Open top motoring at its best
- 2010 BMW 330d Convertible; 3.0-litre, six cylinder, diesel; six-speed automatic; two door convertible: $107,700*
- Metallic Paint $1840; Navigation System Professional $1,600; TV Function $2,249; Voice Recognition System $700
Words: Karl Peskett Pics: www.OzCarSightings.com
Australians are finally coming around to the diesel revolution. We're realising that the relaxed, torquey nature of compression ignition sits well with not just our speed limits and driving styles, but also our hip pockets.
But does it work in a convertible? Many car companies have hedged their bets, and are now releasing diesel drop-tops. BMW's 330d on test this week proves that the two can merge to create a stunning combination. Indeed, once you've driven it, you may not ever look at the petrol model BMW 3 Series Convertibles.
If you are looking to the blue-and-white propeller, then chances are you're after a four seater convertible which actually has rear leg space and driver involvement. After all, it's a step up from its competitors: the Lexus IS250C looks decided awkward with the roof up, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is a soft-top, as is Audi A5 Cabriolet, both of which don't give the ultimate driving involvement that the 330d offers. Then there's the Volvo C70, which is a great looking car, but it's front wheel drive and overall it is a bit soft; certainly you can't punt it like you can the Beemer.
But there's something else that the BMW offers; the Efficient Dynamics program means fuel use stays low, but driving fun stays high. The catalyst for ensuring these two criteria were met was the turbo-charged, 3-litre, six-cylinder diesel engine under the bonnet.
You can't help but be impressed by this engine. It's almost inconceivable that a few years ago we'd be calling a diesel engine a sweet, free-revving unit, but here we are - and we're saying it. Plenty of torque is almost expected; it is an oil-burner after all, but it's the colossal amount that makes your eyes pop. At 520 Newton-metres, it makes the 330d feel like it's a big, lazy V8, and even though the on-paper specs tell us that it peaks from 1750rpm, it comes in extremely strong at a tick over 1200rpm, meaning effortless surge.
Power is also intoxicatingly impressive, with 180kW happening right at the top end, meaning there's no letup in acceleration. Ever. Well, that is until you hit the speed limiter at 250km/h, but we're not going to be doing that in Australia, are we? Let's just remind ourselves of that power figure again. One-hundred-and-eighty-kilowatts. From a three litre diesel. The 0-100km/h sprint in just 6.5 seconds tells the tale, but rolling acceleration is the most impressive; you'll be slowing down, just to overtake something and feel that tidal-wave of torque shove you in the back.
And despite thoroughly enjoying ourselves behind the wheel (read: hammering it on occasion...well, actually, quite a lot) fuel consumption refused to go above 8.1-litres/100km. Staggering.
And the sound. We mustn't forget the sound. Because it's a straight six-cylinder, it has a naturally throaty characteristic, but this engine growls with a purpose and never disappoints with the results. The already proven six-speed automatic also needs no introduction, however it must be said that it contrasts with its application in the 730d we tested a few months ago.
In the BMW 7 Series, the sports mode didn't quite work due to its tendency to hold onto the gears for a bit too long, causing the engine to sit against its redline, slowing performance. However the 330d has the right idea. Drive shifts often, smooth and early, whereas Sports allows for snappy changes (perfect for a diesel) and they happen right at the top end as soon as redline is reached. It also downshifts exactly when you would and is never, ever caught out in the wrong gear. This helps to keep the turbo spooled and you've got instant throttle response with zero lag. In short, this is one brilliant drivetrain.
The rest of the car doesn't disappoint either. Steering is something BMW excels at, and if you can find a more involving and engaging convertible for this price, we'd like to know about it. There's instant reactivity and truckloads of feel, with a turn-in so sharp you'd be forgiven for thinking you were behind the wheel of something five times the price.
Braking is also assured, with no snatchiness, just good pedal feel and travel. The suspension isn't half bad, either. It sits on the firm end of the scale, but there's enough speedy compliance so you don't feel like your kidneys are being punched, while crash is nowhere to be found. It's sporty but comfortable enough to live with day to day. It shows in the handling, too, with plenty of grip yet a smidge of body-roll to alert you to the fact it's not an M3. But if you feel like punting it, the 330d is still extremely rewarding.
At the same time, it's very accomodating toward passengers. The front seats are typical BMW; good support, enough bolstering without looking like Recaros, and plenty of adjustment. It's the rear seats which offer the greatest surprise, however.
Most four seat convertibles tend to skip out on rear seat room, with the extra pews offered as an afterthought. BMW's 3 Series convertible has more space than just about all its rivals, despite the fact that it has a folding hard-top which doesn't collapse as compactly as a soft-top.
Obviously there's not as much room as in a 3 Series sedan, but mid-sized adults wouldn't complain too loudly. Head and knee room is fine, wind buffetting is nothing major but foot room is a little cramped. One nice touch involves the headrests on the front seats electrically retracting to allow entry and egress to be easier once the seat is folded forward and moved frontward. If you wanted to take the kids away on a trip for the weekend, then the only problem with the roof sunk is the boot space.
A folding hard-top is always going to chew into your useable room, so a laptop and small soft bag will be the only things you can fit in. With the roof up and in place, there's plenty of space, but the shape around the metal struts, luggage cover hinges and latches can make packing a little awkward - par for the course in convertibles. Some more storage space inside the cabin would be nice, too.
That it echoes the rest of the 3 Series range in quality is no surprise. There are no ill-fitting plastics, panel gaps are even and even in operation the folding roof is extremely quiet, say compared to the IS 250C. There's a beautiful high-resolution screen for the SatNav, and whatever you do, option the voice recognition - it makes inputting your destination an on-the-go affair.
Put simply, you're getting your money's worth.There's even nice touches like faint strip lighting nestled into the door trims which casts a warm glow from the front to back at night. BMW's headlights also deserve praise, especially on country drives when their depth, spread and brightness mean excellent visibility.
But you're also getting something unique. This is the only four-seat, rear-wheel-drive, six-cylinder diesel, metal-r0ofed convertible on the market in Australia right now. Breaking it down, it means you get an involving drive, space for passengers, security when the roof is up and a Coupe-like body, access to the elements when the roof is down, and awesome fuel consumption - all from the one car. As a buyer, there's not many more boxes you could want ticked.
The 330d Convertible truly is open-top motoring at its best.
CarAdvice Overall Rating:How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:
*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.