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Car Corner
The New Car Bug Is Biting

December 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

I am having a hard time controlling myself. With a possible new car on the horizon, I am getting the bug bad.

Background

As long time readers know, when I saw pictures of the new Mustang due out sometime in 2004 as a 2005 model, I starting thinking seriously about wanting one. I thought it would be better to have a late model convertible than a classic convertible. I sold my 67 Camaro Convertible a short time ago. It just wasn't a practical car to drive every day. Selling the Camaro was the first step toward possibly getting a late model convertible that I could use for daily transportation. Ultimately I would like to have a classic "project car" that would be a performance car. That means I don't need to have maximum performance from a late model convertible. However, I still need performance, as it will be a while before I can afford both cars.

A few months ago I compared the Mustang to other cars I liked that were at least close to the direction I wanted to go. That initial list of cars included the new 2005 Mustang, Nissan 350Z, BMW Z4 2.5i, Chevrolet Corvette, Mazda Miata, Chrysler Sebring, Saab 9-3, BMW 325Ci/330Ci & Infiniti G35 Coupe. You can read the old article for the details of why I included those cars.

Why Coupes?

You may have noticed a couple of coupes in that short list. If the idea is to get a convertible why are coupes on the list? Simple... affordability. The car I really want is the BMW 330Ci Convertible, which costs more than $40,000 new. I definitely cannot afford that. I have resolved myself to the possibility I might have to get a coupe and give up on a convertible. The car that seems closest to the BMW 330Ci as a coupe is probably the Infiniti G35 Coupe. The G35 is not available as a convertible. Nissan has turned the 350Z into a convertible, and the G35 Coupe is based on the 350Z, so it might get a drop top in the future. At this point I have not heard anything about a drop top G35.

Mid $30K Range

I have a big gripe with the gap in the price range of convertibles. If you want a four passenger convertible below $30,000 you can choose from the Chrysler Sebring, Ford Mustang, Mitsubishi Eclipse & the VW Beetle. That's it... just four models to choose from. I am using the term "four passenger" loosely here. The Eclipse is worse than my 93 Camaro for back seat room. But my kids are 5 and 8, so I can overlook ridiculously small back seats. Of these four the only car I really like is the VW Beetle. The Mustang in GT form would be performance oriented enough, but why get one now when they are on the verge of a complete redesign. Then again, even after a redesign it may be "just a Mustang." I have not completely resolved myself to waiting for the New Mustang. Also, I have heard that Ford will eliminate the independent rear suspension from "lower" Mustangs. This is a travesty. The Mustang is the last hold out to get an IRS, and they want to continue that way. I have also heard rumors that Shelby is in Ford's graces and helping with the new Ford GT. Sounds like it is time to bring back the Shelby Mustang. That would be worth waiting for... though I doubt it would be affordable. We'll see.

My gripe comes from the total lack of 4 passenger convertibles in the 30K range. All the four passenger convertibles not mentioned in the sub-30K range are priced at or near $40,000 and climb fast. That is a huge shame.

Two Seaters

Well, it is definite... two seaters are out. Although I could get a two seater, I would end up driving my 93 Camaro to work everyday, since I take my two boys to school in the morning. I simply would not get enough time behind the wheel of a two seater. But it IS a tempting thought.

The Short List

Lets take a quick look at what cars are still on the list. 2005 Mustang: Looking less likely. I don't know if I can wait that long, and then it's just a Mustang. Chrysler Sebring: Let's see... a rental car. This would be a desperate move to get a convertible. I just assume save my money for a couple of years and get something better. Saab 9-3: This is front wheel drive. Also, I read that they build them as coupes first then chop the tops off. This is a bad practice for building convertibles, but I have heard many good things about the new for 2004 9-3. I am waiting for a comparison road test with the BMW, Audi & Mercedes Benz convertibles. We already mentioned the BMWs and G35s above, so let's get on with the current cars for consideration.

The Finalists (For Now)

I have driven a 325Ci Convertible with an automatic. It is too slow. I still have yet to drive a manual equipped 325Ci or an automatic equipped 330Ci. I love these BMWs, so of course they are still in the running. However, if I get a Bimmer it will be a used one, a 2001 or 2002 model.

