2011 BMW 335 Expert Review:Autoblog
It's fair to say that few automobiles have ridden atop their segment for as long as the BMW 3 Series has managed. Admittedly, there have been occasional frights from other German automakers or the odd Asian upstart, but it's as if Munich's engineers long ago brokered some sweetheart deal with the devil, so total has been the range's dominance. All of which has made it particularly tough for U.S. enthusiasts, as we've seen seemingly dozens of tempting higher performance specials and intriguingly efficient offerings pop up over in Europe and elsewhere, yet these models never seem to make their way into U.S. showrooms. Forgive us, then, for being slightly giddy at the prospect of this 335is, the first North American exclusive 3 Series in, well... eons.
Based on the freshly facelifted sixth-generation 3 Series, the 2011 335is will be available in both coupe and folding hardtop convertible forms beginning this spring – but we just couldn't wait that long to get behind the wheel. Thankfully, BMW was kind enough to slip us the keys to a pre-production example on Portugal's Estoril raceway as a dessert course of sorts at the launch of their new 5 Series sedan. Follow the jump to read our full slate of impressions.
Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc. / BMW
Interestingly, having just sat through a press conference detailing the many virtues of the 5 Series' new 3.0-liter N55 single-turbo inline six, we were a bit surprised to hear that the 335is harbors a newly developed iteration of the "old" twin-turbo N54. Surprised, yes, but not disheartened, as we'd still happily get out of bed for an N54-powered waterpick.
BMW is positioning the 335is as an appealing option for club racers – presumably those who can't afford an M3 – and for those who normally raid the aftermarket's parts bin. To that end, Bimmer's boffins haven't just fortified the boost and left the rest of the drivetrain package to fend for itself – they've fitted a higher-capacity cooling fan, mounted a supplementary radiator behind the left air intake and bungeed an oil cooler on the right side for good measure. To take advantage of the system's more robust cooling capabilities, a resculpted lower fascia with bigger inlets has also been specified. And although our prototype tester doesn't show it, by the time they reach dealerships, BMW promises that only models with the folding hardtop will receive foglamps – the coupe's will have been purged in favor of larger air openings.
Thanks to those upgrades in cooling and better breathing, BMW has been able to ratchet up the boost to 11.6 psi (up from 8.7 psi in the standard 335i). Thus, as tuned for duty in the 335is, the N54 rustles up 320 horsepower (+20) and 332 pound-feet of torque (+32) riding atop stiffer engine mounts, with the added party trick of an overboost mode that maxes out at 14.5 psi, delivering 370 lb-ft for up to seven seconds.
That bounty is funneled out to the rear wheels through the buyer's choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission (DCT), marking the first time that a twin-clutch gearbox has been offered in a non-M 3 Series. The same basic motor also appears in BMW's forthcoming Z4 sDrive35is, albeit conjuring up a sliver more power (335 hp/332 lb-ft.).
How will you spot a 335is on the street? Exterior changes include the updated head- and taillamps and restyled grilles that are shared with the rest of the 2011 3 Series range, but the 335is gets a few malefic telltales in the form of ferric gray 18-inch alloys, gloss black kidney surrounds and mirror caps, black window trim, a handful of special badges and most importantly, a pair of black chrome exhaust tips poking out 'neath a functional rear diffuser. BMW tells us that while the new exhaust system is less restrictive, they admit that by itself, it doesn't really do anything to further enhance the 335is' performance figures. No matter. What those charcoal pipes do accomplish is a heaping helping of aural engagement, sounding significantly huskier than a garden-variety 335i – even at tickover. Hearing the freer-breathing exhausts caroming around Estoril while standing in pit lane was enough to forgive the Portuguese day's unfortunate gray skies and oppressive dampness, and the added audio inside the car was an even more welcome treat.
Being holistic sorts, BMW has also firmed up the springy bits underneath to help deal with the 335i's added aggression. An off-the-rack M-suspension pack drops the ride height by 10 millimeters and stiffer shocks and springs have been substituted, all particularly welcome changes in light of the fact that we had only ever driven on the circuit once before – and that was the previous afternoon. Interestingly, at 13.7-inches up front and 13.2-inches out back, the brakes have been left alone, though we've never had reason to doubt the 335i's binders in the past.
