Cornish trip sets topless long-distance record

A long drive to Cornwall sees editor DAVID HOOPER set a personal record for open-topped travel in BMW’s latest 3 Series Convertible.

Mission accomplished – the 3 Series pictured on the slipway in Port Quinn, North Cornwall.

THERE’S nothing like a good road trip, and when that road trip involves open-topped motoring, I just knew I was going to enjoy my journey to Cornwall for a much-needed few days away. What I hadn’t expected, was to set a new personal distance record for open-topped driving.
Ask any of my family or friends, and they will all tell you the same – if there’s a convertible car about and it’s not raining, the roof has to be off. It’s the law according to Hooper. I just don’t get why so many people spend lots of money on convertibles, then drive them round with the roof up when the sun’s out. The point of that is . . .?
Thanks to our temperate climate, the UK is the biggest market in Europe for convertibles. I love open-air motoring and own a classic convertible of my own, but it’s not really a motorway car, unlike my transport for my trip to the West country, BMW’s latest 3 Series, which comes with a folding hard top.

Magic – the car’s roof separates into three pieces and folds itself into the boot.

The Bavarian carmaker has done an excellent job with this car, it looks just as good with the roof up as it does down, a feat which is hard to achieve, as several rather big-bottomed alternatives ably demonstrate. It’s secret to its shapely rear is a three-piece roof, which folds neatly away into the boot at the press of a button on the centre console. The synchronised lifting and folding operation never fails to impress me. The car has to be stationary while the transformation takes place, and in convertible mode, the boot space is quite limited. I could only fit in one medium sized suitcase and a fairly empty ruck sack below the shield which has to be in place before the roof mechanism will operate, which limits the car’s practicality if more than two people are involved. The back seats became the over-flow boot, with extra bags, bedding and a jacket or two fitting under the wind break, which is a worthwhile accessory that stops the buffeting from the wind at higher speeds. With my cool box jammed behind the passenger seat, and some factor 30 rubbed in, I was ready to go.

With the top down, boot space is quite limited.

The forecast wasn’t brilliant, and the sky did look a bit menacing, but I was up for it, and decided to see how far I could get before I got a soaking.
A few light showers in the Midlands amounted to no more than a couple of rain drops on the windscreen, and to my amazement, I arrived at my destination on the north coast of Cornwall some 370 miles later, with the roof still down. Coming over the last hill and seeing the turquoise blue Atlantic is always a delight, but with the roof down, this time I could even smell it as the tide was coming in. It was, as it always is, a welcoming sight.
As expected, the BMW had behaved faultlessly – it had also been very comfortable, and I didn’t feel stiff after six hours at the wheel, which is testament to the quality of its seats – and the relatively clear roads.
During my few days in Cornwall, the weather wasn’t the best, so the roof stayed up most of the time, which gave me the chance to try the car in its other form, as a sleek coupe. Again, it impressed – you would be hard pushed to tell it apart from a standard coupe, so it provides the best of both worlds in that department.
The economy of the latest version of BMW’s renowned 2.0-litre diesel engine was also pleasing. It had been a quick trip south with plenty of kit, yet the car averaged around 45mpg overall, a figure which it maintained on the return leg, which was slower thanks to the usual nightmares of the M5 on a holiday Saturday in August. At times it was a three-lane car park in both directions, but this did let me sample another of the latest fuel-saving features, the Stop/Start system which switches off the engine when the car comes to a halt, and instantly restarts it again when the clutch pedal is depressed. The fuel savings are worth having with prices being what they are today.
Heavy rain showers brought an end to my attempt to complete the return trip topless, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the car which is a classy, comfortable convertible that would be a pleasure to own and enjoy – whatever the weather.

The 3 Series looks great with its top folded away.

Rating: ★★★★★

BMW 3 Series Convertible 320i SE.

3 SERIES CONVERTIBLE RANGE: From 320i SE (£32,910) to M3 (£57,285).

ENGINE: 1995cc, 170bhp four-cylinder engine, driving rear wheels through 6-speed manual gearbox.

CO2 EMISSIONS: 169g/km.

PERFORMANCE: Top speed 142mph. 0-62mph in 9.1 secs.

ECONOMY: City: 32.1mpg.
Country: 50.4mpg.
Combined: 41.5mpg.
Fuel tank: 63 litres.

Group 16.

WARRANTY: 3 years/Unlimited mileage.

PRICE: £32,910.


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