The case for M-power just got a lot weaker
The data doesn't make any sense. We're tearing our collective hair out trying to determine why the track-test numbers from our 2007 BMW 335i test car are so far off.
Our freshly minted 3 Series twin-turbo coupe has not only eclipsed BMW's own impressive performance figures — by a ton — it's also smoked those of the 2005 BMW M3 Competition Package, a car we called "The Best M3 Ever Sold in America." And while that admittedly turbo-deprived car had been a six-speed manual, the Arctic Metallic 2007 BMW 335i Coupe cooling in the driveway is but an automatic. Nothing about our Austrian First Drive of the car prepared us for this.
More than half fast
Consider the facts: This 2007 BMW 335i test car blazed from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds. BMW says the new coupe mit twin-turbo engine and Steptronic six-speed autobox should make that trip in 5.5 seconds. Seven-tenths of a second quicker? That's 13-percent better than BMW's claim. Folks give aftermarket tuners wads of cash for that kind of performance bump, especially when a car starts out in the mid 5s to begin with.
Our 335i similarly scalded the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 105.9 mph. For comparison, our 2005 M3 Competition Package used up 5.5 seconds getting to 60 and finished the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 105.4 mph — close, but still a rearview-mirror performance. We almost beat the all-powerful 2007 Audi RS4, too. Despite a 120-horsepower advantage and all-wheel-drive launch superiority, it just nicked our 335i's 0-60 and quarter-mile times by a paltry 0.1 second each.
Something's up. Could BMW be soft-pedaling the output and performance numbers to leave marketing headroom for a more outrageous 2008 M3 V8 to come? Did the luck of the draw or some other means provide us with an overachiever? We've gotta check into this.
There can be no doubt that BMW's new twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight-6 engine, complete with direct injection and a high 10.2:1 compression ratio, is impressive. Two smaller snails were assigned to only three cylinders each so they'd spin up faster, reducing lag and increasing torque at low engine speeds. Boy, does it work, as this beastie is rated at 300 hp at 5,800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque spreading from 1,400-5,000 rpm. In a rear-drive coupe weighing in at 3,579 as-tested pounds, that sounds about right — for 5.5-second 0-60 bursts, that is.
In order to see what she's really putting out, we've brought our 335i to the chassis dynamometer at MD Automotive in Westminster, California. And since chassis dyno figures are always lower than manufacturer ratings because the former includes drivetrain losses and the latter does not, we've secured the help of an alert reader who has volunteered his month-old 335i for comparison. Steve Harrison's identically equipped 335i automatic is fresh off a trip up the California coast and all broken in. We should be able to tell if our press car's performance is unique or not.
After a short time, two sets of fresh numbers sit before us. Steve's car produces 272 rear-wheel hp at 5,970 rpm. Considering drivetrain losses, he's easily seeing the promised 300 horses at the flywheel, probably more. Our test car produces a similar 273 at 5,970. But wait, there's more: While Steve's motor gently tapers off as rpm exceeds six grand, our mill continues to make more power until it tops out at 279 at 6,295 rpm, at which point Steve's 335i lags 19 ponies behind. Notably, our car maintains its advantage for the remainder of the rev range.
So what's up?
A comparison to BMW data shows that Steve has nothing to be worried about, as his 335i's rear-wheel output curve looks about right when compared to factory flywheel data. Our car is simply stronger in such a way that makes our pavement-melting 4.8-second 0-60 more understandable. But why?
We're glad you asked. MD's dyno can also measure turbo boost during runs. It turns out that at any given rpm in the disputed region between 5,000 and 6,500, our car consistently makes about 0.5 psi more boost. Subtle, but a little goes a long way. Is this mere production variation? We can't dig deep enough to know for sure. If anything, this exercise underscores the potential of aftermarket chip tuning. Ain't electronically controlled turbo engines fun?
For the record, during a desert freeway assault to Vegas at an average speed we don't care to print, the 335i achieved 25.9 mpg, compared to a 29-mpg EPA highway rating. With a lot of city and freeway stop-and-go thrown in, the overall average drops to 20.3 — just above the 20-mpg EPA city rating. With less lead in the shoes, the EPA figures actually seem attainable.
Even though the motor is the main thrust of the new 335i, we're sure some of you want to know about the car it sits in, the E92 3 Series coupe. Track and dyno numbers are all well and good, but what's it really like?
In highway cruise mode, such as our L.A.-to-Vegas dash, stability and on-center steering feel are autobahn-grade, as the coupe tracks straight and true while giving copious feedback through a fixed-ratio 16-to-1 steering gearbox. We're not certain how the $1,250 active steering option, absent here, could make it much better.