BMW says that the upgraded engine hardware is good for 0-60 in as little as 5.0 seconds for a coupe paired to the DCT gearbox. Row the gears in the fixed-roof variant yourself and you're looking at a 5.1 seconds. The convertible is a tenth of a second slower, regardless of transmission choice. It's important to note that BMW has a history of underreporting engine power figures and being conservative with its performance estimates, and judging by the acceleration we felt under suboptimal traction conditions – and the fact that DCT cars will be equipped with launch control (something with which our prototypes were not yet equipped) – we're guessing that the 335is is actually capable of clipping 60 miles-per-hour about a half-second quicker than BMW is letting on. Regardless of whether you specify a fixed or folding roof, the 335is packs it in at 150 mph.
More important than raw numbers is the way the 335is feels and behaves, and in this regard, we've only whetted our appetites with a limited amount of laps at Estoril with both the DCT and manual (these prototypes were sadly not plated for street use). Even given our limited time and closed course conditions, we can tell you that we like what we see so far. The 3 Series has always had exemplary balance, and the 335is is no exception, only now it has significantly more power to lunge from the apexes. Out on the circuit, the surplus torque offered by the temporary overboost function allows one to gloss over most track virgin mistakes – braking too early (or too late), or taking a bad line through a corner, and even if you get it spot-on, you'll get there that much more rapidly thanks to the extra power. We're pleased to report that the DCT seems particularly well-suited to the 3 Series' character, and it's similarly fine work on the track, being quicker than the (still excellent) tripedalist setup, especially as it allows for both hands on the wheel at all times.
Speaking of the steering wheel, on the 335is, it's an M Sport piece, as is the shift knob and matching sport seats. Other model-specific frosting includes an anthracite headliner, stainless pedal pads and footrest, along with special badging calling out the model name on the dashboard, tachometer and door sills. Like all 335i coupes, this new model comes with a moonroof as standard fit, something sure to please sybarites but potentially aggravate those who don't want the extra weight and higher center-of-gravity on the racetrack. BMW promises us that it's considering making the roof a delete option, but opting out isn't likely to save any money.
Speaking of money, we note that when Autoblog first revealed the official specs and pricing of the 335is, many readers balked over the price tag: $50,525 for the fixed-roof and $59,075 for the drop-head, with both prices including destination charges. We won't argue that BMW's asking for premium dollars, nor will we debate that they can get jarringly expensive after visiting the options list. Even still, the 335is doesn't strike us as a bad deal when analyzing the rest of the 3 Series lineup.
Think of it this way: a 2010 M3 coupe starts at $58,400, to which you must add $875 for destination and a further $1,300 for gas guzzler taxes (a 2011 model has not yet been announced). Total cost? $60,575 – before options. Yes, the V8-powered M3 offers significantly more horsepower (414), but does so at a skyscraping 8,300 rpm and has a comparative dearth of torque – 295 vs. 332 pound-feet – and that's without considering the 335i's massive overboost. What's more, the 335is' full measure of twist is available from just 1,500 revs, while the M3's eight-pot needs to be spinning more than twice as fast at 3,900 rpm. Lest we forget, despite its carbon-fiber roof, it also weighs a smidge more.
Don't get us wrong – we love every inch of the M3's sniper-like precision – it remains a fantastic car and an unrivaled piece of trackday artillery. But out on the street, you really do have to rev the Mobil 1 out of the V8 in order for it to feel genuinely quick. That's not to say that doing so is a chore, but for many drivers, the high-revving soundtrack can get tiresome on a day-in, day-out basis and the M3's care and feeding aren't exactly cheap. The 335is offers club racer competence swathed in a more relaxed, more civilized package with comparable levels of real-world thrust – all while leaving a couple of vacations' worth of coin in your bank account.
On the other end of the spectrum, an unadorned 2011 335i coupe runs $43,525 (that's $42,650 plus $875 for postage and handling), meaning that it costs exactly $7,000 less, but that doesn't include the 335is' additional standard equipment like the $1,550 sport pack. By our count, the cost difference at that point is $5,450, an amount that strikes us as a distinctly fair tariff for the new model's additional performance and kit. (The convertible's pricing premium is admittedly rather harder to swallow, but the same tough math applies with the 328i and 335i).
