When it comes to mid-size luxury cars, the BMW 3-series is often referred to as a benchmark. So I decided to go play around with the 3-series that I want: the 335i coupe. It’s the prettiest of the 3-series variants, and I have been itching to try out the BMW 3.0l twin-turbo ever since I read Peter’s review of the 135i. To shake things up a bit, I brought my wife this time. My thoughts, and hers, after the jump.
In all honesty, the 3-series coupe is a fairly silly car. It’s exactly like the sedan in every way, except that it has two fewer doors and is therefore more difficult to get into for passengers who are not my wife. While this could scare off moochers, and therefore be a good thing, it is really just sacrificing two doors for the sake of looking cooler. That said, if I were to buy a 3, I would want the cool looking two door variant. Practicality can’t always win. All in all, the coupe is a nice looking car. It doesn’t clamour for attention, but it does look interesting. It seems the design team at BMW is finally getting the hang of the whole “flame surfacing” thing that Bangle left them with, distilling it down to little more than a few, extra crisp character lines and some other little sculpted bits.
The interior is stunning with just the right amount of shiny things to make your inner magpie happy, but not enough to make the car painful to drive on a sunny day. The leather feels good to the touch, and everything is nicely adjustable, even though the lever to operate the steering wheel adjustment really didn’t want to go anywhere. I guess that it’s better than the whole thing coming loose when on the road though. When you sit down, the car even hands you your seat belt, courtesy of a small, breakable-looking arm that might be Mattel overstock. The front seats are great, and even the back seats are good enough for a quick ride across town, although I do think the brochure exaggerates when it says “With its two supple, supportive seats, generous personal space, luxurious trim, and dramatic lighting, sitting in the rear cabin of the 3 Series Coupe is like relaxing at an exclusive club.” The last time I checked, dramatic lighting was a tree of ellipticals with blue filters hitting one from the side in a theater, not whatever tiny light it was that I didn’t notice back there. Also, relaxing at an exclusive club shouldn’t start to make one uncomfortable after about half an hour. WIFE NOTE: The storage for passenger’s personal effects is well done. She liked how the compartment in the door could angle towards the user to make it more easily accessible.
Surprisingly, iDrive wasn’t even that bad. I managed to play my stereo testing CD without having to focus so much on the little screen as to cause a horrific accident. I made sound come out of a German luxury car all by myself, and said sound was even fairly nice, not brilliant, but still good. I played around a little, and strangely, it all seems self-explanatory. Now either I have some weird talent for deciphering BMW tech, or this was actually well-designed. Cool.
However, it wouldn’t cast a shadow over all other mid-size luxury cars if it were just pretty, it would have to drive well too. Luckily, I was in the version with the 3.0l twin-turbo engine designated “35i” for the public and “N54″ for petrol-heads. Peter ranted and raved about this engine in his review of the 135i and it is no different in this car. If you put this 3.0 litre boxer six in a car, I will like it. While the fact that there is tons of power and torque available immediately, the most astounding thing about this power plant is the turbo set up. There are two parallel turbochargers, one tiny one and one big one. The incredible thing is that there is virtually no turbo lag. I spent about half an hour looking for the turbo lag, and just once I think I may have felt a smidge of lag once, but I’m not sure. Between the driver and this glorious engine, there is a choice between the manual gearbox that Peter didn’t quite like in the 135i, or the semi-automatic that I was given, which does its job very nicely. The odd thing about the auto, though, was the paddles shifters. They are decently-sized and placed in the normal, wheel mounted position, but neither is designated “+” or “-”. Instead, if you pull one, the car upshifts, and if you push the little bits that stick out in front of the wheel with your thumbs, it downshifts. Since I’m generally disagreeable and enjoy making fun of things, at first I made fun of the whole paddle nonsense for making it too difficult to downshift, but then I had an epiphany; this alleviates my problem with wheel mounted paddles. Where normally I get angry with flappy paddles because I can’t make a sharp turn that requires a hand to leave three or nine without abandoning a paddle, this system allows my hand to upshift or downshift, and it only takes a little getting used to. I actually quite like it.
Straight line speed isn’t everything though. Thankfully, the suspension is wonderful. I hit a few corners at a good speed, but it was completely undramatic. If I’m going to make the 335i sweat, I’m going to need some meaner corners than there garden variety ones. Comfort suffers a bit though, between the sporty suspension and the Bavarian’s inexplicable love of run-flat tires, bumps in the road translate quite clearly into bumps in the butt. Now I don’t think BMW should change the suspension a bit, but for the love of all that is holy just let us have a normal tire.
What you’re probably wondering is: how much practicality does the 335i coupe driver have to sacrifice in order to look cooler? Surprisingly, not that much. The front seats will motor their way forward for you and reveal back seats that actually aren’t awful, even if they aren’t an exclusive club. The trunk is cavernous, good for two small bales of hay, several zebra’s heads, or three medium sized bodies, and if you do need more space the back seats fold down completely. Even the fuel economy isn’t terrible. The only bit of practicality sacrificed is really the back two doors. How often do you use yours anyway? This would make a fantastic day to day car for a petrol-head, and deserves the title of “benchmark.”
Summary: A sports car for every day, decked out with German luxury.
Base Price: $50,600 ($56,900 as tested)
Interior Design: 8/10 Everything, except the flimsy seat-belt presenter is gorgeous.
Exterior Design: 7/10 “Flame surfacing” is no longer a profanity.
Engine: 9/10 The phantom of turbo lag is elusive indeed.
Transmission: 8/10 The semi-auto is great, and I actually like the paddles.
Audio/Video: 8/10 The bloody thing actually works, and I didn’t have to consult the manual to play music.
Value: 7/10 Expensive, but you do get a lot for your money.