with the new 335i?
Its quite possible.
The new twin-turboed
3 Series is more than
enough sports saloon
than most drivers will
ever want to handle.
It really is that good...
I'VE JUST BEEN for a blast up the M1 in BMW's new twin-turboed 3 Series, the innocuously-badged 335i M Sport. Jumping Jehosaphat! Sensationally fast, it catapulted me back to the mid-Seventies, putting me in mind of the very first time I got behind the wheel of a 911. The Porsche was fast and hairy but the thing
I remember most vividly of all was how compact it was. Until the moment I opened the door and dropped into the driver's seat I had only ever seen 911s in photographs or tantalisingly out of reach in traffic. I remember being perplexed that something with so much firepower could be so compact. The 335i makes you feel like that.
I already knew the headline figures of the 335i: an electronically-limited 155mph, 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, 302bhp and 295lb ft of torque. No problem. After all, I am a motoring writer that's my job! More telling, on a private road 100mph arrives in less than 13 seconds. Even though I was aware of the size of the 3 Series, part of me was, bizarrely, expecting a bigger body to contain all that power. Not that the size is a problem, because painstakingly optimised dimensions are an intrinsic and appealing part of the 335i's rationale.
Interestingly, it was also back in the '70s that the first 3 Series appeared (I bought my first one in the early 80s). Five generations on, it is widely recognised that the current 3 Series is a brilliant drive it has great handling, is dynamically entertaining and a competent all-round driver-focused package. For many, it fulfils another equally important role. It is a comfortable alternative to a sports car, with the added benefit of four seats and a proper boot. But where the flagship-status 335i takes the whole F3DE (Fast 3 Driving Experience) a very big step further, is in the performance stakes.
Nestling under the 335i's bonnet is a glorious new light alloy engine. BMW straight-six engines are legendary; esteemed for their linear power delivery and revvable mechanical refinement. But this one is substantially different from all that have gone before. It has twin turbochargers, each feeding three cylinders. Together they produce 302bhp and, from an incredibly low 1,300rpm, a riotous and utterly lag-free wave of torque all the way through to 5,000rpm. To be more precise, 295lb ft of it.
The only thing that you, the driver, need to be aware of is this: while the 335i has not just one, but two, turbochargers, you won't ever know it's turbocharged. And there is a very good reason for this. BMW have matched the two small, fast-spinning turbines with high-precision Piezo direct injectors for extremely accurate and perfectly-judged fuel delivery. As a result, this direct-injection twin-turbo powerplant is not-able not just for its ultra-smooth power delivery but also for its fuel efficiency.
I was always a fan of the so-called Q cars. Ran a few myself innoc-uously bog-standard on the outside; nitrous-oxided V8 under the bonnet. The 335i saloon is a bit like that. Externally it's a good-looking, contemporary-styled four-door car that's smart enough to cut it in the executive car park. But it's never brash. A small point perhaps, but important: the parking sensors are very neatly integrated into the front and rear bumpers, and show the satisfying attention to detail that's representative of the whole car.
Our test car was finished in Titanium Silver. The unfortunate thing about silver is that sometimes photographs don't do it justice. The silver 335i looked much better in life, with its strongly defined crease lines boldly proclaiming its heritage.
The part I like best is that a casual glance might suggest it could be almost any Three. A purposeful pair of twin tailpipes hints otherwise. But it's only when you slip into the well-shaped driver's seat that you spot another important clue: tucked away in the lower sector of the rev-counter is something hitherto only found on BMW's ultra-quick M Series cars an oil temperature gauge.
Slot the bladeless remote into the docking port to the left of the leather-rimmed sports steering wheel and briefly press the adjacent Start button. It idles eagerly, alluding resonantly at good things still
to come. And come they do. Exceedingly quickly. More on the cabin later, but suffice to say the sports seats are spot-on for comfort and support; the driving position near-faultless.
The last turbocharged petrol engine car BMW sold in the UK was the 2002 Turbo a fearsome beastie that required total hands-on com-mitment. But that was a long time ago, before even the first 3 Series touched down on our right-hand drive shores. In case you're harbour-ing any doubts as to the finesse of this twin-turboed installation, let me say right now that you will be amazed.