The first wave of 335is convertibles is slated to hit U.S. dealers in March, with the coupes to follow in June. Here's hoping that enthusiasts line up to buy them – if only to give BMW executives a good reason to offer more high-po specials and foreign-market forbidden fruit in the States.
Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc. / BMW
New Car Test Drive
What BMW does best.
The BMW 3 Series cars are the quintessential BMWs. They accelerate, turn and stop with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense. The 3 Series sedans define the term sports sedan and remain an aspirational target for every luxury automaker, from Acura to Volvo.
The 3 Series comprises a range of sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons, with different engines, and a wide variety of options. All models share mechanical components and similarly compact exterior dimensions. Differences lie in body style or exterior design, though the coupe and convertible seat four passengers while the sedan and wagon seat five. We like the top models, but we also recommend the less-expensive 328i models. They have as much power as most drivers will ever need, and they deliver the same inherent goodness and most of the key features as the 335 models.
For 2011, all 3 Series body styles get minor design changes.
For 2011, BMW 335i features a single turbo instead of a twin turbo, and a new performance tuned twin-turbo model called the 335is has been added. The 2011 BMW 335is is available with BMW's dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT), which was previously only offered on the M3.
The BMW 335d features a new-age diesel engine that's as clean as any of its gasoline counterparts. Despite its improved fuel economy, it retains the sporting character that has long defined the 3 Series line. The diesel generates a whopping 425 pound-feet of torque, and at 23 City/36 Highway, it delivers the highest EPA mileage ratings of any 3 Series model. It reportedly qualifies for a federal tax credit of about $900.
The 3 Series cars are based on a rear-wheel-drive layout. All-wheel drive is available, however, for improved traction in wintry conditions. BMW sells more manual transmissions in this class than any manufacturer, and that says something about the type of drivers choosing the 3 Series. Even the optional automatic transmission is tuned for crisp, sporty shifting. Handling response is sharp and precise, and braking capability is best in class.
BMW 328i models come with BMW's trademark 3.0-liter straight six, and we found it's more than powerful enough for brisk acceleration and a sinfully good time. The upgrade turbo six in the 335i is one of the most viscerally satisfying engines in production.
Exterior dimensions for all 3 Series models are relatively compact, making them good cars for crowded city centers. All models are distinctively styled and clearly recognizable as BMWs.
The four-door sedan is the most familiar of the 3 Series body styles, and among the most passenger friendly. The Sports Wagon adds substantial cargo space and utility. It's great for couples or families who often bring the dog, though it isn't available with the turbocharged engine. The 328i and 335i Convertibles might be the sexiest 3s, with a fully automatic, one-button folding metal hardtop. The convertible seats four, but it's not offered with all-wheel drive.
The 3 Series coupes are the sportiest. The firmer sport suspension, optional with other body styles, comes standard on the coupe, and these are the lightest cars in the line. The shapely two-door coupe offers more sports appeal than the four-door sedan but still has a two-place back seat and a trunk only slightly smaller than that of the sedan.
Few cars in this class can match the 3 Series for its overall balance of technology, rationality, performance and driving pleasure. Some competitors offer more room, more power, better mileage or maybe better interiors for less money.
Aside from subjective price-value analysis, we think the most noteworthy hitch in the 3 Series is the downside of its many electronic gizmos. We think our favorite Bimmer is getting mucked up with too much annoying stuff.
The 2011 BMW 3 Series models come standard with automatic climate control, a climate-controlled center console, a choice of aluminum or different wood interior trims, heated windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD, and Dynamic Cruise Control. Vinyl upholstery is standard with leather optional.
The BMW 328i sedan ($33,150) is powered by a 230-hp 3.0-liter inline-6. The 328i xDrive sedan ($35,150) adds xDrive permanent all-wheel drive. A 6-speed manual comes standard, and most models are offered with a 6-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,375). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
The BMW 335i sedan ($40,600) and 335i xDrive sedan ($42,600) feature a turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter inline-6, delivering 300 horsepower. The 335i models come with power front seats with memory and Logic 7 audio.
The BMW 335d sedan ($43,950) is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel six in the same inline configuration.
The 3 Series wagons come in 328i Sport Wagon ($35,700) and 328i xDrive Sports Wagon ($37,700) models.
