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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For The 3 Series convertible is good to drive, has space for four and is still desirable

Against It commands high prices, has plenty of mechanical problems, and rust is getting a grip

Verdict Age is now taking its toll, but good examples are still great

Go for… 318i

Avoid… 328i

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BMW 3 Series Convertible full review with expert trade views

The 3 Series convertible is a four-seater that drives pretty much as nicely as the acclaimed saloon it's based on, suffering little from the shimmying and shaking that afflict other drop-tops. The driving position is good and all major controls respond crisply. The steering is sharp and there’s plenty of grip provided the the tyres are good.

The excellent hood keeps out rain and road noise, and you should be able to find one with electric operation, which was an option on most models. The manual hood is a nuisance to work, but there’s less to go wrong. Mechanically, the Convetible is the same as other 3 Series, so spare parts are easy to obtain and there are plenty of specialist garages to fix it at fair prices. It’ll last well and cover huge mileages if cared for.

The convertible soldiered on for a couple of years after the 3 Series saloon it's based on was replaced in 1998, so the newest ones are registered in 2000, with an X-plate.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Clean models with full history are hard to find. Must have electric hood

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Less is more when it comes to this particular 3 Series. The entry-level 318i gives you most of what the car’s about, and a sweet and willing 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor, while keeping running costs sensible. There’s also a 323i with two extra cylinders and 170bhp to the 1.8’s 115, and a 328i with a 193bhp 2.8. Both are great pieces of engineering, but it's hard to argue a case for them when the 1.8 does such a sound job and has much more palatable running costs.

Most first owners will have selected freely from the extras list, so see plenty before you buy, and choose one that’s fully kitted out. Avoid any models without air-con or alloy wheels because they’ll be tricky to resell for the full market price.

Watch out, too, for any brought in as personal imports and not to the same specification as UK-market cars because, again, they might be harder to resell.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Late '90s 6 cylinder 323i/325i/328i especially with air-con

James Ruppert
Used car guru

It won’t be cheap to buy. Mid-1990s cars are now temptingly inexpensive, but their age and probable condition makes them risky purchases. It’s best to source the newest you can afford. Do that, get a good one, and day-to-day expenses should stay sensible.

Check that the hood is rip-free. Unless damaged, the soft-top should last 10 years, but a replacement costs over £1000. Servicing is fairly priced and intervals are variable, according to how you drive. Spares are reasonable and a well-serviced car should remain reliable even at six-figure mileages.

Insurance is several groups dearer than for the equivalent saloons, but on with other soft-tops. That means the 318i is group 14, the 323i is 16 and the 328i is 17.

Fuel economy is respectable: the 318i returns up to 35mpg overall, the 323i up to 31mpg and the 328i 30mpg.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Clean models with full history are hard to find. Must have electric hood

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Check the hood keeps out the rain, that it raises and fastens correctly, and that the heated rear window operates. If the top is powered, check it runs smoothly in both directions. Inspect its fabric for rips and then do the same for the cabin, as minor repairs will prove expensive.

Check the front mats for damp because the seal at the base of the windscreen can leak. And, watch for rust eating into the rear wheelaches and the bottoms of the doors.

A full service history is a must and, if it's supported by a wad of invoices, so much the better. Manual gearboxes last well and need little attention, but automatic gearboxes need an overhaul at about eight years old, so ask if one has been done, if necessary.

If the car doesn’t steer or grip well, new suspension bushes (fairly cheap to buy and fit) should transform its handling. It may also need new shocks, though.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Late '90s 6 cylinder 323i/325i/328i especially with air-con

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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