“The E93 335i is a supremely capable machine, able to switch effortlessly between comfortable cruiser and playful road-racer. Most importantly, the roof opens up to stir a bit of excitement… “
Convertibles have always been cool. Post-grunge oddballs T Presidents of the United States of America with their 1996 single Mach 5: nailed the drop-top vibe he “Oh my goodness, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life… I’m riding with the top down, riding with the top down…” There are few experiences more evocative, more feel good, than an old-timey cruise across sweeping widescreen moorland or through some lush and verdant valleys with the breeze in your barnet. Or along the seafront, or just trundling to the shops – every journey is an adventure in a cabriolet. You don’t need it to be a point-and-squirt B-road weapon, that’s not the point of throwing the hood down; no, these cars are all about la dolce vita.
BMW’s generations-old 3 Series line has always lent itself very well to open-top motoring. Ever since the can opener was applied to the E21, customers have been swarming toward the archetypal mid-size premium drop-top like bees around the jam sarnies in your picnic basket. It’s always been a model that’s offered endorphin-rich open air whimsy with, if you tick the right boxes, sizeable thrust to play with. So it’s fun first, fast second. But only if you’re talking priorities, not impact – the barnstorming 3.0-liter straight-six twin-turbo in the Crimson Red E93 you see here makes an unmissable statement…
The E93’s interior demonstrates the model’s baked-in duality neatly by providing you with an illusion of simplicity. Within the classy double-bubble dash there appear to be simply two classic dials before you and little else.
It’s only when you find yourself fiddling with settings on the move that you realize there are actually buttons everywhere. It’s a nifty design that hides its complexity well. And on the move, the 335i is little short of breathtaking.
Given that it sits in the sparse middle ground between the sensible 3 Series models and the hedonistic M3, it achieves a surprising trick: there’s 295lb ft of torque – identical to the M3 – but it’s all available from just 1200rpm. Which is a full 2600rpm lower than the M3.
What this means in real terms is that the 335i makes a thoroughly decent job of smearing the scenery into a green wash without ever leaving you wishing you’d paid the extra for the M car. But it’s oh-so happy to waft too, you don’t always have to feel as if your hair’s on fi re; the steering is fluid and gorgeously feel some without being overly assisted, the brakes are reassuringly progressive without biting too aggressively, and the chassis serves up plenty of grip while leaving the handling pleasantly neutral. That’s why you didn’t buy the M3. Because the 335i is far more civilized.
Oh yes, and you can easily fi t four fully-grown adults in it. It may have a rocket in its pocket, but this car is properly grown-up.
All of this faultless logic served to inform the purchase decision for Michael Greenhalgh, the chap jealously guarding the keys to the mintyfresh E93 that sits before our camera lens today. He’s a man with a diverse and colorful motoring history, with each stepping stone ultimately leading to this vision in Crimson.
“I’ve been interested in cars for as long as I can remember,” he explains, “helping my dad with maintenance as a child and so on, and I have always enjoyed all forms of four-wheeled motorsport. I couldn’t wait to start driving myself, and had my license within a few months of turning 17! In my mid-twenties I left my career in financial services and joined the motor trade, pairing my love of cars with the skills I had in sales – the best of both worlds – and I remained in the industry from 2004 until returning to financial services in 2013.”
Michael’s back catalogue is something he describes as ‘patchy’, although we’d suggest ‘beautifully diverse’ is a more apt epithet, as he really has had some crackers. The saga began with an MG Metro, a thoroughly respectable vessel in which to distil one’s skills, and if we fast-forward through a hundred or so company cars, we arrive at a then-brand-new EP3 Honda Civic Type R and a few other treats, followed by a an E46 330Ci M Sport convertible and an F31 320d xDrive M Sport. With the E46 being traded in for a SEAT Leon in a moment of madness, Michael quickly found himself pining for the heady combination of Bavarian six-pots and wind-in-the-hair thrills, and it was this yearning which planted the seed for the E93.
“I guess I missed it,” he shrugs. “I still had my wife’s F31 to drive, but I wanted to get my own BMW again. As much as I liked the Leon for the time I had it (and it was so cheap to run compared to the Beemers!) it was missing something. And then one evening I was watching Wheeler Dealers, of all things, and there was an E46 M3 being done up that was the final push I needed to return to BMW ownership. I initially started looking at M3s and quickly realized I could actually get an E9x M3 model for the money I was looking to spend, however, further reading up on the various forums and Facebook pages ended up putting me off getting one as the running and maintenance costs could be eye-watering. So I refocused my sights slightly and started looking for a 335i.”
With his mind open to ideas and the focus having shifted a little, Michael set out on his quest with the idea of snagging himself a coupé – although, after extensive digging, there wasn’t anything on the market that was really floating his boat in terms of specification, color, age and condition. The magic formula just wasn’t presenting itself. But then fate decided to throw a handful of aces down, with an intriguing 335i convertible popping up in the local classifieds. Michael decided to go over for a look-see, and it immediately flicked a switch in his brain: the combination of the looks and the sound sent him right back to those halcyon days in the drop-top E46. That particular E93 wasn’t quite where it should have been in terms of condition, but it helped to galvanize the decision – a 335i cabriolet was the thing to have. And before too long, the right one appeared.