The 3 Series coupe comes in five versions: 328i ($36,200), 328i xDrive ($38,100), 335i ($42,650), 335i xDrive ($44,550), and 335is ($49,650). Model designations are consistent across the body styles and standard equipment is similar, though coupes and convertibles include a few more features in the base price.
The 3 Series Convertible features a retracting metal hard top that opens and closes with the touch of a button and comes in 328i ($45,000), 335i ($51,200) and 335is ($58,200) versions.
The 335is coupe and convertible have a twin-turbo engine that makes 320 horsepower. The 335is models have equipment otherwise offered in the M Sport package, including the BMW M Sport steering wheel, M Sport seats, an anthracite headliner, 18-inch wheels, and stiffer engine mounts. The 335is comes standard with the 6-speed manual and is available with a double-clutch 7-speed automated manual transmission ($1,575).
Options include Dakota leather upholstery ($1,450); navigation system ($2,100), Sirius satellite radio hardware ($350), Logic 7 stereo upgrade ($875), Active Steering ($1,550), smartphone integration ($150). The Cold Weather Package adds heated seats, heated steering wheel, headlight washers, ski sack, and in the sedan, a split-folding rear seat. The Sport Package includes sporting suspension calibrations tuned by BMW's M performance division for the sedan, wagon and convertible, more heavily bolstered sport seats, sport steering wheel, Shadowline exterior trim, increased top-speed limiter, and a wheel-performance tire upgrade.
Safety features include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags. The convertibles add knee airbags that help keep front passengers from sliding under the seat belts. Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid collisions, include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when it's raining.
For 2011, all 3 Series models get some minor styling changes.
2011 3 Series coupes and convertibles are an inch longer in than the 2010 versions due to revisions to the front bumper and lower fascia. The twin-kidney grille is wider, the headlights add the LED corona rings we become accustomed to seeing on the 5 Series and other BMWs, and there are now LED brows above the headlights.
2011 3 Series sedans and wagons get a bolder front end with a larger air intake, sharper lines on the hood, and more prominent side character lines. The headlights are reshaped for 2011. Models with xenon high-intensity discharge headlights now use the round corona rings as daytime running lights. At the rear, LEDs now adorn the redesigned taillights. The 3 Series sedan has a new trunk shape for 2011, and the track is 0.6 inch wider.
The new BMW 335is features a modified front end without fog lights to allow more air intake. Along the sides, it gets lower aero skirts. The rear features a unique bumper, black chrome exhaust tips, additional air ducting, and a black lower diffuser. The diffuser's shape helps air flow over the rear axle.
The 3 Series sedan, wagon, coupe, and convertible all look different from one another, but they have a family appearance and are immediately recognizable as BMWs.
The model line's high-tech theme is visible from the outside. Many models come with adaptive bi-xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel to aim into a curve. All feature BMW's adaptive brake lights, which are based on the idea that drivers in the cars following a 3 Series will know when the 3 is braking hard: The LED lights illuminate more intensely, over a larger area, when the driver applies the brakes full-lock or when the ABS operates.
All 3 Series body styles ride a 108.7-inch wheelbase, and by every exterior dimension, they're all within two inches of each other. In general, these are the largest 3 Series cars ever. Most of the extra width and length translates into more interior space compared to previous generations, particularly in the back seat.
The sedan is the best seller, and perhaps most familiar to the motoring public. The coupe is a bit longer and lower than the sedan, and not as wide. With standard xenon headlamps, its front light clusters are smaller. The coupe's hood looks longer, and it's fashioned with a subtle dome that suggests a powerful engine underneath. The windshield flows into a roofline that's long and curved in a continuous arc, and lower than that on the sedan. With extensive use of plastic composite materials for parts such as the front fenders, the coupes are also the lightest cars in the line, even though they carry more standard equipment.
In profile or front three-quarter view, the 3 Series Convertible closely resembles the coupe. Its front end and the arc of its roofline are nearly identical to those of the coupe. The difference, of course, is the convertible's retractable metal hardtop, which opens or closes at the touch of a button in just 22 seconds. The top folds in three pieces and stows itself under the trunk lid. That lid is hinged both front and rear, so it can open toward the back to swallow the folding top, and from the back to load the trunk. Thanks to the weight of the top's operating mechanism, as well as body reinforcements intended to maintain structural integrity when the top is open, the convertibles are heavier than the lightest 3 Series cars by some 400 pounds.
