Archive Road Test: 1994 BMW 325i Convertible

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From the December 1993 issue of Car and Driver.

Perhaps what they say is true—that it’s impossible to be all things to all people—but this 325i Convertible misses on only one key point: at $40,175, it’ll never be cheap.

Apart from that, BMW seems to have put check marks in more boxes than you could expect for any single car. It can be a sunny convertible, it can be a weather­tight hardtop, it can be a versatile cargo hauler, and all the while it earns style points as it goes.

For convenience of dropping the top, this car is tough to beat. Loosen the header latch with a single fold-up-and-turn of a handle over the inside mirror. With the same hand, push up the leading edge of the roof about eight inches. Then press a rocker switch on the console in the open-sesame direction. All the windows automatically drop a few inches, the rear accordions up around its C-pillar pivot, the rear deck for­ward of the trunk lid yawns open, the top itself collapses into the yawn, and the deck drops back into place, leaving nothing but blue sky overhead and tidy lines below.

HIGHS: EZ convertibility, clever rollover protection, stylish looks.

True, this isn’t quite the fully auto­mated disappearing act you would find on the Mercedes-Benz SL, but the nuisance jobs—­those that would require the driver to leave the seat—are handled with élan. What lit­tle manual labor is left adds to the pleasure because the latching mechanism works so smoothly and the efforts required are light indeed.

Ken Hanna|Car and Driver

After the first top-down ballet, in the euphoria of the moment, it’s tempting to conduct an award ceremony in the cere­brum and bestow on BMW some prize for new achievements in convertibility. But history records that Ford accomplished a similar feat in 1957 with the Skyliner—20,766 examples sold that year—and did it with a hard roof.

Despite the wonderful convertibility of this car, BMW’s approach to the better ragtop is less a matter of automation and more along the lines of attachments that can be sold at a nice markup. If, for those snowy months, you want a snug interior and a hard rear window (instead of the soft top’s wavy plastic), a nifty, 64-pound alu­minum roof is available for about $4000. If you’d like a less drafty cockpit when the top is down, a wind-deflector accessory can be yours for $405. It includes a ton­neau for the rear-seat area and an aluminum-framed net to erect behind the front seats. Actually, the front-seat area is reasonably draft-free in its standard form. In back, hang on to your hat.

With only nine cubic feet of capacity, the 325i Convertible’s trunk is consider­ably smaller than the coupe’s (14 cubic feet). To help in schlepping what won’t fit inside, BMW promises a special roof-rack option for the soft top, but its load capacity and price were unavailable at press time.

Ken Hanna|Car and Driver

For rollover protection, a reinforced windshield frame is standard equipment. If you want more, a $1390 option adds two just-in-time roll bars to the shelf behind the rear-seat head restraints, on each side of the rear-window blower defroster. If a sensor detects an impending upset, the roll bars are released, fired upward by springs to a height 10 inches above the headrests, and latched into place, all in 0.3 second. Apparently, no impending upsets were detected during our test.

LOWS: Shaky body, reluctant engine response if you let the revs drop.

This convertible, by its nature, is less flingable than the coupe on which it’s based. You feel the extra pounds—3400 compared with 3087 for the last coupe we tested. The engine seems to work more, and at revs below 3500 it doesn’t respond sharply to the throttle. The body shakes noticeably; as is typical of convertibles, you feel the coachwork flex as you bite into turns. And the convertible is always a step or two behind the coupe. Acceleration to 60 requires 7.3 seconds, compared with 6.5 for the lighter coupe. Quarter-mile speed is 88 mph, down from the coupe’s 92 mph.

The convertible does have road grip, though. The optional sport package ($600) brought handsome wire-lace alloy wheels and notably round-shouldered, low-profile Michelin Pilot HX 225/55VR-15 tires. Skidpad cornering was 0.84 g, much improved over the 0.79 g of the last coupe we tested (on Pirelli P600 205/60HR-15s). Understeer is minimal, and the steering stays responsive near the limits. The extra grip served well in the braking test, too, contributing to 173-foot stops from 70 mph, three feet shorter than the coupe’s stops.