In fact it's so tractable that the surprise will be from the other direct-ion: I would bet that not many people could guess what kind of power-plant beats beneath the 335i's bonnet without actually looking. Even just squeezing the throttle from the lowest revs that are compatible with forward motion unleashes scintillating acceleration.
So much so that it's easy to go fast while short-changing every gear from first up. Changes can be made with almost no effort, thanks to the light pressure required to hook yet another gear. The six-speed 'box is great and keeps the driver harmonised with the car in a way not even the best tiptronic paddle-shifters can. But drive this 335i in the manner in which BMW's engineers assumed you would and you'll be entertained as much as if you were behind the wheel of an M3. A few miles driving into the sunset with the 335i and I can guarantee it will become your new best friend!
The twin-turboed six sends the slim rev-counter needle zipping round to the red-line almost quicker than your eye can keep pace, piling on the power with the revs and never letting up. In fact, it doesn't even feel or sound as if it might want to ease off. The soundtrack is a perfect match: an evocative cultured snarl from 3,000rpm onwards.
Just how flexible it is at the other end of the power band can be proved by slotting it into fourth at near tickover revs. Not a trace of snatch or mechanical complaint from the powertrain; it just runs with it, seemingly without effort. And, road and speed-limits permitting, you could leave it there until it hit the 7K red-line at 143mph! Not, of course, that one would normally do so other than to make a point
or just for the hell of it. But it makes you curious. How on earth is
BMW going to top the 335i when the new M3 finally arrives? The other surprise with the 335i, apart from it being as 'everyday' quick as a pukka M3, is the fuel consumption. Officially 41.5mpg touring with 19.6 and 29.4, respectively, for the city and combined ratings. Our overall test figure came out at an easy-to-live-with 26.6mpg.
No great surprise either that the 335i's Sport-fettled chassis can live with all this power. Actually, they meld so well they could be a well-matches couple; each instinctively getting the best from the other.
On the move, the 355i feels beautifully balanced, encouraging you at every possible opportunity to string together a series of bends and corners into one long, never-ending black-topped carousel. Without doubt, this engine/chassis combination adds new depth to the term 'useable performance'.
Our test car didn't have the optional Active Steering but the standard rack is fine feelsome with resolute initial turn-in and nicely in sync with the car's well-fettled handling dynamics. And even on some very challenging roads, the 335i's admirable balance never gave us any cause for concern. Because there's ample information available from both the steering wheel and the firm-riding chassis. Spirited driving makes you appreciate the Three's compact dimensions its neat psychical size adds to its nimbleness. For the record, the 335i is just 3.6 inches longer and 0.3 inches wider than a 911. And its flat corner-ing stance and heaps of grip mean that fast, polished progress can be taken for granted even on tricky give-and-take roads strongly underlining the fact that here's a Three that manages higher speeds unerringly.
Overtaking slower moving traffic when pressing on is, courtesy of the 335i's wide power spread, a cinch. What in other cars could be the 'wrong' gear can, in the 355i, easily be the 'right' gear. Even if it's not the most appropriate slot in the gate it's okay, because pick-up is instant wherever you are in the rev range. At heart, the 335i is an obedient car. One that never does anything unexpected, whatever the weather throws at you. BMW's Dynamic Stability Control set-up earns praise for giving you the option of calling up a slightly more indulgent setting one that lets you push a bit harder before the electronics call time, but which will still save you from yourself should it prove necessary. The brakes ventilated front and rear are more than capable; their bite sharp and immediate.
There's been a lot said about high-performance. Every word is true, but the 335i is as much a luxury car as it is a sporting saloon. In spite of our test car's Sports suspension package and 18-inch alloys wearing 225/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) run-flat Bridgestone Potenza rubber, the ride has a big car feel about it along with unquestioned stability.
At motorway speeds it felt reassuringly hunkered down and long dis-tances despatched with nonchalance. But it's quiet enough inside the well-appointed cabin to make the kind of speeds that get you into trouble feel like the legal limit.
The 335i's well-appointed and superbly built cabin is very pleasant, whether you're the driver or the passenger. Front passengers fare particularly well, thanks to full electric adjustment of their seat.
