Summertime Living: Cool convertibles from BMW and Mazda

007 BMW 3 Series007 BMW 3 Series
Come to a stop, chop off the re-tractable top in 22 seconds and watch the jaws around you drop. Miami was the location for BMW?s introduction of its first hardtop convertible. The 328i and 335i Bimmers are packaged perfectly, like a pair of National Football League halfbacks, the only differences between them being horsepower, color and sticker price. The 328i has a base price of $43,975 and the 335i starts at $49,875. At first glance, the 3 Series speaks style, sophistication and speed, just as the coupe did when we tested it last year. In the 328i, a 3.0 in-line six-cylinder engine pushes out 230 horses and 200 pound-feet of torque while running from zero to 60 miles per hour in a decent 6.7 seconds. An upgrade to the 335i?s 300 stampeding horses will have it roaring like a lion from zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds. Its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter direct injection six-cylinder engine also produces 300 pound-feet of torque at just 1400 r.p.m.

The lightweight magnesium/aluminum engine block allows these free-spirited creatures to be fast. Go with either the smooth-sailing six-speed manual or six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission to get the gears shifting. Both models offer good fuel economy at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 m.p.g. on the highway. Power, speed and finesse all rolled into one. Inside, your senses overload from the plush heat-resistant (sun-reflective technology) Dakota leather seats and burl walnut interior trim. BMW?s leather package is available in seven colorful options and three wood-trim selections, along with brushed aluminum trim at no additional cost. An optional (standard on 335i) HD Radio receiver with a Logic7 Surround Sound system boasts clarity, but the system needs more watts to overpower wind noise with the top down. Navigation, Sirius Satellite Radio, an MP3 jack and Bluetooth are among the features that add to the 3 Series? technological capabilities. At night, the front cabin explodes with a warm tangerine glow from the dashboard and light flowing horizontally along the doors. We had no choice but to feel like distinguished gentlemen after taking a seat in this spacious German masterpiece.

2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata
When the Mazda Miata first came on the scene in 1989, it revolutionized the auto industry by making the roadster popular again. Others have tried to dethrone Mazda?s two-seater, but the 2007 MX-5 Miata remains the top pick for a true roadster at an affordable price. The MX-5 Miata?s 2006 redesign added to the strengths of the already great outgoing model. Little has changed for ?07, with the exception of a wonderful retractable hardtop (optional) that retracts automatically in only 12 seconds without decreasing trunk space.? The retractable hardtop not only adds peace of mind with respect to safety and security, but also more sophistication.?

With the top down on a nice day, driving the MX-5 is all good. The same is true with the top up. Either way, the secret to the Miata?s success is the feel that the driver gets from both the machine and the road while behind the wheel. It doesn?t matter if you are navigating the back roads with driving gloves and sunshades or doing the Monday morning commute, this car is fun to drive. Our tester came with a six-speed, short-throw manual, which nicely works the standard 2.0-liter, 166-horsepower engine. This engine is perfectly geared for this car. Power is readily accessible, with throttle response seeming almost instantaneous. The engine even sounds as though tuners got to it, which, dep-ending on your preference, may or may not be a good thing.? Even with the top up, the engine sounds loud and race-ready at 3000 r.p.m., but hey, it is a roadster, isn?t it?

Pricing for the 2007 MX-5 Miata with the power-retractable hard top starts at $24,350 for the Sport model, which comes with a five-speed manual transmission. Our Grand Touring model checked in at $26,360. The Grand Touring with the six-speed automatic is $1,100 more. But for the same excitement, a slightly stripped-down SV version with soft top can be had for as little as $20,470.?

Kimatni D. Rawlins is the publisher of Automotive Rhythms and host of ?The Urban Automotive Experience.? Visit Virgil Moore and Nizam B. Ali contributed to this article.