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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - Coupe range

Our Opinion

We like
335i performance and driveability, styling, handling, steering, braking
Room for improvement
Ride quality, rear-seat leg and head room, price increases

22 Sep 2006

LET’S get one thing straight from the outset: Compared with BMW’s outgoing E46 3 Series Coupe, the new E92 two-door does not represent the same quantum leap in performance, handling and refinement that the E46 did over its 1990s predecessor, the E36 coupe.

Nor, for that matter, does BMW’s highly anticipated twin-turbo six-cylinder – the company’s first ever twin-turbo petrol production car and only the second BMW model to feature direct petrol injection - make the new 335i flagship a cut-price M3.

Of course, it’s a reflection of how good the superseded E46 coupe was – particularly in range-topping, adrenalin-pumping M3 guise – that a 25 per cent stiffer body, sharper handling and greater performance envelope don’t add up to make the E92 feel as a "new" as the E46 did when it was launched in 1999.

And why, despite attention-grabbing performance figures like 225kW and peak torque of no less than 400Nm from just 1300rpm, the 335i doesn’t seem as intoxicatingly exciting to drive as the current M3 does – even though it’s only a tenth of a second slower to 100km/h (just 5.5 seconds).

BMW says its return to turbo-petrol power follows an exhaustive research and development program, including close attention to the direct-injection technology it pioneered in the 760i limo’s 6.0-litre V12 - and that the 335i became a production reality only once driveability and fuel consumption parameters were met.

The result is far from the neck-snapping, light switch-style power delivery we’ve seen in previous turbocharged cars in the past, but a linear stream of solid torque right from idle to the 335i’s 7100rpm cut-out. There’s also a healthy new bark from the turbo 3 Series coupe’s exhaust, at both start-up and on the overrun, to go with the seamless and practically lag-free acceleration.

The 335i offers more peak torque than the current M3’s 252kW/365Nm inline six, which debuted here in May 2001 and continues to power M models like the upcoming Z4 M Coupe. But the fact that all of it’s available virtually from idle means the 335i blasts away from a standstill even quicker than the M3 and returns even more effortless overtaking urge from any speed in any gear.

The icing on the cake is fuel consumption that, on the 300km launch drive through the Sunshine Coast hinterland, never averaged more than 10.5L/100km – no matter how hard we peddled it – which is around three litres per 100km less than the M3’s real-world consumption figure. The auto 335i felt even more seamless and used no more fuel.

So there’s no doubting the fuel-efficiency, refinement, flexibility and outright performance of the 335i. But it lacks the aural appeal of the M3’s raspy, metallic exhaust note, the instant throttle response offered by its bigger 3.2-litre naturally-aspirated six-pack and the broadness of the M car’s 8000rpm-wide powerband.

Don’t get the wrong idea: The 335i is devastatingly quick and infectiously satisfying. It’s just that it doesn’t feel as a whole second quicker to 100km/h than the brilliant E46 330Ci – the model it replaces for an extra $14,600. Think XR6 Turbo rather than FPV Typhoon - or rapid grand tourer rather than high-performance coupe – and you get the picture.

That’s right, while the 335i is an additional model in Europe, in Australia it replaces the 330Ci ($93,900 manual) and carries a significantly higher pricetag - $108,500 for the manual and $111,100 for the auto, both of which now offer six ratios instead of five. Which means the top-shelf (non-M) 3 Series Coupe is now priced just $9000 lower than the equivalent (seven-speed auto only) CLK350.

With 200kW and 350Nm on tap from its 3.5-litre V6, the heavier CLK350 ($120,100) doesn’t offer the same performance or standard specification as the 335i, but it certainly rides better. Equipped with run-flat tyres as standard (and available with an optional repair kit), all E92 coupes returned a choppy ride and plenty of tyre noise on the course-chip and sometimes broken bitumen surfaces in Queensland.

