Driving over to Birmingham to pick up the M5, the ride is taut but fine: no thudding over ridges, no hideous tyre roar. I daren’t rev the engine beyond 5000, but there’s no need because the engine pulls so hungrily. In fifth, 30mph swiftly becomes 70 as the straight six piles on the pace. There’s a hint of wind noise at motorway speeds, but it’s a pretty refined cruiser. Fuel consumption is a reasonable 26.1mpg on the way to Dartmouth, a slightly scary 21.5 on the return leg.
The sun is out on Saturday afternoon, which is perfect for a post-coasteering warm up. I try to drop the roof for the first time, only for things to stall midway. It appears that a millimetre or two of wind deflector is fouling the system, but after a quick repack it folds away smoothly. It’s very balletic: the two end sections glide in opposite directions above and below the middle section, before that compressed section folds away.
The engine and exhaust come to life during the topless blast back to HQ, along winding coastal roads. The steering is fluid, with medium weight, and the 335i flows up and down crests and around the sharp corners. This 3-series is the stiffest convertible in BMW’s history, but the reduced rigidity is obvious with the roof down. Connecting with a pothole at 50mph sends a shudder through the cabin – only to be expected. But the heightened sensations and sense of freedom totally compensate. The new 3-series cabrio has a wide range of talents: top down cruising to a great soundtrack, or roof up blasts in a stiff and composed coupé. I’m quickly getting to like this car…
By Phil McNamara
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BMW’s 335i Convertible is surely the perfect everyday car. Rear-drive, four seats, big torquey engine, iPod and mobile literate, the right badge: it doesn’t merely tick the boxes, it defines a 30-something bloke’s ideal wheels . At least that’s my assumption and that’s why, after running a Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, I’ve weaned myself off Solihull’s SUVs and onto Munich’s ubiquitous Three.
The Convertible has only been on the UK market a few months, but even in my Lincolnshire market town, they’re as popular as rugby shirts and reality TV. I can’t go for a 10k run without tripping over a 330d/wheezing past a 320i/being run over by a 330i.
Idle at the homestead, my 335i awaits. That’s the intriguing new badge in the 3-series range, designating a twin turbocharged 306bhp straight six petrol engine, also equipped with direct injection to conserve fuel. Each bank of three cylinders is blown on by a small turbocharger, which spool up more quickly than one big turbo serving all six. The result? Peak torque of 295lb ft wades in at a basement 1300rpm.
That’s a shade more grunt than a 540i’s 4.0-litre V8. It’s an appropriate comparison, because this 3.0-litre six feels like a big V8. Pick a gear, any gear, and the 335i sails forward. There’s a deep thrum from the exhaust, rising to a growling crescendo as it surges to the 7000rpm limit. Acceleration is relentless and it makes overtaking a doddle. Just squeeze the throttle and the engine does the rest. Standstill to 62mph takes 5.8sec, and mid-range acceleration is similarly explosive. The downside is a claimed 28.5mpg, fractionally worse than a 540i’s. And we’ll see how close we get to BMW’s official figure over the next 12 months.
This is the fourth generation 3-series Convertible proper, and it’s as big a step change as the original E21 3-series’ Targa/canvas hybrid roof, outsourced to coachbuilder Baur, making way for the E30’s first proper folding roof in 1985. That’s because the new drop-top 3-series features BMW’s first folding hard top.
It was a big decision for BMW to ditch the fabric, with its potential weight and aesthetic compromises. While the snide mutter that beautiful BMWs went AWOL long before this coupé-cabriolet, the Convertible is far better looking than the fat-bottomed French CCs, thanks to its three-piece lightweight steel roof. The roofline faithfully echoes the Coupe’s, and three bite-sized chunks helps eliminate a claustrophobia-inducing extended header rail and an inflated rump to stow the top.
In Le Mans blue metallic (which makes the roof’s cutlines hard to spot) and with the M Sport bodykit and sports suspension, the Convertible is as sexy as the coupé, the best-looking 3-series by far. The narrow lamps are so much meaner, and combined with the chin spoiler, extended wheelarches and chamfered shoulder line , my 335i looks borderline M3. The M Sport package, whose internal mods include M kickplates, leather steering wheel and sports seats, costs £2320 more than SE spec.
List price for a 335i M Sport Convertible is £40,670, and that’s before options. Upgrading to the 19inch double spoke 255 alloys cost £465, and black leather another £1065. The big one was BMW’s professional navigation system (does that mean a map is amateur hour?) at £1970. The coolest one was £430 for comfort access, providing remote unlocking and roof opening and closing from key fob buttons. The rest: essential Bluetooth ‘phone compatibility at £535, a £220 wind deflector, £265 for an armrest storage box with USB and iPod sockets and £285 to have a forward parking sensor added to standard rear vigilance. Oh, and a scandalous £75 for floor mats.
So that’s CAR’s new 335i. Delivered today with 131miles on the clock, and tomorrow I drive it from Lincolnshire to Dartmouth. A 550-mile round trip is the ideal way to run it in …
By Phil McNamara
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