2014 BMW 435i Convertible First Drive
Drives Wonderfully, But Top and Windscreen Issues Mar Experience
Convertibles aren't doing so hot. Open-top cars have never sold well in the U.S., but sales are down from 2 percent of all cars sold in 2012 to just a measly 1 percent in 2013. Knowing that, I approached the launch of the 2014 BMW 435i Convertible, with a wary -- some might say jaundiced -- eye toward not just the car, but also the segment. Talk about slicing a niche even thinner. You can also talk about relevancy, as obviously there isn't much in terms of raw numbers. As BMW spins it, four-seat convertibles aren't suffering in the market nearly as much as pure two-seaters. Moreover, the old 3 Series Convertible accounted for a "significant" part of 3 Series sales. BMW is weird with numbers. For instance, I have been told a U.S.-only manual transmission option in the M5 accounts for "between 10 to 50 percent" of sales. With that in mind...
BMW has replaced the 3 Series Coupe and Convertible with the 4 Series. What hasn't been said enough is that the 4 Series is a little bit more than just a two-door 3. Not only is the 4 longer and wider than the 3, it's much lower. Moreover, the 4 Series Convertible is 10mm lower still. Like the old E92 3 Series Convertible, the new 4 retains the folding metal hardtop. The lowering and raising process is even slicker, though it still takes about 20 seconds. BMW claims sound-absorbing materials in the roof are good for eating up 2 db of noise, and you can now raise or lower the top at speeds up to 11 mph. I'm not sure why BMW bothered pointing out that last bit, either. I guess if you're rolling around a parking lot and it's drizzling, that's useful. But 11 mph is absurdly slow even by Los Angeles Sig Alert standards. Going back to the E92 comparison, the new Convertible is 2 inches longer, 40 percent stiffer, and weighs (according to BMW) 44 pounds less. BMW also is claiming a drag coefficient of 0.33 cd with the top down, and 0.29 cd with the top up, if I had a wind tunnel. I think the convertible looks better than the coupe. A rare feat. Anyhow, so far, so good.
As for driving, that's also good. BMW chose to only let us loose in the quite potent 435i, as opposed to the less costly turbo four-banger 428i. As far as the F30 3 and F32 4 Series go, I've preferred the 2.0-liter cars to the quicker yet somehow superfluous inline-sixes. Call it a balance thing. However, when behind the wheel of a hardtop convertible (F33 in BMW-speak), how a car tiptoes across the knife's edge of an apex is far less important than straight-up wafting. As such, I think the big engine is the superior choice here, especially for languidly cruising along next to your favorite body of water. (Or through Nevada's eye-poppingly scenic Valley of Fire. Just know that the maniac park rangers really mean it when they say 35 mph.) Freeway blasts at 80 mph are a no-fuss, no-hair-muss type of non-event. With the top folded, there's cowl shake. The vibrations are especially noticeable through the dead pedal under moderate to heavy acceleration. But hey, that's what happens when you slice the top off a unibody vehicle. Chassis bracing, even the heavy Bavarian variety, can only do so much. Despite the tremors, the 435i Convertible flies down a twisting road exactly as well as I expected it to. Which is to say, about as well as a topless coupe can.
There are a couple of sticking points. One is the Hydraulic Loading Assist, a feature so complicated, I'm having trouble thinking how to describe it. Here goes nothing: When the 435i's top is down, the folded metal gets in the way of stashing your Tumi rollerboard (assuming yours is equal to or less than 7 cubic feet or so, because that's how much trunk space you have with the top down. Top up, you get 13.1 cubic feet). The solution is an up/down button in the trunklid. Press it, and the entire folded top is hydraulically lifted up about 8 inches so you can access the stowage space underneath. There's still one of those annoying convertible covers that has to be in place before the top will move. The hydro load assist takes about 15 seconds to move the top up, but only a few to lower it. To my eyes, it seems needlessly complex. Chalk it up to Occam's Razor needing a good sharpening from time to time.
But the complexity of the HLA pales in comparison to the Rube Goldberg Experiment gone bad that is the pop-up windscreen. There's no kind way to put this, but this flimsy, lousy thing has no place on a vehicle that starts life at $55,735, nearly $9000 more than the price of a 435i hardtop. The party trick with the windscreen is that once you remove and fold it in half, the backs of the rear seats fold forward to reveal a storage spot for the screen. That said, if the screen is stowed, it blocks the ski pass-through from the trunk to the rear seats. My prediction is that these windscreens will spend the bulk of their lives stashed in the back of the garage. You'd think some of the extra purchase price could have gone towards a more elegant solution. Like the way Porsche does it.
Go crazy with the options and you're looking at $70K 3 Series. I mean 4 Series. Actually, my point is that the car's a $70K 3 Series. That's a not insubstantial amount of scratch, even for a really slick-folding, great-looking, fun-to-drive luxury sport convertible. You could argue that since the average transaction price of a new car is creeping up on the $33,000 mark, double that isn't totally insane for such a fine automobile. Or you could do what most Americans are doing these days and skip the convertible. For the lucky, wealthy-ish few who choose to go topless with the 435i Convertible, they're in for one hell of a satisfying ride. Just do like BMW did and look past the windscreen.
|2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible|
|BASE PRICE||$49,675 - $55,735|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door, convertible|
|ENGINES||2.0L/245-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.0L/306-hp/295-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||4000 - 4100 lb (est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||182.6 x 71.9 x 54.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.0-5.8 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||March, 2014|