3 Series excellence, continued
Normally, coupes are exercises in vanity: all fluff and no substance. Ego-trumping sensibility. Liberace bitch-slapping Alan Greenspan. No one knows this better than BMW, which has been in the 3 Series game since Gerald Ford was cracking his knuckles in the Oval Office. It's getting pretty good at the game, as evidenced by the outstanding latest version of the 3 Series, which debuted as a 2006 model in "E90" sedan form only. As in previous generations, the coupe version is released just when the panting over the sedan has subsided.
With the 2007 BMW 335i Coupe, the second-stage booster of the 3 Series family is alight, hurtling the 3 Series along its intended path with renewed thrust. Really, though — does anyone need a coupe version of the newest 3 Series? The coupe would only be gilding the lily if it didn't offer up anything other than sheet-metal revisions.
It does, and you do.
New metal, familiar face
Longer, lower and completely restyled, the coupe shares critical chassis and suspension hard points with the sedan. To our eyes, the coupe is the more attractive of the two, especially from the rear. BMW's design team was shooting for elegance in the exterior styling, and it is indeed handsome without resorting to tiresome retro design cues.
It's a little puffy-looking in the midsection, but that's hard to avoid considering the 3 Series has grown the way it has. Remember the 8 Series Coupe? Well, the 335i rides on a wheelbase 3 inches longer than that car. Fortunately, the 335i avoids the perpetual weight gain of modern cars, squeaking in at 22 pounds lighter than its sedan stablemate, despite besting the sedan's chassis stiffness by 25 percent.
Inside, the coupe's cabin looks familiar, but those are redesigned front seats mounted a little more than half an inch lower than in the sedan. Like a robotized butler, new automatically deploying "feeders" shove the belts to within easy reach of front-seat occupants, and disappear from view when not needed. A neat touch.
The rear seat is divided by an extension of the center console, making the coupe a 2+2 only. Usually this is a proclamation of useless packaging, but in reality the rear seats are still sensibly sized, accommodating the extremities of 6-footers in relative comfort.
The turbo engine for those who don't like turbo engines
Powered by a twin-turbocharged, intercooled 3.0-liter inline six loosely based on the engine currently found in the 3 Series, the 335i's engine is the first turbocharged gasoline BMW engine in decades. The turbo engine forgoes the aluminum-magnesium block found in the normally aspirated variants in lieu of an all-aluminum block. Direct injection, whereby the fuel is introduced into the combustion chambers rather than into the intake manifold, improves efficiency and performance by cooling the intake charge, allowing a high 10.2:1 compression ratio.
BMW pegs the 335i's 0-62-mph acceleration at 5.5 and 5.7 seconds for the manual and automatic, respectively, courtesy of the new turbo mill's 300 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 1,300-5,000 rpm.
Turbo lag, the period of time between throttle application and the turbo's ability to provide meaningful boost, is essentially nonexistent for all practical purposes. Only in higher gears when modulating the throttle to adjust the handling balance can the engine's artificially aspirated nature be detected. Other than that, this new turbo engine simply feels like a larger-displacement, normally aspirated engine.
Equally surprising is that there is no audible indication of turbocharging, either — the characteristic intake whoosh and turbo whine are completely absent, and there's no bypass valve chuffle, either. The only clue that there's something else going on other than normal aspiration is a slightly bassier exhaust note. That, and the wallop of the torque plateau, giving the 335i a linear thrust that pulls eagerly to the 7,000-rpm redline. Expect to see this turbocharged engine in other BMW models currently housing a straight six — 5 Series, X3 and the M Roadster/Coupe are the most likely candidates.
Equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox, the 335i shifts smoothly, much the same as the sedan, though throws are still not Mazda MX-5 short. There's also a new six-speed automatic transmission, which drives impressively (did we just say that about a slushbox?), its manual mode shifting rapidly and holding gears as long as the driver pleases. There's still the impression of a torque converter soaking up some power, but its operation has a delicacy not normally associated with such wretched devices.
Two wheel-mounted shift paddles are set up the way God intended, with thumb-presses to downshift and paddle-pulls to upshift. Works great if you always keep your hands at 9 and 3. Thing is, wheel-mounted controls are never in the same place once the wheel is cranked over, so drivers who continually shift hand position will still pine for column-mounted paddles.
Suspension changes relative to the sedan consist of a little more than a half-inch lower ride height, revalved dampers, larger-diameter stabilizer bars, slightly higher spring rates, polyurethane shock bushings and reworked bumpstops. This "sport" suspension, optional on lesser 3 Series coupes, is standard equipment on the 335i Coupe, and although a softer "base" suspension will be available for the 335i, skip it.
Offering an impressive ride/handling trade-off, the sport suspension also never beats you up; its damping is firm, yet compliant. Get really bombing along a bumpy road and you'll become intimately familiar with those new bumpstops, but they're progressive and friendly. In nearly every other situation the handling remains collected and connected, with plenty of steering feel and intuitive, eager turn-in. The steering ratio feels quicker off-center than the sedan, but is actually the same ratio at 16:1. Feeling as natural and reassuring as ever, the 335i's brake hardware is carried over from the sedan.
On the absurdly scenic roads outside Innsbruck, Austria, moderate understeer was the primary handling mode, though controllable power oversteer could easily be induced in lower-gear turns. One surprise was the seeming lack of grip. At first, we assumed the chassis was being pantsed by lame tires, but its 225/45R17 front and 255/40R17 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE050As aren't known for being grip-averse. Previous experience with the RE050As, a summer tire, has been positive, so maybe the 335i's lack of drama on the limit fooled our butt-skid pad. We'll see how the 335i fares on U.S. roads and our non-gluteal skid pad when we do a proper full test. For those who prefer even less grip, all-season tires will be standard. Eighteen-inch wheels, Active Steering and the RE050As are optional.
Everything in its place
With the 335i Coupe's additional slug of power, BMW had to take care not to tread into M territory while still adequately distinguishing it from lesser 3 Series. It succeeded. In contrast to the M-cars' high-revving, normally aspirated intense character, the turbocharged 335i has a more docile, relaxed manner. It feels confidently capable but doesn't tug at the leash like an M3, which will seriously out-power the 335i anyway.
Each approach has its place, though the boosted 335i may ultimately prove to be more attractive as a tuning platform once aftermarket tuners learn the subtleties of direct injection and crack the labyrinthine engine control system.
Packing good looks, a friendly chassis and enough engine to make it entertaining, the 2007 BMW 335i Coupe delivers on the promise hinted at with the debut of the E90 sedan. Consider us all geared up for the M3.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.