We like to think of ourselves as a voice of the people – a place for the proletariat of the interwebs who clamor for an honest take on the latest automotive hardware. To that end, we've always viewed the constant stream of fawning over BMW with something of a jaundice eye. We get it. The company builds good products, but does it really deserve wave after wave of gushing prose in every car magazine? Even more troubling, does the 3 Series deserve its honored position as the benchmark against which all other mid-sized sports sedans must be measured?
In a word, yes. We say that almost against our plebeian nature, but if you've come searching for a scathing tear-down of the bread-and-butter 3, best point your clickers elsewhere. After a full week with the 2010 BMW 335i sedan, we've come to understand why the bastions of auto-journodom have spent the last 10 years drinking the BMW Kool-Aid. It's just that good. Read on to find out why the latest 3 Series continues the tradition.
Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
BMW has had 35 years to get the 3 Series recipe just right, and stylistically, the car has never exactly shattered the mold with wild bodywork. While Bimmer fanboys continue to debate whether or not Chris Bangle was the brand's savior or Satan, no one will debate the fact that his work on the 3 Series was a much needed change of pace. To this day, Bangle's influence still lingers over the sheet metal of our sedan. While the "Bangle Bustle" never quite made it to the four-door's rear, the subtle creases and slight flares that came into the BMW bloodline under the designer's reign remain to this day. The look isn't something that we'd call outrageous, but it is quietly gorgeous.
Up front, the 2010 335i couldn't be mistaken for anything other than what it is. The nose wears the same flared nostril grille and round headlights as the rest of the Bavarian flock and the slight contour of the hood line gives the face something of a furrowed brow. As a result, you can't help but think that if this car could speak, it would do so in a series of guttural grunts and growls. Whatever the tongue, traffic seems to understand just fine – cars make room for the 2010 335i like a bad habit.
Our tester came dipped in Le Mans blue – a dark metallic paint that makes every crease and curve pop no matter the lighting. The sedan also wore a set of 18-inch, 15-spoke dancing shoes that are part of the $3,750 M Sport package. For that kind of change, BMW will be kind enough to equip your four-door with a slightly tweaked suspension and reworked aerodynamic cues, along with a speed limiter that allows a higher top end. We'll – ahem – have to take their word on that last part. Out back, the 335i can be differentiated from its less potent kin by the prominent dual exhaust and a reworked rear diffuser. When viewed from the rear, the car loses some of its menace, but the design is still plenty attractive.
The M Sport package brings with it a smaller, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an M-branded shift knob and door sills. Our tester also came with a snappy two-tone interior, complete with beige leather seats and a black dash with faux metal accents. The overall effect is attractive, though the M goodies seem at odds with the light-colored leather. That's okay, though, because that steering wheel and shifter feel fantastic in the palm of your hands, even if they look like the 335i is wearing a pair of running shoes with a three-piece suit.
While some buyers may find the dash a little plain, we're smitten by the fact that it isn't awash with unnecessary buttons or dials. In a world where most manufacturers have taken pains to turn their consoles into quasi functional art, BMW seems content to make everything easy to find and a cinch to operate – at least in this spec. A calm, uninterrupted line carries all the way from the instrument cluster to the passenger side door. And speaking of the instrument cluster, BMW has stuck with its standard two dials. There's a speedometer, a tachometer, and not much else.
The front thrones are supportive enough for long interstate hauls with bolsters capable of keeping your rear planted should you decide to fling the sedan through the mountains. The rear seats are also nice, but don't quite have the same derrière-gripping ability as what you'll find up front. They offer decent leg room, though, so passengers in the six-foot realm can reasonably fit back there, even for extended periods of time.
That's a good thing, considering we found ourselves hijacking our passengers for extended romps through a variety of backroads. Few things will talk you into taking the long way home quite like the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that BMW has used under the car's hood since 2007. The engine produces a dead even 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, and the muscle is enough to hustle the sedan's 3,593-pound curb weight through traffic. We noticed a considerable amount of lag below 2,000 rpm, which other 3 Series have complained about and BMW has acknowledged and attempted to fix at least once. That said, we expect this issue to be addressed with the 2011 model that features a single, larger turbo.
According to the specs, the inline-six manages to crank out its full torque from just 1,400 rpm, but the power simply isn't there until the mill begins to spin a little quicker. Fortunately, the revs build fast and it's easy to keep the engine where it needs to be thanks to the six-speed manual transmission. Shifts are quick and gear changes feel precise without being notchy. We did notice that hard shifts from first to second require a certain amount of patience, though that could have just as easily been attributed to the fact that our tester came with over 7,000 brutal miles at the hands of the cruelest of the cruel – auto journos.
Buyers familiar with typically weighty steering from BMW will find the tiller in the 2010 335i a comfort. The wheel feels a little on the heavy side while you're muscling around the parking lot of the local Target, but comes into its own should you decide to do any hustling down your favorite stretch of tarmac. Turn in is excellent and there's little doubt it could get around a track with purpose. That sensation is bolstered by the brakes on the 335i. With 13.7-inch discs up front, the sedan has no problem scrubbing speed for the corners or coming to a complete halt should you demand it. In all, it's the balance in the big bad 3 Series that kept the grin on our faces.
With a damn-near perfect 50.9/49.1-percent front/rear weight balance in manual transmission guise, the car begs to be flung around. Throw in springs that are firm without being brutal and spot-on dampening, and the turbo 3 series is – to put it lightly – magnificent to drive. Despite the button down exterior and executive interior, the 2010 335i has bones that are simply meant to be flogged and truly enjoyed – something we have a hard time saying for nearly any other car in this segment. From the bark of the dual exhaust to the bushels of grip and braking power, the 335i leaves little to complain about.
But hey, we're the motoring press. If we weren't complaining we'd be on a cold slab in the county morgue. According to the EPA, sane drivers should manage to see somewhere around 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway – decent numbers given the horsepower on hand here, but not exactly figures you'd want to bring home to your mother, either. Do some quick averaging, and you realize that combined fuel economy sits at a shave above 21 mpg. Speaking of naughty digits, BMW does make you pay for all of the engineering goodies that it's packed into the 335i. The car carries an MSRP of $40,600, and that's before you start adding on fun stuff like the M Sport package or special paint.
Set your eyeballs on that price tag, and it's easy to start nitpicking all that the 335i doesn't have as standard equipment. As a base model, you don't get navigation, satellite radio, a rear facing camera or any of the other tech goodies more economical manufacturers hand over for next to nothing these days. And at first, that really irritated us. But as the week drew to a close, we began to realize that the car's price tag wasn't wrapped up in useless electronics or bells and whistles we'd use once and then forget about. No, each and every penny in the 2010 335i is soaked into what matters most in a car to people like us – the engine, transmission, chassis and suspension. The 3 Series is a driver's car and it deserves every accolades it receives. The aforementioned 2011 model packing BMW's new N55 single-turbo engine should receive even more.
Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.