The 3 Series Sport Wagon is identical to the sedan from the center roof pillar forward. Rearward, its roofline tapers slightly all the way to the rear of the car, while the bottom line of the rear windows tapers upward slightly, creating a teardrop shape. Roof rails are standard on the wagon, and its rear gate opens electrically, with a switch on the key fob or dashboard. The rear glass opens separately, which is convenient for quickly loading lightweight items.
The BMW 3 Series cabin takes the best of several ideas first applied in the larger 5 Series and 7 Series models, synthesizes them for a smaller car and improves them in the process. We aren't completely enamored with everything inside the 3 Series, but we have few serious gripes.
There are subtle interior differences in the models across the 3 Series lineup. The coupe, for example, has different instrument script and a third wood trim option not offered in the sedan (dark-stained poplar). But the essentials, including dashboard, console and front seats, are the same across the four body styles.
The soft vinyl and plastics improve on previous generations in both appearance and feel, and they rival the best in class. All models offer a choice of real aluminum or various wood trims, and there's a lot of it on the dash and doors. BMW's Leatherette vinyl is not the least bit tacky, while the optional leather is soft and thick. The 3 Series follows BMW's tradition of soft orange backlighting for the instruments. Some will like it, some won't.
The dashboard has a pronounced horizontal format, with more community and less driver orientation than previous 3 Series cars. There are actually two dash designs. The standard setup has a single bubble, or hood, over the gauge cluster, while the optional navigation system is installed in a dash that accommodates it with a second hood in the center.
The 3 Series has no keyed ignition switch, relying instead on a slot-type key fob and a starter button. We do not like this system, and we are not sold on the benefit it has over a conventional key. The fob slides into a slot next to the steering column, and you push the button to fire up.
The Comfort Access option makes everything automatic, and the thinking here is more obvious. With fob in pocket, the doors unlock automatically as the driver approaches, and the seats are waiting in their proper position. The driver just pushes the start button, and pushes it again when it's time to get out. But you have to pull it back out to lock the doors when you get out. We do not like keyless system. We've seen instances where keyless fobs get misplaced, causing confusion and stress. Also, it can sometimes be harder to discern whether the car is switched on or off with a keyless pushbutton system, which can lead to dead batteries and increased profits for tow truck operators.
Seats have long been a 3 Series strength. The standard front buckets provide excellent support without feeling too hard. The manual adjustments work great, though we recommend using them only when the car is parked. The 335 models get power adjustments with three memory positions. The power seats that come with the Sport Package are outstanding, though the additional back and bottom bolstering make them harder to slide into. As passengers we might like them less, but as drivers we love them.
The audio controls could be higher in the center stack for easier access, and the buttons for station presets and assorted functions demand more concentration than they should. Switching between AM, FM and other modes can be distracting while driving. The orange readout on the stereo is almost invisible when wearing polarized sunglasses on a sunny day, even though similar readouts for climate control are perfectly legible.
The automatic climate control features separate temperature adjustments for driver and front passenger. A mist sensor measures moisture on the windshield and automatically adjusts the defroster, while a heat-at-rest feature keeps the cabin heated for a time after the car is turned off.
The single-CD stereo sounds good, with 10 speakers and separate subwoofers under the front seats. The 335 models come with an audio upgrade called Logic 7. It adds wattage and three speakers, with the latest digital sound processing and surround technology. Audio controls on the steering wheel work well, once they're mastered.
BMW's multi-layer, mouse-style iDrive interface is optional in the 3 Series, but if you want the navigation system, you'll have to take iDrive. The 3 Series has the fourth-generation of iDrive, which comes with several buttons around the central controller a large, sharp, 8.8-inch control screen. It also has programmable preset buttons that look like radio presets but can be used to store anything from common navigation destinations to audio balance. We'd forgo the navigation system so we could avoid the iDrive. We found simple tasks like calling up a map or pre-setting radio stations a challenge. On a positive note, the navigation system comes with a hard drive the can store up to eight gigabytes of music, or about as much as the typical iPod.
