Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 335i coupe
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A new personality for BMW sixes, engine flexibility, style
Room for improvement
Run-flat tyres, sports suspension, bigger wheels conspire to detract from ride quality
9 Mar 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
THERE are at least a couple of things about BMW’s new 3 series coupe that stand it in good stead for long-term appreciation.
One, it seems to be generally regarded as the best-looking yet of the new 3 series line and, two, it is the first to flaunt the intriguing new twin-turbo 3.0-litre engine.
As with all BMW coupes in recent years, there’s not a lot of panel interchangeability between two-door and three-door 3 series. In fact none.
The coupe is not only different in length, width and height, but also has plastic where sedans have steel (the front guards) and has a different bonnet as well as boot line.
It is a very sweet rework of a sedan design that has a few detractors and it comes in three forms the base 323i for slightly less than $70,000, the nearly $82,000 mid-level 325i and the potent 335i that opens at just under $109,000.
All are available with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions and all are pretty thoroughly fitted out, although there’s the usual vast range of options.
Undoubtedly the attention-getter is the 335i, something rare in today’s luxury market with a twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine that concentrates more on providing easy flexibility than sheer, tyre-trashing muscle.
The latter it has plenty of though. BMW points out that, with a zero to 100km/h acceleration capability of 5.5 seconds, it is barely slower than the E46 M3 coupe.
In fact it’s a BMW engine with characteristics unlike anything seen from the Bavarian car-maker in recent memory.
The sound, for starters, is not quite your deliciously harmonic BMW six-cylinder melody.
The 225kW six, with each of its turbochargers looking after three cylinders apiece, has a warble to it that sounds, at times, almost as if it’s a V configuration. The quality of the sound is different – just as glorious as any other BMW six, but somehow more aggressive and less silky.
The 3.2-litre M3 has its aggressivity too, but it barks, where the 335i grumbles.
This is a different engine to the new-series alloy composite powerplants seen across today’s six-cylinder range, with different bore-stroke dimensions, piezo direct fuel injection and no variable valve lift and duration, just BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing.
The outputs, impressive though they may be, are nothing special for a turbo, but they are achieved with no detectable downside. There are some pretty lag-free turbos around today, but none as distinguishably so as this BMW engine.
Some indication is given by the maximum torque’s arrival at a mere 1300rpm – with 400Nm on hand at such a low speed there’s no holding the BMW back. From there to 5800rpm where maximum power is developed, and on further to the 7000rpm redline, there’s a deep-chested surge not quite like a V8 but similar.
The 335i might be a sort of low-blow turbo, but it’s also a turbo that is quite happy to continue piling on the power as revs increase.
This is all helped of course by the six-speed Steptronic automatic that is efficient enough to add just 0.2 of a second to the manual’s 0-100km/h acceleration. On the test car it appeared to be a little more aggressive in its torque converter action than when coupled to other engines. There seemed to be a little more eagerness when dealing with upshifts, as well as a more abrupt uptake when moving off.
The efficiency of the new turbo engine isn’t in doubt either, with an average of 10.0L/100km recorded on an extended test where even better was managed on country roads.
The 335i coupe is suspended differently to non-turbo versions as well, sitting 20mm lower via its standard sports suspension and wearing larger 18-inch alloys with asymmetrical front-rear tyre dimensions.
Run-flat tyres are the norm here, too, so the question of ride quality comes immediately to mind. The 335i brings no surprises, with a tendency to attack bumps a bit more aggressively than you’d hope, while a modicum of bump-steer can be felt when proceeding in a straight line on an undulating road.
If there was any downside to the 335i coupe, this is it.
There’s not quite the fluidity you’d hope, and there are times when the suspension is much harsher than you’d expect. Maybe the 325i and 323i, with their standard suspension and 17-inch wheels, are better. BMWs have always had a tendency not to gracefully accept sportier than normal wheels/tyres and suspensions, and it appears the turbo coupe is no exception.
That said, the 335i is dynamically outstanding, even without the optional active steering, and is a pleasure to live with provided you accept some of the ride-quality shortcomings.
It steers with precision and is backed up by a staggering array of electronic aids to ensure everything strays on the straight and narrow.
The 335i also gets bigger front and rear brakes than other coupes, which is a nice bit of knowledge to have, even if the regular system undoubtedly does a good job too.
The 335i also picks up some of BMW’s new technology as standard, including things such as High Beam Assist (automatic-dipping headlights), Soft Stop, which does exactly what it says by preventing the final jolt when coming to a complete stop, and Start-Off Assistant to help getaways on an uphill slope. The cruise control is also a step ahead of most in that it now applies the brakes when running downhill to maintain the pre-set speed.
Driver and passengers need to remember this is a 2+2 coupe, and that the back seat is neither capable nor intended to be a place of stretch-out comfort for tall adults.
Entry into the back seat is easy enough, even if the electric-slide function operated by a button on the seatback is a bit slow, and once in place on the heavily sculpted seats, two passengers will find acceptable space and reasonable legroom – for a coupe. As the seats are set low, there’s no problem at all with headroom.
The two-passenger configuration is made clear by the provision of a central divider containing an oddments tray and a small, lidded storage space.
Up front, the driver and passenger have their seatbelts presented to them by a powered arm sprouting from the B-pillar and there’s a good range of adjustment in the (powered) seats. The driver is also able to select from two seat-and-mirror position memories.
The control layout is classic and clean, with touches of matte silver and, on the steering wheel and shift lever, stainless steel.
The familiar iDrive controller sits in the centre console and there’s a second hooded binnacle on the dash to contain the 335i’s standard 8.8-inch SatNav/TV screen. The 335i also comes with BMW’s voice recognition system.
Like many other BMWs, there’s a real shortage of storage space in the cabin, to the point that it’s difficult to find a spot for even a mobile unless you’re fully plugged in to the phone-ready compartment in the tiny centre console.
The inclusion of hinged door pockets helps, but not enormously. There is at least a decent-size 430-litre luggage compartment and the rear-seat backrest can be folded down in one piece to facilitate loading of bulky items if the boot itself isn’t enough.
So how does BMW’s stylish new coupe stand up?
Well, if we’re talking about fulfilling the role for which it’s been designed, there’s no question it slots into place quite neatly. It has the grace and – in 335i form at least – the agility to elevate itself above the more utilitarian 3 series sedans, yet it doesn’t compromise too heavily in terms of four-passenger comfort.
And buyers have the option of deciding whether simply good looks are enough (323i and 325i) or whether they want heart-stirring performance, which is abundantly available in the 335i, as well.
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