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BMW 325i Convertible

Can our current class leader hang on to its drop-top crown?

If either of our two newcomers wants to take victory here, they will have to beat BMW’s 3-Series Cabriolet. The German machine is our current drop-top champ, and it’s easy to see why.

As with the Lexus, it successfully combines wind-in-the-hair thrills with the refinement of a fixed-head coupé. It also sets the benchmark for driving dynamics, thanks to a sharp rear-wheel-drive chassis and smooth straight-six engine.

With the three-piece roof in place, the BMW could easily be mistaken for its Coupé brother. It has similarly large side windows for excellent visibility, and even incorporates the firm’s trademark kink in the C-pillar.

So, the 3-Series is handsome and well proportioned with the hood up or down, while a subtle bodykit and 18-inch alloy wheels enhance our M Sport test car’s looks.

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Lowering the roof takes 27.4 seconds – that’s the slowest here. However, it’s an operation that’s bound to attract an audience. The hood is a joy to watch, with panels that rotate and slide with incredible precision. And once stowed, it leaves a completely flat rear deck, unlike the bulbous Lexus.

In an effort to minimise the impact of its roof on the car’s luggage capacity, the mechanism is designed to be extremely compact.

When you drop the roof, though, the load area suffers to the tune of 55 litres, leaving a measly 215-litre capacity. Still,

the BMW comes with a neat system called Boot Access, which raises the folded panels slightly to allow better access when loading and unloading.

Passengers fare much better than their luggage.

The cabin comfortably accommodates four adults, while the sloping side glass and steeply raked windscreen minimises buffeting.

As a result, the BMW is the most comfortable top-down cruiser.

As you’d expect, the cabin is also solidly screwed together, while its classy soft-touch materials are easily a match for those found in the Audi.

On paper, the BMW should have the upper hand at the test track, as its 215bhp 3.0-litre engine is the biggest and most powerful here.

However, there isn’t enough torque at low revs, so the tuneful six-cylinder unit has to be worked hard to give its best. And even then, the 3-Series is slower than the turbocharged Audi.

On the road, the BMW makes up for its lack of outright pace by delivering the best driving dynamics.

Whether the hood is up or down it has the stiffest chassis, with only occasional vibration through the steering over big bumps indicating flex.

Otherwise, it retains the poise, balance and beautifully weighted controls of other 3-Series variants. Even the ride is composed, despite the firmer suspension settings used on M Sport models. The 3-Series is classy, comfortable and great to drive – it’s clear to see why it’s our reigning champ.

But at £36,350, it’s over £2,000 dearer than the Audi, and not as well equipped as the Lexus, either.

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Chart position: 1
WHY: The folding tin-top 3-Series mixes open air fun with driving thrills, and is our reigning class champ.

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