In other respects, the 3 Series cabin is more user-friendly than ever. The coupe, for example, has seatbelt presenters, or motorized arms that emerge from little doors built into the rear side panels. It used to be that the driver and front-seat passenger had to reach way back to find their shoulder belts. Now occupants just sit down and close the doors, and the belts come to them. There are plenty of storage pockets and nooks, including large pockets in the doors. The center console is climate controlled, and there is a large storage tray in the center console, near the auxiliary audio input connector, which provides place to lay an MP3 player or other audio source. That's notable because German cars are notorious for not having cubby storage.
The new 2011 BMW 335is gets a few interior style changes. It features the thick M Sport steering wheel, gray gauge faces with 335is logos, sport bucket seats, an anthracite headliner, stainless steel-trimmed pedals, and additional badging. The look is a bit sportier, which is appropriate.
Rear-seat accommodations are adequate in all 3 Series models. The rear air vents can be separately adjusted for temperature and air volume. Remember: this is a compact car, and rear passengers with long torsos will feel their hair rubbing on the headliner. The sedan and wagon seat five but the center position in the back seat is best left to children.
The coupes are limited to four passengers, the center space in back is replaced by a console, which includes individual storage boxes, additional air vents and footwell lights. The rear accommodations are actually a little better in the coupe in terms of roominess, though access is more difficult in the absence of rear doors. There's decent legroom and more shoulder room. It's almost like sitting in a little limousine. There are even buttons on the outside of each front seat, so those in back can reach up and power the front seat forward to ease exit from the rear of the car.
Trunk space is small for the class, with 12 cubic feet in the sedan, 11 cubic feet in the coupe. A split-folding rear seatback is standard on the coupe, optional on the sedan. A separate compartment under the trunk mat, measuring 1.7 cubic feet, adds space for small items that won't slide around.
The Sport Wagon is easily the best choice in the 3 Series line for cargo hauling. From the handling, accelerating or braking standpoints, it gives up nothing to the 328i sedan, and it adds a dimension of utility. Cargo volume increases to 24.8 cubic feet, floor to ceiling, behind the rear seat. With the rear seat folded forward, the 3 Series wagon can swallow nearly 61 cubic feet of stuff, more than some small SUVs. The wagon's load area is flat, too, which is good for dogs and cargo. It's fully lined with thick, soft carpet, and it's full of convenient features, including separate enclosed bins, cargo straps, bag holders, a power point, a cargo cover at seat height and a roll-out cargo net. The wagon is available with all-wheel drive, giving it winter-weather capability.
The Convertible offers the least cargo space. There's a maximum 9.0 cubic feet when the top is up. Lower the top, and cargo space reduces dramatically. With the top down, count on maybe a medium-sized duffel bag, and make sure the top is closed before stowing anything.
The BMW 3 Series offers rear-wheel drive and manual transmissions in a class filled with front-wheel drive and automatics.
BMW's xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive system, available in all but the 3 Series Convertible, greatly enhances all-season capability. xDrive delivers most of the power to the rear wheels most of the time, maintaining the sporting feel associated with rear-wheel drive, but it's great for getting the 3 through the worst winter slop without dramatics.
We found the 328i models fun to drive, with linear power and good throttle response that made us feel a class above other cars in traffic. With a quick 0 to 60 mph time of 6.3 seconds, few will feel short-changed on performance. Fuel economy for a 328i sedan is an EPA-rated 18/28 mpg City/Highway.
The 335d sedan is powered by an ultra-high tech, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder diesel engine, with features such as all-aluminum construction, high-pressure direct fuel injection, and a turbocharging system that employs both small and larger turbochargers for optimum response at low and higher speeds. EPA mileage ratings are 23/36 mpg City/Highway, which is considerably higher than the gasoline-powered 335i. Diesel fuel can sometimes cost more than gasoline, though, negating some operating cost savings. The diesel generates fewer exhaust emissions than many gasoline engines and it produces less carbon dioxide.
The 335d diesel, which is only offered with the automatic transmission, also provides a lot of power: 265 horsepower, with a whopping 425 pound-feet of torque. There's so much torque, even a casual jab at the gas pedal can spin the rear tires substantially exiting a parking lot. Once a driver gets used to the throttle, however, the 335d's torque can be a joy. In short bursts of say 100 ft, it will accelerate more quickly than just about anything on the road. It goes from 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds, which is just four tenths of a second slower than the gas-fueled 335i with the automatic transmission. The diesel delivers the performance-oriented kick that has long been a 3 Series trademark, with none of the smoky, oily, stinky quality that old-time diesels might condition buyers to expect.
