The BMW 335i Convertible drives as good as it looks but it has some stiff competition from key German rivals.
The BMW 335i Convertible proves once again that the German car maker knows how to design a fine-looking drop-top.
Clean lines, smooth bodywork and a low-slung stance are more than enough to draw the envy of aspirational onlookers, but the 335i version of the BMW 3 Series Convertible has a lot more going for it than drop-dead styling alone.
BMW has only recently released the seventh-generation 3 Series sedan, and with coupe and convertible versions still at least 12 to 18 months away, the current 3 Series Convertible will remain in vogue for a little while yet.
It’s sometimes difficult for car manufacturers to get the proportions evenly balanced when it comes to their convertible models, especially with the roof up. Thankfully, that’s not the case with the 3 Series; it looks a treat with the roof up or down.
BMW moved to a folding hard top in 2008 with the launch of the E93 3 Series, and while there are advantages for metal over fabric, it seems BMW might actually be moving back to the latter, if you consider the F13 BMW 6 Series Convertible that debuted last year with a soft top.
In the meantime, drivers can enjoy unimpaired rearward visibility and excellent sound insulation with the roof up. At times it’s all too easy to forget that you’re in a convertible, such are the benchmark levels of sound deadening built into this car.
Full open-top motoring is as simple as flicking a switch - and 18 seconds later you’re driving along with that delightful wind-in-the-hair feeling. However, the BMW 335i Convertible keeps any harsh wind buffeting in-check without the need to install the wind deflector.
In-car ergonomics are another BMW strength and the BMW 335i M Sport Convertible we tested is no exception.
The standard BMW leather sports seats offer first class comfort and support, with relatively aggressive bolstering holding the driver and front passenger firmly in place during those more enthusiastic moments.
The M Sport steering wheel isn’t fancy, but it’s still one of the most tactile examples in the business with perforated leather wrapping the three and nine o’clock positions for excellent grip.
Of the three major luxury German marques, BMW offers the least busy fascia. While the interior feels less exclusive than its rivals, there are still plenty of metal accents in the 335i to offset the largely all-black centre stack.
Rather than resorting to switchgear overload, the BMW 335i, like all BMWs, centralises most of the car’s systems and functionality through its easy-to-use iDrive system with brilliant 8.8-inch high-definition colour monitor.
The Harman Kardon surround sound system with 11 speakers and 400-watt digital amplifier offers excellent roof-down clarity, and ensures you don’t have to worry about audio quality even as you’re travelling along the freeway at 110km/h.
Sitting just one step below the M3 in the BMW 3 Series Convertible pecking order, the BMW 335i Convertible picks up a raft of standard kit including bi-xenon headlamps with adaptive function and high-beam assist, internal and external mirrors with automatic anti-dazzle function, automatic headlights and wipers, Dakota leather with sun-reflective technology, keyless entry and start, satellite navigation and Bluetooth phone and music streaming.
There’s plenty of cabin room up front, but the rear seats are strictly for two - and even then, rear legroom is tight.
Storage spaces up front aren’t generous, either.
There are 60:40 split-fold rear seats but boot space suffers considerably, especially with the roof lowered. There’s room enough for a few standard size grocery bags under the multiple layers of roof mechanism, but that’s about the extent of it.
As we’ve come to expect from the 335i badge, there’s no shortage of straight-line performance here.
The BMW 335i M Sport Convertible packs a 3.0-litre six-cylinder with twin-scroll turbo that develops a meaty 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque.
Acceleration is impressive, especially with the optional seven-speed double-clutch transmission fitted to our test car. The 335i M Sport Convertible needs just 5.7 seconds to go from 0-100km/h.
The torque doesn’t let up, either, peaking from a deliciously low 1200rpm and pulling hard all the way to 5000rpm. Occasionally, you can hear the turbo spool up, but there’s little, if any, turbo lag.
However, that’s still several tenths off the pace of the lighter 335i M Sport Coupe, which needs only 5.4 seconds to complete the same run. It’s all down to the power-to-weight ratio; the convertible carries an extra 210 kilograms due to additional body strengthening.
But what the Convertible lacks in off-the-mark acceleration, it more than makes up for with the sound of the engine snarling at full tilt with the roof down.
Throw in the quick-shifting double-clutch transmission and the experience is more like a BMW GT racer than any svelte boulevard convertible.
It’s even better in Sport mode with the instantaneous throttle blips on downshifts, which are the most satisfying when used in combination with the paddle shifters.
Unlike some convertibles the BMW 3 Series feels equally taut with the roof up or down. Both chassis and body feel very well sorted and there’s zero cowl shake or flex even over uneven road surfaces and expansion strips.
The 335i Convertible is well balanced on nice curvy sections, though the drop-top’s extra 210kg over the coupe is noticeable in corners.
Apart from this single dynamic drawback, the BMW 335i Convertible is nevertheless a spirited machine with excellent on-road manners. There’s plenty of feedback through the steering wheel and the steering rack itself is quick, allowing for rapid changes of direction.
Brakes are more than capable of hauling this 1750kg BMW convertible down quickly enough from speed, but powering out of a corner does produce some slight body roll.
The standard M Sport Suspension set up on the 335i M Sport Convertible produces a slightly firmer ride that its less powerful 3 Series siblings, but the overall ride is comfortable.
Heavier bumps produce the odd thud, but that’s more a reaction from the 19-inch low-profile run flat tyres than the stiffer suspension set-up.
BMW claims combined fuel consumption for the 335i M Sport Convertible of 8.8L/100km, but the best we could achieve (driving mostly suburban kilometres) was 10.2L/100km, still wonderfully efficient for such a high-performance luxury drop top.
Safety kit is well accounted for on the 335i Convertible, too, with all the usual systems such as six airbags, dynamic braking lights, dynamic stability control, anti-lock braking with cornering brake control and dry braking, dynamic traction control and rollover protection system.
The 2012 BMW 335i Convertible still looks fresh despite being launched in 2008, and it drives as good as it looks.
At $121,600 (before on-road costs) it’s costlier than the rival Audi A5 Cabriolet 3.0 TSFI quattro ($112,400) but significantly cheaper than the Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet ($142,200) that still falls short on power (200kW).
The 335i Convertible is also the driver’s pick, which may be the crucial factor for those buyers who want sensations beyond just wind blowing through the hair.