“I found this car on Auto Trader towards the middle of February this year, with a dealer in Newbury,” he says. “I arranged to go and see it after work (pre-lockdown) and it looked even better in the flesh than the pictures online.
Gleaming red, not a mark on the bodywork or wheels, a folder full of invoices and receipts for work done, full service history, and only one owner from new. Looking at the numbers on some of the invoices, it was evidently a noexpense-spared sort of car, it had been clearly looked after. As with the outside, the interior looked like it had never been sat in, there was no wear on the seats or carpets and mats, which is surprising given the color! Everything worked as it should, and the test-drive went well apart from a warning light appearing on the dash to say one of the rear lights wasn’t working, along with a bit of brake judder. So we agreed to have those fixed before I would purchase it, and haggled a decent price for my Leon in part exchange. Two days later, issues rectified, I went back to Newbury to pick it up.”
If the narrative thus far is reading like some manner of automotive fairytale, let’s all remember that 2020 has been, in many respects, something of a hellstorm which has been keen to kick us in the teeth at any opportunity. For Michael, this manifested itself as the country going into full lockdown just two weeks after he purchased his gleaming red dream machine. Naturally many, many people have suffered much, much worse, but it does somewhat take the gloss off the giddy thrill of the acquisition. Being classed as a key worker, he was at least able to commute in the 335i; it’s only a few miles to the office, and he actually works from home most of the time, but it’s better than nothing. This year we’ve had to find pleasure where we can. Perhaps one way to sweeten the pill is to consider all the money he was saving in fuel; the Leon would get around 40-45mpg, whereas the 335i offers more like 25mpg… although, with his financial services hat on, Michael’s keen to view this objectively. The key factor here is ‘smiles per gallon’ – and you can be sure that the E93 delivers a whole lot more of those.
Naturally, with all that time spent gazing at its immobile form through the front window, thoughts turned to personalization. “I very quickly updated the halos to LEDs, and swapped out the chrome grilles for gloss black replacements,” says Michael. “I also upgraded all the interior, door and boot lights for LEDs – this was all within the first two or three weeks. A modification to the exhaust flap was the next quick and simple five-minute job, to add a little more noise… and maybe annoy my neighbors a little in the mornings; no-one has actually complained so far, but it is rather loud compared to standard!” A misfire soon presented itself, and taking the car to Autoworks in Swindon (“a brilliant BMW indy garage,” according to Michael) diagnosed a faulty coil pack. Beyond that though, it’s proven itself to be a brilliantly Jekyll-and-Hyde machine: the 335i serves as a superb family car, with the kids really loving cruising around with the roof down, and it’s a proper headturner with that alluring combination of rare color and tweaked exhaust sound. It can also play the role of show pony: “I do valeting as a hobby, so it has been fully detailed inside and out, ceramic-coated and so on,” he assures us.
“This really makes the color glow, and it gets washed at least once a fortnight but usually once a week. My neighbors must think I’m mad! I’ve attended a couple of local BMW meets with lockdown being eased lately, and have received a lot of compliments.”
But let’s not forget that the beating heart of this cruiser/bruiser is that near-bottomless swell of torque. There’s a lot of power malevolently simmering away, and it’s never far from the surface. And, as the old saying goes, power corrupts. “More recently I’ve had the bug to modify it further, and have looked at going down the MHD tuning route,” says Michael. “This is something highly recommended by the BMW community online and on social media. I bought the relevant OBD WiFi adaptor and licenses, downloaded the app, and flashed a Stage 1 tune onto the car. This is good for around 350hp and 369lb ft of torque, up from the standard 306hp and 295lb.ft. But it immediately landed with another misfire, so I flashed back to stock and the misfire has gone… I suspect it’s coils/spark plug related, so I’m waiting for new parts to arrive as we speak in order to test this and see if it cures the issue. Otherwise it’s likely to be new injectors.” All part of the fun, eh? And of course fun is the key element at play with a car like this.
When the E93 cabrio was new, it shone among its peers by virtue of its myriad plus points: the Mercedes CLK may be capable but it doesn’t have soul; the Alfa Romeo Spider has perhaps too much soul at the expense of substance; the Volvo C70 is far too sensible; the Saab 9-3 Turbo is a little too flaky. The E93 335i ticks all of the boxes, and with its best-of-both-worlds folding metal roof it’s arguably the best convertible of its era. But most importantly for Michael, it rekindles the fi re that was dampened when he sold a car he immediately regretted parting with. With this manoeuver, he’s revived the BMW dream and rewritten it for modern family life – open-top thrills, with show-and-go in spades, practical for the family, and with plenty of potential for tasty upgrades. Everything carried out with ruthless efficiency.
Watch this video for Review and Features E93 335i Convertible