– Intense handling
– Seats four in comfort
– Excellent engine
– Somewhat firm ride quality
– Rear seat access
– Small side mirrors
We find it hard to start an article about a member of the BMW 3-Series family without mentioning that it still rules the roost as far as sports sedans are concerned. We’ve driven most of the new-name competition such as the almost-famous Infiniti G35, the cramped Lexus IS 300 and some really sad version of the non-Quattro Audi A4. And they still fall behind in some way or the other. The new turbocharged 335i coupe just ups the ante.
We were pleasantly surprised when this car was delivered to our doorstep to keep for the next four days. As with many other recent BMWs, this one too appears overlong, dull and tall in photos, but really is amazingly well-proportioned, aggressive and low in reality.
Entering and starting this well-built car while leaving the key in the pocket, we were greeted with the familiar down-to-business BMW interior, with additional touches that spruced up the cabin. The upper door sills, dashboard and parts of the centre console were lined with soft-touch plastics, while most of the lower door panels were slathered with stitched red leather, of course to match the perfectly-bolstered red seats. Also along the doors, dash and console was real lacquered dark wood trim. The optional iDrive screen took centre-stage on the dashboard. There is a line of soft lighting along the upper doors, which is the first time we’ve seen something like this in any car. Also special is a cool gimmick that automatically pulls the front seat-belts forward for easier reach since they are mounted so far behind, but retracts to allow rear access. Too bad the rear windows don’t retract.
Space for front passengers is excellent, with great headroom and legroom. Surprisingly, rear legroom is also excellent for a compact coupe, with more space in the back than a Lexus IS 300 sedan. But the rear ceiling is low, so tall people might have headroom issues. There are only two seats behind, with a centre console separating them. Getting in and out of the back in one move requires agility, which rules out people over 30 years or 300 kg from rear-seat travel. The odd rear access procedure requires an upper handle as well as a power button on the front seat to slowly move it forward and out of the way.
There is a distinct lack of storage spaces, with only small cubbies, a tight glovebox, seat-back nets and inaccessible door pockets available. There are four retractable cup-holders though, two front and two behind. The luggage trunk is long and a fair size, but not wide enough for two suitcases side by side.
There is no shortage of technology to play with. Along with the total keyless system and usual power options, there is the non-touch iDrive screen that serves as a Bluetooth phone, parking aid, navigation, stereo, TV and trip computer. The phone works perfectly, as do the parking sensors and the seriously good CD stereo, which has redundant buttons on the steering wheel and a CD changer taking up space in the luggage trunk. TV reception is poor, and the navigation system remains too complicated to bother with, especially when having to type in destinations with a rotating dial. The above-average automatic a/c has separate controls, with vents even in the rear. And there are tons of front and side airbags spread about. About the only things our particular model lacked were ventilation fans for the seats, and power controls for the seat-bottom extension and steering wheel adjustment, which our Infiniti and Lexus testers had.
The engine is an amazing piece of work. We have extensive previous experience with turbo machines, but the 3.0-litre twin turbo behaves like none before it. This smooth motor has an excellent base unit from the 330i, but while most turbo setups suffer from a lag in power at lower revs, this one flies from the get go. With 306 horses on tap at 5800 rpm, backed up by 400 Nm of torque from a mere 1300 rpm all the way to 5000 rpm, we managed to hit 100 kph from standstill in only 5.6 seconds. The smooth six-speed automatic made short work of the shifts, and the weird paddle setup shifted gears faster than most other tiptronic systems. Tons of power is available even after 120 kph, and the race-car growl of the twin exhaust is louder than most luxury cars, including its 330i cousin, though it is hardly annoying since the usual turbo blow-off hiss is absent here. The turbo easily compensates for the limited mid-range grunt of the basic 330i inline-six.
Rumours suggest that this obviously underrated engine actually has closer to 350 hp, which would explain why it is faster than the Infiniti G35 as well as the Chevy Lumina SS. It is so close in performance to the outgoing Bimmer M3 and the overrated Audi RS4, that few would’ve complained if BMW chose to slap on an M3 badge on the 335i instead. However, this also explains why it only managed a V8-like fuel consumption of 14.5 litres per 100 km.
The 335i coupe rides noticeably firm, but not enough to ruin the journey. It is more comfortable than the high-strung Z4 coupe, flattening minor bumps easily, but suspension travel is so little that it occasionally bottoms out. The thin-sidewalled tyres didn’t help comfort matters either, but it is a good compromise, even though we found the 330i sedan to be more comfortable. There is a little more wind howl and road noise in the coupe compared to the sedan, probably due to the frameless doors, but it isn’t enough to fret about. The side mirrors are tiny though, and we once had a Honda disappear in our blind spot, leading us to play with wider mirror settings. The tyres on the enormous optional 19-inch alloys have only inch-thick sidewalls, which meant amateur reviewers before us already managed to damage the rims on some footpath edges, probably while driving in cramped shopping mall lots as part of their only actual road test.
Handling is a hallmark of BMW, and we were suddenly reminded why the 3-Series is on our recommended list. With firm feedback-filled steering, low ride height and optional 19-inch rims wrapped with 225/35 rubbers in the front and 255/30 in the back, this car is not playing games. The lack of a limited-slip differential meant that the rear becomes ever-so-slightly squirrelly under hard throttle from low speeds, but never out of control. But as the speeds reach close to three digits, this car owns the road. The car literally sticks to the road, as we found ourselves taking circular highway off-ramps faster than ever, while the car seemingly edged us on. Not once did the stability control go off, there was almost no body roll, and the tyres did not complain at all, which meant they still had oodles of grip left, but our courage did not hold up any further on public roads.
Moving the action to open grounds, we really wrung it out for a few minutes. Turning off the stability control we experienced handling at the limit, as the car safely understeered, with the front tyres loudly protesting. We pushed down on the throttle harder, and the tail swung out as the rear tyres now did the howling while the car performed powerslides. All the way, the grippy tyres fought to make the car straight again, eventually succeeding as we let off the accelerator pedal. The car’s limits are extremely high, but none of these high-jinks takes place if the stability control is left on to kill any and all wheel slippage. The four-wheel-disc brakes are excellent for avoiding trouble too, though they are a bit grabby at low speeds.
We have no doubt that the BMW 3-Series is the best sports sedan ever created. The only sore point is the extremely high price. It is certainly good value compared to a Mercedes-Benz, but the Infiniti G35 still represents amazing value for money at two-thirds the price of the 335i, with nine-tenths the performance. We love the 335i, but we can never approve of its price. People who can afford it are in for the ride of their lives, if they know how to drive it.
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