By Jon Rosner, Thu, 5 May 2005 08:00:00 PDT
I don't know how they did it but BMW has cornered the market for "smooth." Sure, I can nit-pik, the seats on the Jaguar Vanden Plas were better. The windshield had more cowl shake than one or two of the latest Mercedes rag tops, but that's it. The 3 Series exterior follows a family line that can be traced back to the BMW 1600/2002 sedans of the late '60s and early '70s.
The progression shows that the evolutionary changes have taken in incremental steps. Not a bad idea for a car that has become the benchmark by which all other sports sedans have been measured for the last ten years.
The interior is made up of nicely patterned soft-touch plastics, subtle wood veneer and tan leather interior. The top looks almost like that of a sedan and subdues exterior noise substantially better than most rag tops. This is one example of the attention to details that have been a hallmark of BMW.
e engine feels strong and purrs responsively as you accelerate smartly, without any annoying jolts as it zips through the gears. The on-rails cornering prowess is very satisfying. Not quite as hard-core and razor-sharp as a Lotus Elise, but quite very far away from the current mid-size Japanese sedan trend of almost sea-sickness inducing softness.
Yes, BMWs are still popular with trend-setters and the performance is thoroughbred, and the prices justified.
The seat belt receivers are in a fixed position recessed into leather pouches and made it very easy to get the kids in and out quickly. At 50 degrees F, the heater could keep the driver and front passenger toasty warm, but did not do much for the back seat occupants. There is a downside to all the brilliant details on the 325I.
That smooth operating multi-fold convertible top is a complex design. As complex designs age they become harder to repair, and the more complex designs that are on-board the greater the likelihood of one of them failing and taking a fair bit of time to repair.
That said. For under $45,000 there are not many choices for four-seater convertibles. The next step up is the Mercedes in the low $50's, the next step down is either the Chrysler Sebring or PT Cruiser Convertible.
The former being out of the range of a lot of folks and the latter being very nice for the money, but no where near as polished as the BMW. When you factor in the handsome muscular shape of the body, the thought-out and refined soft-tone black interior, the superb ride and sense of control; the conclusion has to be that BMW 325I Convertible has earned its benchmark status.