Equipped with 18-inch wheel/tyres and 15mm-lower sports suspension as standard, the 335i was noticeably worse in this respect than its sibling, the 325i, which rides on 17s a standard – as will the entry-level 323i coupe when it goes on sale two months later than the 325i and 335i in December, priced at $69,900 ($72,500).

With no place to store a full-size or even temporary spare wheel, E92 3 Series coupe owners may risk being stranded if they fit conventional tyres once the original run-flats have worn out - but at least they’ll rid themselves of the annoying resonance that filters through the steering wheel, pedals and seats on rough surfaces. However, that may not solve the tyre roar issue, which afflicts many European cars on less-than-smooth surfaces.

This and the fact the 325i is a whole $27,000 cheaper than the 335i (and only $11,600 more than the detuned 323i) in our view makes it a more attractive proposition. Priced at $81,500 ($84,100 auto), the 325i is powered by a more powerful (160kW/250kW) version of the (140kW/230Nm) 2.5-litre six-cylinder that powers the 323i.

The 2.5 has proved to be a sweet-sounding and performing powerplant in the E90 3 Series sedan and facelifted Z4 roadster, and is even more rewarding to punt around town and at speed in the E92. Throw in average fuel consumption that’s at least one litre per 100km lower than the 335i both officially in reality (and the same as the 323i), plus a similar specification level to the 335i, and the 325i makes real sense.

Even in six-speed auto guise, it’s cheaper, lighter, more powerful and more frugal than the auto-only CLK200K ($85,400). It also weighs 25kg less than its E46 325Ci predecessor, thanks in part to plastic front quarter panels, and sprints to 100km/h in a healthy 6.9 seconds in manual form.

Like all E92s, the 325i features a stiffer, lower, wider and slightly longer body than the new 3 Series sedan, with which it’s claimed to share no body panels, and an all-new 2+2-seat interior that looks much like the E90 sedan’s up front but adds convenient new features like flip-out door compartments and an automatic seatbelt feeder system. Alas, it also has longer, heavier doors than the sedan – and vastly less head and leg space for just two rear passengers.

While bigger wheels and twin outboard exhaust outlets are the most distinguishing exterior features of the 335i, the 325i also misses out on lumbar adjustment for both front seats, front parking sensors, High Beam Assist, Adaptive Headlights with cornering function, an 8.5-inch monitor with Professional satellite-navigation including TV and voice control, and Business Bluetooth mobile phone preparation as standard.

Unlike the 323i, however, the 325i comes standard with BMW’s basic Business satellite-navigation system with 6.5-inch colour monitor, sports front seats, power driver’s seat adjustment with two-stage memory and a six-CD stacker, .

As with the E90 sedan, standard in all E92 coupes is a host of safety equipment, including eight airbags, the latest traction and stability control, leather trim, rain sensing wipers, remote central locking, power windows/mirrors, automatic climate-control, anti-dazzle interior mirror, trip computer, rear parking sensors, basic Bluetooth mobile phone preparation, a multi-function leather sports steering wheel, run-flat tyres with pressure monitor and DataDot vehicle identification.

Apart from the unique body and interior, new standard E92 features include bi-Xenon headlights, LED tail-lights and cruise control with brake function, while a host of options are of course available, including sports suspension, active steering, a sunroof, active cruise control and, believe it or not, metallic paint.

BMW’s new 335i is undoubtedly a great addition to the new 3 Series coupe range because it offers a whole new level of sub-M 3 Series performance and flexibility, and bridges the gap nicely between M3 and the E92 330i.

Or at least it would if the latter was also available here - and if the 335i didn’t attract the inevitable comparisons with the current M3, which in E92 guise will step up a gear when next year it introduces V8 power to 3 Series for the first time.

As it stands, the 325i is our pick of BMW Australia’s new 3 Series Coupe range - and anyone expecting the twin-turbo 335i to be a tyre-shredding, fire-breathing AMG rival should better save their pennies while they wait for the next M3. Judging by the solid foundations the E92 provides, it’ll be a corker.

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