I made what I thought was a mistake about five minutes before typing this blog: I clicked absentmindedly through our online Geneva show coverage and stumbled across just what I had tried to avoid: photos of the next BMW M3. (Labeled officially as a concept, but based on recent history, there's no reason to expect the final production car will look much-if any-different.)
See, we had BMW's official M3 pics days ago, but I purposely ignored them. The reason: I didn't want thoughts of the next super coupe to spoil my anticipation for the subject of this blogosphere entry, the 2007 335i sedan. As you might guess, this has happened to me before.
But as I looked over the pictures and read my man Jonny Wong's summary of what lies beneath the M3's skin, I felt none of my feelings or impressions of the 335i melting away into anticipation for the M car. No doubt the M3 will be a marvelous driving tool, one enthusiasts and critics will continue to rave about years from now. Yet so many mid-to-high-level sports-oriented cars have extended so deep into the performance envelope that pining over their maxed-out brethren is somewhat akin to winning the latest Powerball jackpot, then dreaming only of investing the cash so you can become even richer.
When it comes to cars at this point, wishing you had the next step-up is dangerously close to hedonistic self-indulgence, and it's virtually pointless. The fact is, no matter how much you drop on a car, it's almost a given that you'll eventually run across someone who has something "better." Feeling like the $#!^ because you just took delivery of a Bugatti Veyron? Well, here comes your Monte Carlo neighbor in his, except he paid the factory an extra $250,000 for an additional 175-hp. You, my friend, are now an inadequate loser; you may as well send your Veyron back to the factory and just get a bus pass.
Unless, of course, you can reconstruct human nature and just enjoy what you have, which brings us back to the 335i.
I stopped comparing this car to other cars within 10 minutes of my first drive. That might sound strange, considering automotive journalists are by definition almost compelled to do just that. Otherwise, how do you know if a car is, relatively speaking, any "good?"
Here's how: You feel it. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter's fat torque and upper rev-range power. The weighty steering that allows you to place the car wherever you want, whenever you want. The brakes that stop you now. And a sport suspension/chassis combination that absorbs the hardest driving you can throw at it while providing as much feedback as you'll ever need.
Actually, I lied. I did compare this 335 to one car: the old M3. I didn't have a choice, because on the road-even ones covered in snow and salt-this new sedan feels and performs eerily similar. No, it doesn't quite have the hi-rev punch, but the mid-range torque pretty much negates that. The chassis might not snap into corners with exactly equal authority (and I'd prefer a limited-slip diff), but it feels nearly the same. I drove on public roads (not racetracks or skidpads) without data logging equipment, so I can't tell you the 335 accelerates as fast as an M3, brakes as well or pulls as many lateral gs. But as someone with a good amount of M3 seat time, I can tell you that I didn't think I was missing a lot, or that I had experienced much better in any previous version of the 3 Series. Hell, I covered 50 miles before I even remembered this was a turbocharged car, and that realization had nothing to do with any turbo lag (it doesn't exist) or other characteristic giveaway.
Speaking of giveaways, our test car's $44,795 price tag isn't quite the bargain of the decade, but I don't need the cold weather package, the premium package or the park distance control. I'd keep the $1600 sport package (suspension, wheels, tires, sport seats and steering wheel) and buy the car for $40,995. That's about $9,000 less than the about-to-be-replaced M3-one of which happened to pull up next to me one afternoon as I cruised along. I didn't envy its driver one bit.
Some might call that going backward. I call it forward progress.