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Drop the top, punch the throttle - you're in aural heaven
- 2010 BMW 335i M Sport Convertible; 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbocharged petrol; seven-speed dual clutch transmission; two-door convertible: $133,400*
- DCT transmission: $3,500
BMW makes the greatest six-cylinder engines on sale today - there, I said it. Under the bonnet of the BMW 335i Convertible lies a 3.0-litre, turbocharged, 225kW masterpiece.
Unlike the previous 335i, the new six has but one turbocharger and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), but you'd never go back to the previous twin-turbo, six-speed auto combo. The new drivetrain is virtually faultless. The engine spools up super quickly and lag-free, and produces the most heavenly snarling, growly sound. It even pops and crackes on the overrun. Wonderful stuff.
It'll sprint from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds, and this is the heavier convertible version, too, remember. Part of its secret is the super-flat torque curve which peaks its 400Nm at a super-low 1200rpm and remains the same all the way through until 5000rpm. That means instant shove at virtually any RPM and in any gear. Indeed, dial up seventh gear and put your foot down and you'll hear the growl and feel that surge of torque immediately. It's as free-spinning and flexible as you can get.
It can be economical, too. BMW's ADR testing returned a figure of just 8.8-litres/100km on the combined cycle. Driven as we did, the figure is quite a bit higher, at 13.1-litres/100km in exclusively city driving. It's an awesome engine - it would be a crime not to exploit it.
When combined with the brilliant DCT, you get a drivetrain that is surely an instant classic. Sure there's slight hesitation from take-off while the transmission engages - just like most dual-clutch setups - but the beauty is it can be dialled out by simply putting your foot down a bit harder when setting off. Indeed, the take-up delay depends on your urgency.
If you're after a full-bore start, simply switch off the stability control (DSC in BMW-speak), press the sport button behind the gear selector and push the selector to the left to engage sports shift. It's simply then a matter of slamming your foot down. The engine will rev to its limiter and immediately engage first gear - you'll be left with two black lines as the 335i Convertible rockets up the road. It's a good thing, then that the 335i has excellent brakes.
Driven more sedately and the DCT shifts like any normal automatic. In fact most people wouldn't realise that it's a DCT behind the engine, by virtue of how smoothly it shifts. Press the sport button, though and the shifts become more solid and instantaneous, which, coupled with the paddle shifters (which are the correct way - left is down, right is up) keep the driver involved and connected.
Also keeping the Stig in us interested is the 335i's steering. It goes without saying that BMW excels in its steering setups. Thankfully, it's a true hydraulic rack and pinion arrangement, and on the road it shows. Even around the straight ahead, every tread block tells its tale, and once taken off centre it just gets better. Some would call the steering a tad heavy, but in truth it's the weight that's the most satisfying, with increasing resistance the harder you turn in. Feedback is always plentiful, especially on the ragged edge.
Thing is, while it's based on the 3 Series Coupe, the Convertible is around 210kg heavier, and the price you pay is a slightly less balanced car than its rigid-rooved sibling. It definitely handles, and feels good doing it, however it reaches understeer a bit sooner and unless you're on the throttle and committed 100 per cent, the nose can run a bit wide. Keep your foot into it, though, and trust the steering and you'll find you'll push through the understeer and eventually get the tail coming around.
In the big scheme of things, there's masses of grip from the 19-inch wheels, even in the wet, so you have to have it on a track to fully exploit its limits, but it is ultimately great fun. The suspension is a little softer than the Coupe, so the ride is firm but not too jittery on its run-flat tyres, but the softer tune also induces less scuttle shake - the 335i Convertible is eminently stiff. Even with the top down.
The BMW 3 Series Convertible uses an electrically operated folding hard top, making opening and closing the roof a button press away. But compared to soft-top drop-tops, where you can do it on the move, you have to be completely stationary for the conversion to occur; the hinges and motors would be destroyed by the wind resistance while moving. The advantage of having a steel folding roof, though is it's much better looking with the roof up.
At a quick glance, you'd swear it was a coupe, the only giveaway to its convertibility being the cutlines in the bodywork along the boot, and on the roof. In a dark colour, they're almost invisible. Roof down, and it's quiet (although not quite as quiet as Mercedes-Benz's E-Class Cabriolet with its Aircap activated) and calm.
Front seat passengers get some of the best seats in the business with heaps of lower back support, adjustable side bolstering, under-thigh estensions and a perfect driving position. Rear seat passengers will have to be quite young, or very small, to be comfortable - the Merc E-Class Cabriolet's rear pews are roomier and more enveloping, though. The other area the Merc whips the BMW is in boot space. While the roof is up, there's not a lot in it. But with the roof stowed, the Merc's soft top liberates much more space than the Beemer's cramped biscuit-thin stow area.
The BMW claws back points in interior layout. There's a fantastic flattened-honeycomb aluminium trim finish with nice plastics and soft leather. The dash is uncluttered with one of the highest resolution (and largest) infotainment screens in this segment. iDrive's fabulous voice control is streets ahead, too. The cupholders which come out from the dash fascia are prone to knocking by a front seat passenger, however Bluetooth is hooked up in seconds, and there's plenty of small storage spaces, including a decently sized glovebox.
If it's heaps of space you want, then the 3 Series Convertible really isn't what you'll be after. However point this car in the direction of your favourite B-road and you'll come away with a guaranteed smile. It's more focussed than its competitors, more involving and is geared toward someone who loves their driving, but wants that open-air feeling.
Couple that with good looks, good quality and a cracking drivetrain, and you'll find the BMW 335i Convertible stakes its claim as the driver's car in this segment.
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.