Contorted canyon roads are no match for it either, as the E92 slices cleanly through corners like a Ginsu knife and sticks like Super Glue, as evidenced by our 68.4-mph slalom run, the best 3 Series number we've recorded recently, M or otherwise. The dual-pivot front strut suspension is certainly at work here, as is the 335i coupe's standard sport suspension, uniquely tuned to suit its more athletic persona.
Yes, the 0.88g skid pad figure lags slightly behind the M3 Competition's 0.92g, but we're chalking that up to the 335i's lack of a limited-slip differential, which the M3 had along with bigger-still 19-inch high-performance tires. And it's hardly worth mentioning that stopping distances from 60 mph are 2 feet longer as well. Who's gonna complain about 114 feet with a rock-solid pedal and excellent feel?
Despite the firmer springs, larger stabilizer bars, half-inch-lower ride height and optional 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A performance run-flat tires — part of the $1,000 Sport Package — it rides at least as smoothly as our long-term 2006 BMW 330i sedan. Road coarseness is nicely filtered out most of the time, but some sharp edges periodically come through. Still, compared to the soon-to-be-replaced M3, a car this one can run with, the 335i Coupe is a much more livable daily driver.
That six-speed Steptronic transmission, a $1,275 option, is quite a nice piece. Not only are shifts firm and positive, but when commanded manually, they happen right now, with the throttle blipping up to match revs during downshifts. Manual control is available by slapping the shift lever to the left and flicking it forward for downshifts and back for upshifts. Steering wheel paddles that do the same are a worthwhile $100 upgrade.
Inside, where all of the above happens, is a welcome place indeed. Our 6-foot-2-inch tester had no trouble settling in behind the wheel, which tilts and telescopes like the one in the 3 Series sedan. More seat travel than he needs is available, and headliner and hairdo stay a respectful distance apart. The aforementioned sport package also includes substantially bolstered sport seats that clamp one in firmly, but don't confine or annoy.
Hurting our wallet, but not our backside, is the $2,450 premium package, which adds adjustable lumbar support and sumptuous black Dakota leather to those seats, along with Bluetooth and other electronic gadgetry. Navigation system aficionados who fork over another $2,100 will get on-screen traffic updates, which are a godsend, and iDrive, which still isn't growing on us. At least it's not compulsory here.
About the only miss in an otherwise impeccably trimmed interior is the apparent flimsiness of the robot arm that delivers the seatbelts to front-seat occupants. A neat idea, but our passenger-side unit came apart. It took a couple of tries to get tab A to snap back into slot B, but once accomplished, everything worked OK.
If you have the means
For the base price of $41,295, or even our 335i coupe's optioned-up price of $49,195, you'd be hard-pressed to find a sport coupe with this combination of outright speed, handling prowess and sophistication. A similarly optioned 2006 M3 coupe with the Competition Package costs over $57 grand, will be more brutal to drive and is no faster.
And whether our car's muy rapido 0-60 performance was anomalous or not, the random customer car we dynoed should easily match, and perhaps exceed, BMW's impressive-in-their-own-right performance figures.
Leaving all that aside, there's no doubt that this car is an excellent piece of work. It's not an overstatement to say that the 2007 BMW 335i is a significant milestone in the storied history of BMW's 3 Series. Until that 2008 V8-powered M3 comes out, that is.
Overall Grade: B-
||Harman Kardon Logic 7
||13, including two subwoofers
||Sirius Satellite Radio
|Price if optional:
||Single CD player but pre-wired for changer
|Bluetooth for phone:
||Yes, as part of an optional package
How does it sound: B
In general we've been very pleased with BMW's Harman Kardon sound system. The bass is deep, the highs are clear and the system sounds good no matter what type of music you're listening to. It's a premium audio system in a premium car and you get what you expect. The bass has sufficient presence but at times we wanted that bass to be sharper.
While the Logic 7 system does create a very believable surround-sound feel thanks to its DSP (digital signal processing), we'd like to see BMW offer a DVD-A system's true 5.1 or 7.1 surround. The DSP feature works best with music like classical or big band tracks.
How does it work: D
In a word, the BMW's audio controls are clunky. There's no point in continuing to malign iDrive at length, but that is clearly where the problem lies. There are plenty of customizable features like bass and treble controls, plus sound profiles for "theatre" or "hall" sound effects as well as a really nice equalizer that you can custom tune. It all works well but there's a counterintuitiveness to the way it all works — to the point that it sort of sours the experience. The diagonal display of radio stations seems illogical and the RDS feature sometimes shows stations by their call letters and sometimes by their "name," for example "The Wave" versus "107.9" Also, we think a multi-CD changer should be standard rather than optional.
