First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Photo Gallery: 2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet

Videos: Watch the top going down, and up again.

Phoenix, Arizona – You might expect the roads around Phoenix to be flat, straight and monotonous: not at all the kind of place that would challenge a sporty car like the 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet. You’d be wrong, because Arizona boasts some very interesting routes that duck and dive through its mountain ranges, especially up towards Sedona, or even on the short 50-kilometre run from Scottsdale to Bartlett lake.

You might also think that this would be the place to experience top-down motoring. This is Arizona, and it’s the desert, right? Sunny and hot.

Wrong again. With morning temperatures at this time of year struggling to reach four-degrees Celsius, this was a good opportunity to experience how well that clever new convertible hardtop – developed in association with specialist company Edscha – sealed against the body of the car, and responded to uneven pavement, railroad tracks, and wind noise. Convertible hardtops from some other manufacturers groan, creak and rattle over bumpy surfaces, and we were listening for similar shortcomings from this roof.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

And while we’re making assumptions, you might think that even a new BMW would get lost in the crowd of fancy machinery that typically populates the roads in Phoenix. This is, after all, where the celebrated Barrett Jackson auction plies its trade in exotic cars, where Roger Penske has a mega dealership that sells every luxury brand, and just about everyone drives a sparkling example of automotive finery.

Taking the last point first, the 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet is a four-seat convertible of uncommon style. During our 400-kilometre test loop, passers-by asked to be photographed next to it, a State Trooper uncharacteristically waved as we drove by, and we were asked repeatedly for information about the car by starry-eyed admirers. Even at the swank Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Hotel where BMW accommodated its international press guests, the car attracted attention and interest from the well-heeled clientele staying on their own dime. So make no mistake, the car holds its own in the “looks” department.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

Available with a choice of five drivetrains in Europe, we’ll get only two in Canada: the 328i Cabriolet with an inline 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine making 230 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft of torque, and the 335i Cabriolet with its twin-turbocharged version of the same engine that makes 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft torque. Buyers can also choose between a six speed manual transmission and a six-speed “Steptronic” automatic with paddle shifters.

We drove only the 335i, but sampled both transmissions.

Although its exterior design is not a huge departure from the outgoing model, the 2007 3 Series Cabriolet massages the familiar BMW lines into an elegant form that emphasizes its horizontal shoulder line, rather than the more popular wedge profile that typifies most current cars.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

The horizontal lines are relived by the subtle curve of a character line that runs from just above the front wheel through to the rear fender, and rather than being a convertible version of the 3 Series Coupe, this car establishes its own identity by using a unique roofline, rear window, and different body panels from the A-pillar back. Note how, in comparison with other cars, the wheels are positioned farther forward than is typical. The front wheels have only the slightest overhang in front of them; the rear wheels are located below and behind the rear seat, the trunk extending considerably further back. The impression when stationary, therefore, is as if the vehicle has been photographed at speed, and has somewhat compressed at the front and elongated at the rear. No doubt this arrangement contributes to the car’s perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, and provides a trunk big enough to accommodate the roof.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

The roof, of course, is what most buyers will want to know about. No longer available with a cloth top, the 3 Series Cabriolet features a clever three-piece hardtop that folds into the trunk in a mere 22 seconds. The operation (raising or lowering) can be initiated from outside the car using the keyfob, or more typically from inside the car at the press of a button. No manual latching or clamping is required. When the roof is down, the automatic climate control adjusts the flow of warm or cool air to compensate for the exterior conditions. Check the videos (click here and here) to see the roof in operation.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet; photos courtesy BMW. Click image to enlarge

Inside, sweeping lines and forms dominate, punctuated by luxurious surfaces of wood, metal and Dakota leather (except in the 328i, where leatherette seating surfaces are supplied, and leather is optional). That leather features an innovative sun-reflective treatment that reduces its temperature by 10-degrees when exposed to the sun, thereby similarly reducing the shock of a hot leather surface on bare or lightly protected skin in the summer months.

A console extends from the centre stack, through to the rear where it functions as a storage container for passengers there. Adding to its functionality, the rear seat back folds down to expose a panel that can be opened to slide skis, a snowboard or golf clubs through from the trunk.

Driving impressions are very positive. The 335i engine must be one of the smoothest and most responsive on the market today, and although the Cabriolet weighs 200 kilograms more than the Coupe, it takes the car from 0-100 km/h in 5.8 seconds using the manual transmission, and 6.0 seconds with the automatic. I’d suggest that most drivers will find the automatic faster, as you need to be particularly adept at any manual transmission to wring the maximum performance numbers from it, and the automatic certainly knows what it’s doing. In comparison, acceleration times for the 328i Cabriolet from 0-100 km/h are 7.2/7.7 seconds, manual/automatic.

The morning run gave us plenty of opportunity to experience the top-up performance of the car, and I’m pleased to report that it was vault-like in its solidity. No cowl shake was evident, even over bumpy, uneven surfaces. Similarly, no squeaks or rattles emanated from the roof, which seemed as if it was a permanent fixture on the car. Likewise, no wind noise was heard, beyond the normal movement of air over the windshield.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

In the afternoon, temperatures reached a balmy 15-degrees, and was spent with the top down. Again the car was rock-solid over bumps and heaves in the road, and thoroughly comfortable for its two front passengers, both of whom enjoyed the prospects of individual climate control and power adjustable sport seats.

The manual transmission made the car seem quicker, each gear flinging it forward, the exhaust emitting a throaty growl. But this may have been a deception, as the automatic — smooth, quick and willing through its paddle shifters — reached very high speeds in no time at all. In fact, on several occasions we found ourselves going well beyond the speed limit, even though it felt like we were barely nudging 80 km/h.

First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
First Drive: 2007 BMW 3 Series Cabriolet luxury cars first drives bmw
2007 BMW 3-series Cabriolet; top photo courtesy BMW. Click image to enlarge

There are no real complaints with this car, beyond its limited trunk space and cramped rear seating. A 160-litre travel bag can be purchased that fits in the rear cabin, and doubles as trunk space, but fans of this car likely won’t be too stressed by cargo limitations, and will adapt.

Other areas of criticism were the tendency of the automatic transmission to lurch at very low speeds (my driving partner suggested this may be the on/off nature of the electronic throttle), and the climate control which tended to over compensate for the outside temperature when the top was down.

But you have to stretch to find issues with this vehicle. The 2007 3 Series Cabriolet drives pretty much like a sports car (especially when powered by the 300 hp engine) with superbly firm suspension and razor sharp handling. And the ride is wonderfully smooth and compliant, which seems a contradiction when you get virtually no body roll in the sharpest of corners. BMW seems to have found a way to provide superior ride and handling from the same chassis, and this is a rare accomplishment.

Couple this with the striking lines of the 2007 3 Series Cabriolet, and you have another benchmark vehicle from BMW.


At a glance: 2007 BMW 328i and 335i Cabriolet

  • Available: Spring, 2007
  • Price: TBA, but expect about $5,000 over Coupe pricing.
  • Notable: Edscha designed convertible hardtop, smooth and powerful engines, choice of 17, 18 or 19-inch wheels, comprehensive safety technology including adaptive headlights, dynamic stability control, traction control, multiple airbags, run flat tires; sports car performance with luxury ride.

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