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The E93 BMW 3-Series Convertible was unveiled to the public in October last year, and has since sparked many questions. How would it handle compared to the 3 Sedan and 3 Coupe, and could it maintain the sleek shape of the 3 Coupe with the inclusion of all the necessary equipment to have a hard top folding roof? BMW gave lucky motoring journalists a try at the 3 Convertible in Arizona, USA, and though I did not manage to attend the test drive event due to work, Shannon Teoh covered the event for paultan.org readers. Read his findings after the jump.

Convertibles. Gotta love them. You might not want to own one, but you definitely have to like what they represent. Unless you’re some sort of performance freak. In which case, you’re a separate sort of insane. That’s what BMW told us one freezing evening in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was so cold that each journalist was provided with his/her own blanket to brave the desert winter. What were we there for? To witness the press launch of the new 3-series Convertible, of course.

Droptop? Winter? Desert? Yes, we’re the other kind of insane.

As far as BMW is concerned, if you want a two-door 3, you’re insane. First, it was the 3 Coupe, which, as you would’ve read about on this site, my esteemed friend and fellow sanitarium fugitive, Jeremy Mahadevan, test drove in Austria last year. It’s a fanatically great drive… from what I’ve heard. The E92 Coupe offers brilliant handling, even better than the 3 Sedan, and the new engine they’d stuffed into it, the straight-six, 3.0-litre N54 twin-turbo, makes it amongst the best choices for undercover muscle on the road now. The quoted 302hp and 400Nm (although there has been suggestions that it is in fact much more ‘thrust’worthy an engine) propels the car to the edge of its handling capability.

But BMW thinks you must be some sort of performance-junkie to want this car. Their M models aside, this is perhaps the most driveable of their entire lineup. Even the Z4s have their own set of wonky dynamics – which no doubt, make them exciting drives – but the 335i Coupe is smooth, poised and will perform to precise degrees.

So if you get off on supreme driving dynamics, then that is your 3 series. But if you’re the sort of nut who is into open driving, then BMW will shuffle you along to the cabriolet.

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BMW says this is undiluted open driving and short of providing electronic umbrellas, they’ve done all they can to make you drive this car with the top down as often as possible. They’ve even gone and done something to the leather seats. Assuming they didn’t use GM cows, this is nothing short of extraordinary. This new material comprises of ‘cool pigments’ integrated into the material and reflects infra-red rays, ensuring that heat is not built-up in the cabin, ruining an otherwise perfect environment for open-top driving.

Of course, while this would be very welcome in our country, we all know that it doesn’t take pent-up heat in the cabin to reduce us to a perspiring mess. But this SunReflective Technology can reduce temperatures by up to 20°C in the case of darker colours. So you could, in theory, leave the top open when parked.

Its natural state, it would seem, is with the all-new three-piece hardtop secured in the boot. Yes, you read right. A hardtop, which seemingly goes against the ethos of BMW as a heavier metal top will cock up the driving dynamics.

Ahh, but who cares about driving dynamics? First and foremost, BMW wants to ensure a fuss-free convertible-owning lifestyle. Hardtops of course, weigh more than ragtops and will affect the centre-of-gravity but while BMW insists that technology and weight of cars have done enough to make the difference negligible, the real issue here is the facilitation of open driving.

For example, you’ll never need to replace a hardtop the way you would with a clothtop. That plus noise isolation is better. And if it’s going to stay there, it might not matter closing it will take longer to close than a softtop – 23 seconds and back down again in 22, although these figures are much faster than the Volvo C70’s 30 seconds.

So with all this talk about the hardtop, BMW must be very pleased with their new coupe-convertible, right? Not so, the good-looking guy on stage insisted. This is not a CC, as the rest of their competitors have happily called their hardtop creations.

BMW is rather specific about the psychographics of its customers. One kind of psycho wants a coupe, the other wants a convertible. There’s no mixing the two. The Convertible may still allude to sports car characteristics, but the idea here is that its about openness, the outdoors, a sense of adventure, rather than gritty, hardcore performance. BMW admits that the Convertible was not made to meet the same level of driving dynamics as the Coupe and instead, engineering was geared towards making this the best possible topless driving experience possible.

With the top down, occupants will enjoy an atmosphere of motoring in the open air characterised by the 3 Convertible‘s signature low and flat shoulder-line, which ensures that you won’t look like floating heads to passersby. In fact, the E93 Convertible looks so much better like this. Both the 3 Coupe and the 3 Convertible with the roof up looks a bit boring and uninspired and with the splitlines of the hardtop, a bit like it had a haircut gone wrong. With the top dropped, it’s recognizable, elegant and unfussy. I’d keep the top down as often as possible simply because it’ll look so much better.

The seating position for the front row has also been pushed to the rear and with the short windscreen, this ensures that the sun shines in and airflow has time to move down and ventilate, no matter how short the occupants are. Plus, the single pillar headrests also add to the idea of unobtrusiveness.

Thankfully though, on our cold winter’s drivetime, a sturdy wind deflector attached over the rear seats, ensuring that our ambiance was pleasant and vibrant, instead of bitter and chilling. Lovely.