The 335d does have some shortcomings. It clatters more when idling, especially when it's cold. It's louder and rougher in general than the gasoline engines, and it's not as smooth as the latest diesels from Mercedes and Audi. It also requires urea to meet 50-state emissions standards. This ammonia-like substance is stored in an onboard reservoir, and the tank should be filled at typical oil change intervals. Still, if the tank runs dry, the 335d won't restart until it's replenished with urea. The 335d is quite expensive, so it may not appeal to anyone but the hard-core diesel enthusiast or environmentalist.
The 335i comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter. 2011 BMW 335i models change from a twin to a single turbo, mostly to improve fuel economy. It makes the same 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and BMW says that power is delivered slightly earlier to provide even better response. A twin-turbocharged version is also available for 2011. It's a tuned version of last year's engine with more boost pressure, and it's offered in the new 335is models. It makes 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque.
We found the single turbo in the 2011 BMW 335i delivers amazing thrust, as did the previous engine. Turbo lag is nonexistent, and 0-60 mph comes quickly, just 5.4 seconds with the manual transmission. The 335i's Valvetronic system, which eliminates the need for a throttle plate, makes fuel economy equal to or better than the naturally aspirated 328i. A 335i sedan is rated at 19/28 mpg City/Highway with either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
The 335is provides better performance but worse fuel economy. Boost is up from 8.7 to 11.6 psi, and there is an overboost mode that increases torque to 369 pound-feet for up to seven seconds by temporarily raising maximum boost to 14.5 psi. The extra power cuts the 0-60 mph time to just 5.0 seconds with BMW's 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT), which was previously only offered in the M3. The 335is coupe is rated at 18/26 mpg with the manual and 17/24 with the DCT. We also like the engine note. BMW has tuned it to a low burble that sounds menacing.
The 2011 BMW 335is also features new steering wheel shift paddles when paired with the DCT. Instead of pushing down to downshift and pulling up to upshift, the 335is has the more common, easier-to-use setup that downshifts on the left and upshifts on the right. We prefer this design. It just seems more intuitive.
If we had our choice, though, we'd opt for the manual transmission in any BMW. The connection through the manual allows the driver to more thoroughly exploit the goodness in the 3 Series engines. Clutch-pedal effort makes taking off easy, without having to think about it, and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced for either the base or turbocharged engine. During a casual drive through the countryside in a 335i coupe, we were content to leave the manual in third or fourth gear, depending on the road, and enjoy the scenery as the engine's broad power band kept the momentum flowing.
In a more aggressive mode of travel, with the throttle down, working the gearchange frequently to keep the engine near its power peak, the 3 Series manual shifter falls short of the car's overall high standard. The throws are shorter than ever, but the gears engage with a vague, slightly stretchy feel. It's as if the engineers tried cramming slots for six forward gears into a shift pattern more properly proportioned for five. Coming back down through the gears, drivers must take care if they choose a gear out of its normal sequence (fifth to second, for example), as this requires some careful aiming.
For those who prefer not to deal with a clutch, the 6-speed automatic works very well. We found it can be a bit slow to react with an appropriate gear change in Normal mode, but leaving it in Sport mode solves the problem, with a slight payback in more abrupt shifting. Then there is the Steptronic manual mode, which allows manual gear selection. No problem with shift response when you do it yourself, and the optional steering-wheel paddles (the old kind in non 335is models) mean you can manually shift the automatic without removing hands from the wheel.
Beyond strong engines, every car in the 3 Series lineup is characterized by an excellent balance of ride quality and handling response. For 40 years, this has been the prototypical sports sedan. It's about as close as you can get to sports car driving dynamics in a more practical car, yet the fun never comes at the expense of beating up the passengers inside. The current 3s are superbly balanced, and in the right circumstances they're sinfully fun to drive.
The steering is light when it should be, at low speeds, with proper resistance and feedback at higher speeds. Nearly equal front/rear weight distribution leaves the driver in full command of where the car goes when, with a nicely tuned stability control system to keep watch should a driver venture beyond his or her capabilities.