Of particular benefit are the extending under-thigh support and the
ability, at the touch of a switch, to adjust the width of the backrest. The dual zone air-conditioning produces more than enough hot and cold air to accommodate the UK's ever-changing climate and the SatNav system will guide you accurately through the labyrinth without need of Ariadne's ball of twine. The 335i comes, as do many of BMW's current models, with iDrive. It manages a mass of functions including the navigation, audio and AirCon.
"Sit Back and Relax" would seem to be BMW's message to back seat passengers who really need to be under six feet tall. Making it easy to comply with that message, the angle of both the seat base and the backrest are just right, legroom is good, there's a comfy central arm-rest and there are heating and ventilation controls. Our rear passen-gers expressed their approval by saying just how comfortable they
had been during an eighty-mile round trip. The boot is of a decent size
(460 litres) and although the rear inner wheel arches intrude, I am reliably informed that it easily passes the crucial double golf bag test. In addition there are side pockets, a first aid kit and a handy lined storage area under the boot floor. Worth mentioning, too, is that the 335i will happily play the hell-raiser with a full complement of passen-gers aboard and there are no penalties at the wheel.
The driver fares best of all. A great ultra-adjustable seat (the power adjustable side bolsters on the backrest really help) that you sit in, not on, for a first-rate driving position. There is a grippy multi-adjustable, multi-function three-spoke steering wheel with perforated leather covering the main contact areas and well-sited logical major and minor controls, along with clear instrumentation. Overall, it's an excellent place to for enjoyable 'work'.
Worth mentioning, because they enhance the pleasure of living with the 335i, are the following: restful soft orange backlit instrument lighting for night-time driving; useable armrests on all four doors; the push-of-a-button electronic oil check; the drive-off central locking; the 'don't know how I ever managed without it' Park Control that automatically provides crystal clear visual and audible front and rear warnings; the pale blue-white courtesy lights in the outer door handles; the rechargeable torch in the glovebox; and the navigation system's 3D map display which is definitely one of the very best particularly eye-catching are the moving clouds on the horizon. Just remember you need to keep your eyes on the road!
For the record, standard kit on the M Sport model tested here includes: automatic air-conditioning, auto-dimming rear view mirror, aluminium trim, four electric windows (and all four are auto one-shot up/down), Sport front seats and Sport steering wheel. You also get 18-inch alloys with Run-Flat tyres and Tyre Puncture Warning System, headlight wash, heated door mirrors and windscreen washer jets, M Sports suspension, MP3-compatible radio/CD player with six speakers, auxiliary input for iPod etc., rain-sensing wipers, auto lights, rear parking sensors and cruise control.
Safety equipment includes Dynamic Stability Control Plus that incorpor-ates Soft Stop, Brake Drying and a Hill-Start facility. There's also ABS with Brake Force Display and there are six airbags for passengers and driver. Optional extras fitted included full leather (£995), BMW's Professional grade SatNav (£1,970), front parking sensors (£285) and
a voice control system £285).
It's a fact of life that BMW's 3 Series cars are bought as much for keeping up with the neighbours as they are for keeping up with other road users. In its understated saloon guise, the 335i has a nod back to those stealthy Q cars. Incarnated as a four-door saloon, the 335i looks fine. However, it's a truism that real beauty is never just skin deep and, in accordance with this, the 335i's real charms are hidden beneath the surface the fineness of the dynamic engineering and that gorgeous twin-turboed in-line 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine will fool many into believing it to be a normally-aspirated 4.0-litre V8.
Add to that the fact that it's beautifully finished, has a well-damped ride and is undoubtedly the most enjoyable Three in the BMW pack. For a large number of aspirational 3 Series drivers, the sensationally rapid yet utterly unruffled pace almost certainly makes it a much better bet than a hard-core M3. With an on-the-road price of £33,750 in M Sport trim, it offers knockout punch for your pound. Rivals? Not unless you want to spend closer to £50K. It's Game, Set and Match to the 335i!
BMW 335i M Sport | £33,750
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 26.6mpg | Power: 302bhp | Torque: 295lb ft
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