Drives: see above.
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Yorkshire, UK
Review copied from jarlaxie link (just in case site changes etc)
If you're a golfer, you gotta love the gap wedge. Mine has 52 degrees of loft, and is good for about 100 yards barring any sort of operator error. It's called the gap wedge because it neatly fills the void between the sand wedge (80 yards on a good day) and pitching wedge (maybe 115 when the ball's sitting up nice).
Automotively speaking, BMW's latest gap wedge is the 335i Sedan, a perfect fit between the solid, reasonably quick 328i and the hell-for-leather M3. With a nice round 300 bhp and a like amount of torque from 2979 cc, it falls squarely between the 3 Series bookends (whose respective outputs are 230 bhp and most likely 400 bhp for the upcoming V-8-powered M3). And acceleration-wise, this latest sedan isn't far off the recently departed E46-body M3…our test subject clicked off a fleet 5.0-second trip to 60 mph, ripping through the quarter mile in 13.5. That's a fair fight with a Cadillac CTS-V.
More impressive than the actual numbers is the consummate ease with which this inline-6-powered BMW achieves them. The first forced-induction small BMW in the U.S. ever (the 2002 Turbo of 1973-1974 was never officially imported), the 335i uses tiny, low-inertia twin turbos working in parallel for the most lag-free acceleration and response we've ever experienced. With BMW's double VANOS adjustable timing for both camshafts, the near-instantaneous boost and a relatively high compression ratio of 10.2:1, that 300 lb.-ft. of torque is on tap from 1400-5000 rpm. “Ample bottom-end torque,” said one staffer, “yet dip into the throttle and it really comes alive, zinging to redline.”
Higher cylinder pressures demanded some extra strength, so instead of the 328i's N52 magnesium-clad aluminum block, the 335i's N54 block is straight-up aluminum alloy with cast-iron cylinder liners. It also employs the high-pressure, direct-injection fuel system first used on the BMW 760's V-12 engine, with piezoelectric injectors mounted centrally in the combustion chambers. This location allows for a nice uniform cone of atomized fuel, ideal for power, efficiency and cylinder cooling. The sturdier block, turbos, intercooler, piping, etc., do bump the N54's overall weight to 419 lb., 62 lb. more than the N52's, but BMW reckons a 4.0-liter normally aspirated V-8 making the same power would carry an additional 150-lb. penalty.
Many an excellent powerplant has been tainted by a clumsy shift linkage or other drivetrain annoyance, but the BMW gets high marks all the way back to the rear tires' contact patches. Clutch take-up is easily modulated; the ZF 6-speed manual's gear lever jinks precisely from gate to gate with a touch of trademark notchiness; and revs don't stay artificially high between upshifts. Drive this BMW hard with both its standard traction- and stability-control systems defeated, and one small fly emerges from the ointment-the inside rear tire can spin, owing to the open differential. It does take a lot of throttle, steering lock and lateral g-forces at once to invoke.
Small aberration aside, this chassis devours what the engine puts out, then asks, “May I have another?” Our test car had the optional Sport Package, with 18-in. wheels and Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A run-flat tires, with section widths staggered 225 front, 255 rear. Spring and shock rates are tautened accordingly, acting on a MacPherson-strut front suspension (worth a peek on hands and knees to see the slender aluminum lower links) and a multilink setup at the rear. Ultimate grip is a satisfying 0.90g, and the steering lives up to BMW's deserved reputation: it's alive right off center, effort ramps up in a natural way, and a finely measured amount of high-frequency vibration reaches your fingertips.
Handling precision is lost if the car's structure flexes too much as the “fifth spring,” and you can tell with the first door-slam kerchunk that this is one sturdily built piece. And it should be, as smallish openings for the rear doors and trunk, and rocker-panel sills that seem an inch higher than the competitors' are friends of structural rigidity. Throw it into your favorite slightly cambered, decreasing-radius curve, and these concessions seem petty. Steady-state understeer is minimal, mid-corner bumps don't upset the car's trajectory, and there are no surprises as you push harder and harder. It's the consistency of composure throughout the 335i's broad handling envelope that keeps the BMW faithful coming back for more.
Want to tighten your line? Jumping off the throttle with the chassis highly loaded is never recommended, but the BMW responds with lessened understeer and slight rotation, those big 255-width rear Potenzas anchoring the tail and limiting your countersteer efforts to only a few degrees. Or scrub off speed for those pesky hairpins or cloverleaf entries? Stopping distances are better than most, with 1-piston sliding calipers squeezing their pads onto generously sized vented rotors: 13.7 in. front and 13.2 in. rear. Pedal feel is firm with little slop, consistent with the other controls. Anti-lock is standard; and one novel feature is fade compensation that automatically applies the brakes harder as they lose effectiveness, with no increase in pedal pressure.
BMW manages this handling with ride comfort that's firm but in no way harsh, and with very little road noise considering the aggressiveness of the tires. And you can enjoy it in an interior that's not overly computerized. The dash is serious and sporty, adopting the broad, convex curve of the 7 Series from door panel to door panel. Gauges are plain, the speedometer cluttered with its dual mile/kilometer scales crowding each other. At least there's a nice oil-temperature gauge inset in the tach, instead of the useless “instant mpg” needle. Although wood trim is optional, our 335i had the “Galvanic” metal trim, which as the name suggests, has metal galvanically applied to plastic in several layers, then topped with a clear coat.
It's easy to get comfortable. The thickly padded 3-spoke steering wheel manually tilts and telescopes. A sturdy dead pedal as wide as your shoe is much appreciated. Controls for the dual-zone climate system and radio are straightforward knobs and buttons, with beady orange/red displays that match the instrument illumination. Front seats with adjustable side bolsters (also part of the Sport Package) are supportive in all the right places, and rear seats are a good, if slightly cramped, place to give a couple of adult friends a lift across town. For serious mileage four-up, take the Caprice.
And then there's the whole styling thing. Many on staff feel the 3 Series is the best-looking of all modern BMWs. Perhaps the “flame-surfaced” excesses of the 7 and 5 Series have cooled down to glowing embers in the 3. Less is certainly more here; it looks striking and nicely chiseled from every angle, although the big round exhaust tips frenched into the valance look more Japanese than German.
In all, the 335i Sedan is a pretty sweet package, starting at $39,395, that could set off a new era of turbocharged performance for BMW. Let's hope the Bavarian automaker doesn't repeat the mistake of that forced-induction 2002 of the early 1970s: It had reverse-type “Turbo” graphics on its front spoiler, designed to be read in the rearview mirrors of the car ahead. It's far better to have the turbos underhood, unannounced, quietly making power.