The 3 Series suspension layout features double-joint aluminum control arms in front and a five-link fully independent system in the rear. This is trick stuff, but it's nothing compared to the electronics that manage everything. If something is amiss, BMW's Dynamic Stability Control system senses that a particular wheel is losing traction, then applies the brake at that wheel or reduces engine power in an effort to keep the car going in the intended direction.
Some buyers may worry that BMW's firmer Sport suspension, standard in the 335is and some coupe models and optional otherwise, makes the ride too harsh. We found in most cases, it does not. With its tight, rigid body structure as a foundation, the 3 Series suspension can be fine tuned to provide the dynamic handling enthusiast drivers like without sacrificing a smooth ride that pleases passengers. The Sport suspension may be jolted by potholes, but it responds immediately and maintains a level ride rather than seesawing up and down.
Still, many drivers will find that the Sport suspension borders on stiff, and especially in the convertible, where it can emphasize the shimmies inherent in a fairly heavy, open-top car. Given the overall competence of the standard suspension, the Sport package could be considered an unnecessary expense. If you're not sure which you want, we recommend the standard suspension.
For drivers more interested in sunshine and wind, there is the convertible. We found cowl shake and body flex are better contained in the 3 Series convertible than they are in the Volkswagen Eos or Volvo C70. The open-top BMW 3 is as solid as convertibles go, however, the owner will experience little bits of twisting and shaking that would not be felt in the sedan, coupe, or wagon. It's simply the price paid for wind in the hair.
The good news is that noise levels in the convertible are low, top up or down. Top down, air flow is channeled in a fashion that allows front seat occupants to converse easily at freeway speeds. Top up, no surprise, it's as close to a coupe as it can be without actually being one. There's the slightest whistle from the seams between the top's pieces, but the thick headliner quiets almost all outside rumble.
Braking is excellent in all 3 Series models. The large brake calipers and rotors deliver more clamping force than most competitors. And thanks to BMW's electronic management, the brake pads move within a hair of the rotors if the driver suddenly releases the gas pedal, even if the driver hasn't yet considered slamming on the brakes. The pads also lightly sweep the rotors every few seconds if it's raining, just to be sure there is no significant moisture build up. Again though, the slick electronics come with a payback. The non-linear, progressive algorithm that controls the brake system can make smooth stops a challenge in casual driving, at least until the driver has had time to get familiar with the feel of the brake pedal.
The BMW 3 Series provides something for every taste, from sedan to wagon, coupe to convertible and even a diesel. For 2011, there's a new 335is version slotted below the M3, and it's a blast to drive and a performance bargain. Any of the 3 Series are among the sportiest, most enjoyable cars in a class full of good cars. All remain benchmarks for overall performance, and none exacts a significant toll in efficiency, practicality or comfort. The 3 Series offers BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, and every model is laden with leading-edge technology. Prices rise quickly and substantially from the bottom of the 3 Series line, but we think most buyers will find the least expensive models as useful and enjoyable as the most expensive.
J.P. Vettraino filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Detroit. Tom Lankard contributed from central California, with Larry Edsall reporting from Marin County in Northern California, and Kirk Bell in Chicago.
BMW 328i sedan ($33,150); 328i wagon ($35,700); 328i coupe ($36,200); 328i convertible ($45,000); 328i xDrive sedan ($35,150); 328i xDrive wagon ($37,700); 328i xDrive coupe ($38,100); 335i sedan ($40,600); 335i coupe ($42,650); 335i Convertible ($51,200); 335i xDrive sedan ($42,600); 335d sedan ($43,950); 335i xDrive coupe ($44,550); 335is coupe ($49,650); 335is Convertible ($58,200).
Options As Tested
6-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,375); Sport Package ($2,150) includes sports suspension, sport steering wheel, 18-inch wheels with W-rated performance tires, power sport seats, Shadowline exterior trim and 155-mph speed-limiter; Dakota leather upholstery ($1,450); iPod and USB adapter ($400); Comfort Access keyless start ($500); Sirius satellite radio with one-year subscription ($350); steering wheel paddle shifters ($100).
BMW 335d sedan ($44,950).