Ken Hanna|Car and Driver

As you would expect at this price, the details are nicely finished. For example, the driver’s left-foot rest is a substantial platform completely covered and color­-matched to the kick panel beside it. The beige and tan combination of this interior was particularly agreeable to the eye. The ears have it easy, too, on top-up trips. The soft top has an inner liner that adds one more barrier against the roar of semis in the adjoining freeway lane. BMW has gone to extra trouble to seal the side win­dows against the top, often a source of air­-rush noise in convertibles. As you open a door, the power window drops slightly, then pushes up against the seal after the door is closed. In a particularly thoughtful gesture for a convertible, the central-lock­ing system works on the glovebox, too.

Nuisances remain, though. You’ll have to turn off your radar detector because the lighter socket stays live when you pull the key. And you’ll have to turn on the key to see the electronic odometer, a bother for those who log fuel fills.

If you’ve been scanning the photos as you read and thinking this car looks dif­ferent—and, somehow, better—than you would have expected of a 325i coupe with a roofendectomy, we won’t leave you wondering. The rear deck is lower. The stepped shoulder on the coupe’s rear quar­ter panel is missing on the convertible, leaving a nicely rounded form.

VERDICT: Satisfying rather than stirring.

If this factoid wins you something in a trivia contest, we get half, okay?


Do me a favor, folks, and ignore Sally Struthers. Send me your money instead. Your donation will go to a good cause—filling my garage. Give generously, because my wish list includes some seriously expensive machinery. Like this 325i Convertible. With all the flavor from the roofed car (perfect steering and brakes, a zippy inline-six, industrial styling as only the Germans can do) and one of the simplest top mechanisms around, BMW’s convertible is a thoroughly polished gem. Operators are standing by. Won’t you please help? —Martin Padgett Jr.

I love convertibles in general, and I love the 325i. Marry these entities to make a 325i Convertible, though, and something is lost. Make that gained: The soft top and structural reinforcements add a 300-plus-pound burden to the athletic 3-series. It’s as if Mom and Dad were riding in the car with you at all times. The extra weight has a calming effect and takes away the crisp edge to the 2.5-liter six-cylinder that’s so endearing in the coupes and four-doors. Nothing, of course, that BMW’s DOHC aluminum V-8 couldn’t fix in a jiffy. —Don Schroeder

If cars (like groceries) required freshness dating, you can bet this latest BMW 325i Convertible would carry a label promising freshness for decades. Which is not to say that 20 years down the road your Bimmer should still smell new-car fresh (though it could). It’s more a pledge that after two decades of motoring, this perfectly proportioned convertible will hold up to aesthetic scrutiny in much the same way the lovely 1957 BMW 507 Roadster does today. Now that’s freshness guaranteed! —Jeffrey Dworkin



1994 BMW 325i Convertible
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door convertible


Base/As Tested: $40,175/$43,657
Options: rollover-protection system, $1390; inclement-weather package (limited-slip differential, heated mirrors, and heated front seats), $755; sport package (includes sport seats, cross-laced wheels, 225/55Vr-15 tires), $600; onboard computer, $420; luxury tax on options, $317

DOHC 24-valve inline-6, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 152 in3, 2494 cm3
Power: 189 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 181 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm 

5-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: control arms/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 11.3-in vented disc/11.0-in disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot HX


Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Length: 174.5 in
Width: 67.3 in
Height: 53.1 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 48/26 ft3
Trunk Volume: 9 ft3
Curb Weight: 3400 lb


60 mph: 7.3 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.9 sec @ 88 mph
100 mph: 21.2 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 8.3 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 11.4 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 11.7 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 127 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 173 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.84 g 


Observed: 24 mpg

City/Highway: 19/27 mpg 


Source: Reviews -


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