BMW 330Ci Convertible

Price as tested: $48,870

Mileage: 18 city, 25 highway

Horsepower: 225 Engine: 3.0-liter, inline six cylinder 0-60: 6.9 seconds

Basic Warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles

Remember Transformers?

The popular toys of the mid-1980s were vehicles that transformed into heroic robots. I couldn't help but be reminded of them when I pushed the dashboard control to stash the top of the 2005 BMW 330Ci convertible.

The windows dropped; the front edge of the roof unlatched; a plate on the deck over the trunk slid back; the top neatly folded itself in; and the lid closed. Just like that, slick as a whistle, the pleasant little coupe transformed into a vehicle that made me yearn for sunshine and the open road.

This time of year, after months of grim, gray Ohio skies, most of us are eager for a car that lets us feel our oats. The 330Ci is a change agent that not only transforms itself with the flip of a switch but makes you feel like a kid again. Before I knew it, I was humming "Good Vibrations."

BMW's top-of-the-line convertible ($48,870 as tested) doesn't vibrate in any way but pleasant; in fact, it's a smooth, tight ride. Even with the top up, the 330Ci gives a ride that measures up to those well-engineered German standards. With the 330Ci, you don't have to compromise and put up with little annoyances such as wind noise or a blurry rear window. The technology that epitomizes BMWs makes the convertible experience as good as any you're likely to have.

Of course, a car like this is going to be a tad more cramped than your sedan or SUV. But, hey, it's designed for fun, right? The back seat doesn't provide enough room for normal-sized adult comfort, but when you're cruising with the top down, you don't really want anyone in the back seat anyway. Like most two-door cars, the 330Ci suffers from long heavy doors that are a pain to swing open and closed, no matter how sleek the overall design.

Nevertheless, BMW has removed most of the pain with its patented blend of energy, engineering and elan. I loved the way the window controls have migrated from the door's armrest to the console between the driver and the passenger. Not only are they easily accessible there, but there's also a single control that allows you to put all four windows up or down simultaneously. You'll appreciate that when you're accelerating up an entrance ramp "” the 330Ci can get you to 60 mph in less than seven seconds "” and want to reduce the wind-whip that can make driving topless a bit wearisome. That console also has the necessary cup holders for a cool lemonade.

and plenty of little niches for

 

The 330Ci has all the features and finishes you'd expect from BMW. Leather seats (my tester, with a glossy jet black exterior, was upholstered with two-tone leather, black and tan) and a reasonably priced cold weather package ($750 for heated front seats, retractable headlight washers and a ski bag) means the car will fare well during those chilly months when the top stays up and the precise climate controls let you set the exact temperature you desire.

But when the top is down, you'll really appreciate how you can experience the elements in the comfort of a car that is designed to be driven. The 225-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine will move you as quickly as you want to go, and the automatic transmission (an extra $1,275 added to the base price of $44,600) keeps up with the need for speed. If you're watching fuel economy, you'll want to watch the needle indicator at the bottom of the tachometer. It provides a visual reading of how much gas you're consuming by constantly metering your miles per gallon.

The Xenon Adaptive Headlights are especially fitting for this top-notch model. This feature, an additional $800, is becoming de rigueur on vehicles in this price range. Once you've experienced them, you'll understand why they're superior. Late one evening, as I was winding down a dark stretch of wooded countryside, the headlamps "” which track turns in collaboration with the steering "” enabled me to anticipate each curve confidently and negotiate it safely, perhaps even with a touch of bravado. That kind of engineering makes driving fun.

However, it's in the bright sunshine of an early spring day when you'll understand why a 330Ci is a great choice, a veritable spring tonic. Turn the key, then push the button to send the roof to its hiding place. As the wind combs through your hair and you turn to a favorite tune on the Harmon Kardon sound system, you'll shake a good 10 years off your winter-weary soul. That's the kind of transformation everyone can appreciate.