– Powerful engine
– Top-notch handling
– Cabin space and features
– Pricey with options
– Limited steering feel
– Styling errs on conservative side
When we drove BMW’s first ever 335i model back in 2007, we were blown away by how high the bar was raised for luxury-sports sedans. It was so good, it pretty much made the M3 obsolete. On the other hand, we drove the all-new 550i in 2011, and we felt it made the M5 obsolete. Now, for 2012, there is an all-new 335i in town. And it makes the 550i obsolete.
But first, the styling. The redesigned 3-Series is a larger car than before, with a more aggressive schnoz and a visibly-tall glasshouse, as well as 19-inch alloys and dual exhaust tips. It won’t turn heads, but it is a handsome sedan.
The interior is instantly-recognisable BMW floozie, with the mostly-straight fascia lines and the typical controls, although a new gimmick is a larger central LCD screen that looks like it’s tacked onto the dash. Cabin materials are nicely premium, with soft-touch padding on everything from the dash to the doors, with few hard-plastic areas well below the waist level, while leather covers the seats and armrests.
The real improvement is in the cabin space. While the front is spacious even with its sporty bucket seats, the rear legroom is almost as good as that of the 5-Series, with great headroom as well. With enough hidden cup-holders, a sizeable boot, various cubbies and big door pockets, this is the most practical BMW yet.
Our 335i “Sport” came with extensive gadgetry, starting with the rotary dial-controlled multimedia screen, excellent CD/MP3 stereo with USB port, navigation, working Bluetooth, pretty good dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents, smart keyless entry and start, cool heads-up display, sunroof, rear sunshades, several airbags, HID headlights, cruise control, parking camera and all sorts of driving aids. Ironically, the only thing missing were the optional electric seats, and yanking one’s own butt to adjust manual seats in a “luxury” car this expensive is ridiculous.
BMW doesn’t skimp on the engine though, even if it is a carryover, namely the direct-injected turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-6. It still makes 306 hp at 5800 rpm and 400 Nm of torque at 1200 rpm, and it still feels more powerful than the numbers suggest. We clocked it doing the 0-100 kph run in 6.2 seconds consistently, that too in June weather and probably with RON95 petrol in the tank. Had the weather been cooler and if the car came with RON98 juice, it’ll likely be even faster.
Even with the help of an 8-speed automatic, we got a fuel consumption of 14 litres/100 km, but that’s because we kept pounding on it. In moments when we were calmly doing the city run, we saw average numbers below 11 litres/100 km. The car has an auto start/stop feature when idling, but it never cut in because the engine is needed to keep the a/c running.
The previous 3-Series was a proper driving machine, with neutral handling, negligible body roll, and ample feedback from the controls, all of which made it the benchmark among sports-sedans. The new 335i gets those first bits right, with excellent handling that makes it easy to transition from understeer to oversteer at the dab of the throttle pedal. The 50:50 balanced chassis can pull off mild drifts all day long in “Sport Plus” mode, which loosens up the stability control just enough to be fun. And BMW also retains a proper handbrake, even as everything from the 5-Series up is saddled with an electronic parking brake.
Unfortunately, just like everyone from Toyota to Porsche, the Munich stalwart has also switched to electric power steering, and it’s the worse for it. While it improves fuel economy by what, 2%, it dumbs down steering feel to video-game levels, losing an important part of BMW’s original character. Our Sport model even came with active steering, which changes turning ratios depending on speed, thereby feeling light and requiring lesser turns when parking and city-cruising, but firming up and feeling less twitchy at higher speeds. It’s a blessing at the mall, but the ratio changes occasionally caught us off-guard, and while the steering firmed up on fast curves, it didn’t improve the feedback one bit.
It is still a good drive though, especially during the other 95% of the time when you’re not pounding on it. The ride is fairly smooth, even with the low-profile run-flat tyres on those 19-inchers, 225/40 up front and 255/35 out back, and it is quiet for the most part doing 120 kph on the highway, especially so when you set the computers to “Comfort” mode. The brakes are a bit soft, but stop strongly when stepped on harder, and the tiptronic transmission is smooth and responsive, while the tyres will never run out of grip on fast sweeping roads, even if it feels like it’s on the edge of adhesion.
Don’t get us wrong, the BMW 335i remains one of the best sports sedans out there, but it isn’t as driver-focused as it used to be. It does everything almost as well as the expensive BMW 550i, in terms of performance as well as comfort. But take that last bit of involvement out of the equation, and you could get similar daily-driving satisfaction from any number of cheaper sports sedans, from the Volkswagen CC V6 to the Volvo S60 T6. About the only big reason to get the BMW, aside from the badge, would be your love of illegal tail-happy antics.
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