New Cars + New Gear + New Technology* Drop-top purists are adamant that, by definition, a true convertible must have a canvas top in order to be considered a convertible. And their firm stance on the issue says something is lost when a hard top is fitted in place of canvas. But now, with the introduction of the 2007 BMW 3 Series hard-top Convertible, they might have cause to reconsider.

With normal canvas-topped convertibles, I always felt the car looked good with the top down, but with the top up, the lines were lost. A traditional design element found on most BMWs is the 'Hofmeister kink,' a trim design that wraps around the C-pillar. The three-piece steel hard top incorporates this crucial ingredient and allows the car to look just as good roof-less or otherwise. Another exterior design touch that catches the eye is the lighting. BMW's brilliant use of LED light rods in the rear taillights and standard Xenon Adaptive headlights with unique corona rings really sets this model apart.

Testing for the new 335i was in Scottsdale, Arizona, which brings to mind a scene of sunny desert-perfect convertible weather. But during testing, 32 degrees F was the average high, the average low being 26 degrees F. Keep in mind that this was at a standstill, so just imagine the how cold it should be at speeds of 100 mph or more. Even at these low temps, I was able to drive the BMW with the top down and still retain a decent amount of comfort. Thanks mainly to the 335i's heated seats and carefully designed interior heating system, allowing comfortable temperatures no matter how hostile the outside environment was. A flip side to the bitter cold is, of course, blistering heat, and anyone who has driven a vehicle with leather seats can attest to the fact that direct sunlight and leather do not mix. BMW addresses this problem by incorporating its Sun Reflective technology into the leather. With this technology applied to seating surfaces and to the armrest, the car's dark leather interior shows a reduction in surface temperature of 68 degrees F.

The new 3 Series convertible is powered by either the 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine featuring Valvetronic, producing 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque or the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six equipped with direct injection and producing 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Our 335i test vehicle was equipped with the latter. The twin-turbocharged design exhibits perfectly balanced characteristics: V8-style low-end torque, with the high-rev performance you'd expect from a BMW. Most European turbocharged engines give good torque and mid-range driveability, but tend to taper off in the higher revs. The 335i's powerband avoids such behavior, keeping true until redline. BMW planned a route that gave me the opportunity to really subject the car to all types of conditions. With all this driving behind me, there is only one word to sum up an overall impression of this engine: brilliant.

The BMW 3 Series Convertible comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission or with an optional enhanced Steptronic six-speed transmission with optional paddle shifters. The new Steptronic transmission features faster-acting hydraulic control, coupled to an innovative new torque converter design that gives a more direct link to the engine. The results are enhanced performance, response and fuel economy. The Steptronic auto 'box on the twin-turbo comes with a penalty of 0.2 seconds on the zero-to-60 mph time as compared to the six-speed manual. Our 335i tester came with the standard manual and was silky smooth in its precision. The exhaust had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality, giving a sweet note under full acceleration, yet maintaining a subtle quality.

Advances in technology have allowed BMW to craft a hard-top roof that opens from, or folds into, the rear compartment in just 22 seconds. While driving with the top up, I could completely forget I'm in a convertible-the cabin is that quiet. But one thing that ultra-quiet cabin is unable to suppress is the excessive road noise from the run-flat tires. Unfortunately, eliminating the run-flats is not an option. BMW does offer a long list of options that will allow for personal customization, including iDrive with dash-mounted programmable memory buttons, convertible transport bag, and a program to put the top up and down via the remote.

The new 3 Series Convertible is a true four-seater designed from the ground up to be just that, not just a chop-top coupe. When I look at any new vehicle, after the initial reaction, my first thought is to find the things I like and also the things I don't like and determine if I could live with them. I am not what you would consider a convertible person, but this car has changed the definition of what a convertible can be.

2007 BMW 335i Convertible
*Layout
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

*Engine
3.0-liter in-line six, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled

*Transmission
Six-speed manual

*Suspension
F: Double-joint tie-bar spring-strut axle
R: Independent five-arm axle

*Brakes:
Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes

*Dimensions
Length x Width x Height (in.): 180.3 x 70.2 x 54.5
Wheelbase: 108.7 in.
Curb Weight: 3990 lb

*Performance
Peak Power: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Peak Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.5 sec.
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)

*Why we love it: Two cars for the price of one: convertible and hard-top coupe, turbocharged engine, crisp transmission

*Why we don't: Run-flat tires, interior trim looks and feels cheap

The Price Tag $49,875

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