I recently took a look at the G35 Coupe at a dealer. I have not taking it for a test drive yet, but that will come before I make up my mind. I like the interior. I was concerned that the prices were higher than I expected. Every G35 Coupe was priced over $35K. I went to a dealer that offers "menu" pricing, you know with the discounts already built in and no haggling. The "menu" price showed no discounts. Basically they are asking full sticker price for the G35 Coupe, with no chance to make a deal. I did see an M45 with a $6,000 discount to under $40K. Now that would be sweet if I were looking at sedans.

Back to the G35. When I first started thinking about the G35 I priced one on Infiniti's web site. I came up with a price about $32,000 for a manually equipped model. BTW... none of the G35s on the lot had a manual. When I went back to Infiniti's web site I realized that every car on the lot came with the "Premium Package," and most had 18" wheels. The premium package is $2250 and the 18" wheels cost another $900. Ouch! There's the difference from my previous research. Time for a price comparison.

Car G35 Coupe 325Ci 330Ci
Base Price 32,450 30,100 36,300
Premium Package 2,250 2,800 n/a
Leather Interior Std 1,450 1,450
Premium Sound Inc w/PP 675 Std
0-60 6.1 7.1 6.2
Total 34,700 35,025 37,750

In the table above the links for the G35 Coupe and 330Ci take you to Road & Track articles on each. I did this to make sure I got the closest possible comparison in performance. The 0-60 time for 325Ci came from BMW's web site.

Comparably equipped the G35 and 325Ci are closely priced. However, the G35 cannot match the cache of the BMW, especially for a difference of only $325. I think the nod should go to the BMW here. Keep in mind that I priced the Infiniti with a manual transmission, which was $900 more than the car equipped with an automatic. The Bimmer, being the ultimate driving machine, provides the manual transmission as standard and charges extra for the slush box... as life was intended.

You may want to complain that comparing the G35 to the 325Ci is unfair. After all the G35 has 280 hp vs. the 325Ci's 184. That's a big difference. O.K. Let's move up to comparing the G35 to the 330Ci which has 225 hp. Now, you might think the Infiniti still holds a big 55 horsepower advantage. Not really. I find it amazing, but BMW makes very good use of its power. Road tests of the 330Ci coupe put it neck and neck with tests of the G35. In fact, I would put them so close that unless you drove them back to back you would be hard pressed to know the difference in speed. Then there is the BMW trademark silky smooth straight six. For me the BMW engine is the smoothest engine I have ever experienced.

The 0-60 times listed above for the G35 and 330Ci both came from Road and Track. I did the best I could to find both numbers from a single source. I took BMW's word for it with the 325Ci's 0-60 time. I have noticed that BMW is usually a little conservative with its own claims.

Automatic vs. Manual

On a side note: the 325Ci with an automatic is rated at a full second slower to 60 mph than the same car equipped with an automatic. This confirms my own experience. With regard to the 330Ci, BMW claims it is 0.7 seconds slower with the automatic. This implies the 330Ci works better than the 325Ci using a slush box tranny.

G35 vs. 330Ci

Since the 330Ci performs neck and neck with the G35, let's see how they compare overall. I priced out a 330Ci with leather interior. I decided to ditch the premium package for the 330Ci for three reasons. 1) The 330Ci comes with more standard equipment, besides just the bigger engine. 2) If I was shopping I would probably try to find one equipped this way to try and fit my budget. 3) The list of items in the Premium Package just didn't seem worth its $3,300 price. The bottom line for the 330Ci was $37,750. That's about $3,000 more than the G35. But I have to wonder. When I went to the Infiniti dealer it was clear they were getting full sticker price under the guise of "menu discount pricing." BMW, on the other hard, probably will work with you on the price. After all, if it was not for the X5, BMW sales would be down overall. Certainly with the new 5 Series to steal the thunder, the 3 Series should provide some room to maneuver on price. That could be enough to make it worth it.

The BMW 330Ci is a good deal more expensive than the G35, but you get a car that is in a higher class, has a higher resale value, and has the name and reputation of BMW. At this point I would have to argue that a one or two year old 330Ci would be a better value than the G35. Getting a certified pre-owned BMW would provide a warrantee that goes until 100,000 miles or 6 years from the time of the original sale. That's pretty good. I have seen Certified Pre-Owned 330Ci Coupes for as low as $30,000.

