A quick glance might lead one to believe that the BMW 335i Coupe is little changed from the E90 3 series sedan. The reality is that this is a new car, with not only a new body, but also a brand-new engine.
Although it rides on the same 108.7-in. Wheelbase as the 3 series sedan, the Coupe is actually 2.1 in. longer and doesn’t share a single body panel with its 4-door brother. Instead, just about everything is new, from the grille and xenon headlights, to the longer, more aggressively sculpted hood to the sloping roofline and larger greenhouse, to the LED taillights.
With a combination of steel, aluminum and plastic, the new Coupe body weighs 22 lb. less than the sedan’s, yet is 25 percent stiffer. Despite the sloping roofline, rear-seat space is impressive, the coupe serving up room for two 6-footers with acceptable knee room and plenty of head room; the trunk, as well, is more than adequate.
But enough about the car's body; what we're most thrilled with is BMW's new twin-turbo direct-injection inline-6. Dubbed the N54, this all-aluminum engine (which supplants the N52's aluminum/magnesium block) is equipped with two very small parallel turbochargers that spool up at the same time. With its front-mounted intercooler this engine generates 300 bhp at 5800 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. of torque from 1300-5000 with a surprisingly high compression ratio of 10.2:1. It has VANOS variable camshaft timing, though it does without the valvetronic variable valve lift seen on the N52.
Push the starter button and it's as smooth and quiet as any BMW inline-6. Surprisingly, it acts like one, too. Instead of turbo lag followed by a high-end rush, the 335i feels like a large-displacement, normally aspirated engine. For this reason — and because you can't hear the turbos — true turbo fans might be disappointed. But there's no denying it's an extremely user-friendly piece, with plenty of sauce for attacking mountain roads and enough reserve to complete "iffy" passing maneuvers. But while BMW claims this setup achieves the power of a V-8 with the weight and fuel effi ciency of a six, the engine lacks a v-8's right-now low-end grunt out of corners.
The 335i comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, which, in BMW fashion, is quite good. A 6-speed automatic with steptronic manual shifting is optional, with 50-percent-quicker reactions than before. When ordered with the sport package you also get paddles behind the thick, well-padded steering wheel, with rev-matching downshifts.
The suspension is basically identical to the sedan's setup but the tuning has been optimized for the Coupe. This means revalved dampers, higher-rate springs, different anti-roll bars and suspension bushings along with a 0.6-in.-lower ride height. And when you need to bring the fun to a halt (what a shame!), the 335i has larger brakes than the 330i sedan — 13.7-in. front rotors compared with 13.0. Pedal feel is reassuringly firm.
So how does it handle? Quite well, as would be expected of a BMW and a rear-drive coupe with a claimed 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. The 335i exhibits an excellent compromise of a decent ride but more-thandecent handling, with precise steering and a ready-to-attackall- corners attitude. Understeer is prevalent in the tight stuff, and shows itself again through fast corners when you're really getting on with it. With this built-in safety net, I had to really try to get the tail to come out. But when i did (with DSC off, of course), the 335i was completely controllable, forgiving and, most important — fun. It was surprising, though, to find the rear bottoming out during a particularly fast and bumpy section.
When the 335i Coupe goes on sale in september (with an MSRP of $41,295), it will be joined by the 328i Coupe ($35,995) with a 230-bhp 3.0-liter inline- 6, followed by the first 3 series coupe with all-wheel drive — the 328xi — in October for $37,795.
While the 335i Coupe is no M3, it produces enough excitement for all but the most hardcore enthusiasts. and with the M3 discontinued for 2007 as we await the all-new V-8 car, it's a pretty good stopgap.