Still, I get the feeling that BMW are secretly pleased to incorporate the hardtop as it allows then for the first time in a convertible, to have their trademark Hofmeister kink, which can be seen in the contours of the rear roofline. Not only that, it also makes it possible to have larger windows for better all-round visibility and a brighter, sunnier interior. Compared with the E46 cabriolet, the rear side windows alone are 30% larger than before, with visibility to the rear up by 38%.

The hardtop’s kinematics also ensures a smooth flow of rainwater off the top of the roof and integrated in the construction of the roof, small pans collect residual drops of water while the roof is moving allowing for the thrill of open-air motoring at the very instant that the rain (or snow) ceases.

Please note though, that when the rain or snow is falling, one would be well-advised not to put the pedal to the metal. This is, once again, not the handler that its permanently covered-up siblings are.

On the frosty hills to the weekend resort of Sedona, the car didn’t need much persuasion to let its back twitch out ever-so-slightly. Granted, there was many a treacherous scattering of black ice on the tarmac, and these frozen spots of water that flowed onto the road were sometimes hard to spot across shadier stretches of our test route.

This is the perennial problem with convertibles. They’re never as rigid as their sedan or coupe equals, and the incorporation of hydraulics to work the roof throws off the weight distribution. To counter this, all sorts of funky underpinnings were incorporated into the convertible.

A double-joint tie bar, spring-strut axle at the front made largely of aluminum and a five-arm rear axle gives the car one of the most comprehensive suspension setups in its class. Appropriate reinforcements on the floor of the car ensure optimum stiffness and bring the center of gravity back down once again.

All in all, that’s 200kg more than the 3 Coupe. That’s three average-sized Malaysian men. All that weight swinging about when going around switchbacks is definitely gonna make a difference. So the perennial problem of the droptop will always be stiffness vs weight.

In this case, BMW have got it tweaked rather well. Because acceleration is quite unaffected by the extra weight. It can still be blistering from a dead stop and overtaking is seamless. The top of the line 335i with that ever-impressive twin-turbo, zero lag N54 engine, is only 0.3s slower to 100km/h than its Coupe counterpart at 5.8s for the manual and 6.0s for their all-new, highly efficient torque-converter (capable of dropping four gears at a go with no extra response time, which to begin with, is already at a super-quick 0.1s) that also debuted in the 3 Coupe.

Other versions, which were not available for test though, include the 330i rated at 268hp and 320Nm bringing you to 100km/h in 6.7s (6.9 for auto), 325i producing 215hp and 270Nm good for the same sprint in 7.6s (8.1s) and the four-cylinder 320i, giving out 168hp and 210Nm for a 9.1s (9.8s) sprint, as petrol options. The 3 Convertible is also available with a straight-six turbodiesel that kicks out 228hp but a whopping 500Nm of torque starting from 1,750rpm.

The weight does tend to make a bigger effect as the power rating of the engines drop, but that probably won’t be an issue in Malaysia, where BMW plan to only bring in the higher-end models, considering the sort of customer who would want a two-door 3-series.

Thankfully for this customer, the 3 Coupe will come with all the standard bells and whistles. DSC, DTC, iDrive with 8 presets, Active Steering, gear-shift paddles on the steering wheel and Adaptive and Bending Headlights. I must’ve missed some stuff, but you get the picture.

Special adaptations for this car though include the remote control with Comfort Access, allowing you to raise of lower the roof via your remote key. Very thoughtful of them, as it could be rater embarrassing for the poseur who leaves his top down while parked only to have to rush back in and bring it back up should the rain gods decide to practice their cruel form of humor. This feature though, is also meant to allow you to move the roof to whichever point between and including open and closed to make it easier for loading and unloading.

There’s also custom-made luggage bag (sold separately) that will fit exactly into the rather meager 210-litre boot when the roof is down and also into the rear-seat area once the rear-bench is folded down – note: not 60/40 split for rigidity’s sake, as a single element has been used for the rotating axis. And there’s a 40cm wide opening once you drop the backbench, so you can slide your skis of golf bag all the way from boot to center console.

Over 600,000 3 Convertibles have been sold since it was first produced back in 1986. Legend has it that a bunch of BMW engineers thought it’d be a good idea and did it in their own garage. BMW AG liked it and with each new iteration, sales have steadily increased to the point where the E46 Convertible sold 270,000 units.

This car should retail at about RM500,000 for the 335i here, given that the equivalent coupe is currently going for RM468,000.

But the question that begs to be asked at the end of all this might be, if this is not a coupe-convertible, then why the hell did they go to so much trouble to make it feel so much like one? It looks a lot like the Coupe, it’s the stiffest 3 Convertible ever, they used lightweight material for the hardtop to ensure center-of-gravity wasn’t compromised and they have those powerful 335i and 330d engines!

Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter in the end. It’s a great convertible to own and as the new kid on the block, it meets expectations by quite simply outdoing all rivals in its class. A job well done, whatever the job was in the first place.

For more details, specifications and photos, please read the previous post: 2007 BMW 3-Series Convertible Unveiled.

Video: E93 BMW 335i Convertible Promo Video 1

Video: E93 BMW 335i Convertible Promo Video 2

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