Just to save you the trouble of looking it up, here is what comes in each car's premium package:

G35 Premium Package ($2250): Power glass sliding sunroof, 225-watt BoseĀ® premium audio system with 8 speakers and AM/FM/cassette, in-dash, single-slot 6-disc CD autochanger, Dual-zone climate control, Auto on/off headlights, Electrochromic auto-dimming inside mirror, HomeLinkĀ® Universal Transceiver.

325Ci Premium Package ($2800): 8-way power front seats with 2-way manual headrests, 3-driver memory for exterior mirror and seat positions, Automatic tilt-down of passenger's side-view mirror when vehicle is shifted into reverse gear, Automatic-dimming inside rear-view mirror, Myrtle wood trim, 2-way power glass moonroof with "one-touch" operation, sliding interior sunshade, and wind deflector, BMW Assist - including Automatic Collision Notification, SOS button, Enhanced Road Side Assistance, Concierge and Customer Relations.

330Ci Premium Package ($3300): Automatic-dimming inside rear-view mirror, Myrtle wood trim, 2-way power glass moonroof, Montana leather upholstery, 4-way power lumbar support for front seats, BMW Assist - including Automatic Collision Notification, SOS button, Enhanced Road Side Assistance, Concierge and Customer Relations.

Final Notes

I think the G35 Coupe is too much at $35K. So I am leaning toward a used BMW. I would prefer a Certified Pre-Owned BMW 330Ci Coupe for $30-35K, less than the price of the G35 Coupe. I could even get a non-Certified 330Ci Convertible for even less. Why settle for the Infiniti and eat all that depreciation. A one or two year old BMW already lost its initial depreciation when it rolled off the dealer's lot, so it should hold the remainder of its value better than the Infiniti purchased new.

The Trump Card

I am about to play a trump card here. My brother in NY works for a Mercedes Benz/BMW dealership. He "claims" he can get a car at a little above dealer cost. I asked him to look into the "cost" of a new 330Ci Convertible. He told me that the dealership won't deal on the 330Ci Convertible. Oops. But he did tell me that he can get me a 325Ci Convertible for $1000 above dealer cost. The price he got me was lower than the G35 Coupe... but for a convertible. The price made the idea very attractive, but it would mean only a manual transmission will do. My brother also keeps trying to tell me that BMW 3-Series cars have electrical problems dealing with all the "bells and whistles." I can't confirm this with any research I have done. Maybe my brother is looking too hard at all those parts that run through his shipping department.

Value

Speaking of holding value... I am having a very hard time thinking about making payments on a car that is going DOWN in value. I just sold a 67 Camaro for $500 MORE than I had invested in it. I basically drove it for over a year for free. I won't be able to say that anymore.

Still Thinking

In my lust for a four passenger convertible, I am having a hard time NOT looking at the VW Beetle. I like them. I know... they're "cute," and the they're a girl's car. But I can't help myself. Everything I have read about the New Beetle Convertible has been positive except for the power. Every article recommends the 150 hp turbo version over the standard 115 hp motor. I would have to do that. The biggest reason I like the VW is price. Even with the 150 hp motor it is still well below $30,000. I would have a hard time paying more than $25K for a Bug, and I have not priced one with the turbo engine yet. Remember, the VW is also a German car like the BMW. I know that is a huge leap, but it is an easier leap than from a Sebring.

While looking at German cars I am getting overly interested in the Mini Cooper S. They are below $25K even in supercharged S trim, but I here they have very firm suspensions. AutoWeek had a long term Cooper S without the "sport" package, which left them with 16" wheels instead of 17". They claimed a better ride for this with no loss in fun-to-drive. They may have lost a tiny margin in all out handling, but the trade off for the 17" wheels is a big one when ride quality is at issue. I think a test drive is in order. Again this is a "cute" car, but I like them. Don't forget, the Mini is about to get a drop top as well.

Conclusion

O.K. I really want a BMW 330Ci Convertible. Money is the big question. Since my brother can only work a deal for a 325Ci I am torn. The G35 looks very attractive for a new car. But a certified pre-owned BMW 330Ci Coupe is a better value. Decisions, decision. Do I abuse my brother and get a 325? Do I want a used car? Do I worry about electrical gremlins like my brother said? Do I want to give up the convertible and get the 330Ci Coupe?

So many questions. So few answers.

Until next time...

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