Special features: Unlike the sedan version of the 3 Series, the coupe comes with this upgraded Harman Kardon system as standard equipment. The system includes two subwoofers and an auxiliary jack for connecting handheld MP3 players. The jack is located in the center console storage box, which seemed odd at first. But in practice, the location of that jack makes it so you can listen to your stored music without having an unsightly wire cluttering up the shifter or cupholder area.
Conclusion: With its deep menus and customizable features, it's easy to get just the right sound. We only wish accessing those features was a little easier. — Brian Moody
Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
If you're part of the BMW faithful eagerly anticipating the arrival of the next-generation M3, you may want to rethink your position. After driving the 335i coupe for all of one night, the next M3 has lost some of its appeal in my mind. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of tire-spinning torque, bulging bodywork and bitchin' exhaust notes as much as the next guy, but consider the facts.
The 335i may have only 300 hp, but it torched the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds and hit 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds. With an automatic. The last Ferrari F430 we tested only beat it to 60 mph by two-tenths. And what's the M3's extra 100 or so horsepower going to get you? A couple of tenths, maybe? Then consider the 335i's optional six-speed manual. Not only does it offer the possibility of even faster acceleration times, it's guaranteed to be better than the M3's dreaded SMG setup.
Set into Sport shift mode, the 335's transmission reacts quickly. You're scrubbing away from stops with the slightest push of the pedal and the shifts are firm. It may be turbocharged but the torque feels meaty, without any of the peaks and valleys you might expect from a turbocharged engine.
Sure, the M3 will have bigger and better brakes, stickier tires and a tighter suspension, but I can't imagine pushing much harder through the corners than I did in the 335. Like many 3 Series coupes before it, the 335i allows you to push its limits without feeling intimidated. The M3 isn't going to have better steering either, and there's a good chance it'll have more weight in the nose, too. Factor in a sticker price nearing $60K and I'm not nearly as geeked about the new M machine as I was a month ago. We'll see what happens when the M3 finally goes on sale in a year or so, but it better be damn good because the 335i coupe is great.
Inside Line Editor-in-Chief Scott Oldham says:
After three days in the 335i Coupe I was sold. This car has got it all: Sexy bod. Power to burn. Luxurious appointments. What's bad? Cash in the 401K, I want one.
Then it bit my kid.
It didn't mean to. At least I don't think so. It was one of those robotic arms that hand the front-seat passengers their seatbelt and then retract. It had no way of knowing 3-year-old Sophie had her hand in its path, and it retracted into its seat dressed with some flesh and more than a little blood.
Look, it was just a flesh wound, nothing a Band-Aid and a little ice cream couldn't fix, but honestly I think we were lucky. I'm pretty sure a half inch in either direction and maybe a little slower reaction on Sophie's part and it could have chopped off a digit. The remaining 48 hours I had the car were an odd mix of driving enjoyment and paternal paranoia.
So go ahead, buy yourself that 335i Coupe. It's a really great car. Just don't put anybody in the backseat without consulting your lawyer.
"This car is completely addictive, from the noise it makes, through the shove-in-the-back acceleration to the informative feel of the controls. I did not know that driving could become so entertaining again, and that after a day in the office I would look forward to the process of commuting home. It looks gorgeous, too, and is full of smart features (some rather over-thought) but many more useful than one would expect. Suggested improvements: The device that hands you the seatbelt looks a bit flimsy and I forget it is there and grab the belt too early!" — Steve W, November 8, 2006
"I'm a 3 Series nut. I previously owned a 2001 330ci, then a 2002 M3 Convertible. The 330ci was a bit too slow. The M3 was fast, but too harsh to be comfortable. The new 335i coupe is a perfect combination┐ it is as fast as (dare I say FASTER than?) the M3, but far more comfortable. It looks and feels incredibly classy, handles extremely well, is the perfect size, is fairly economical (I'm averaging 19 mpg in combined driving), and really isn't all that expensive considering minivans now cost nearly $40K. The 335i is by FAR the best combination of sport, comfort and beauty. I am shocked at how much I love my new 335i. I also suspect that these cars will hold their values very well. Suggested improvements: 1) Get rid of the heavy run-flat tires! 2) Make the back seat a 3-seater instead of 2-seater! 3) PLEASE create a navigation system that does not require the dreaded iDrive!" — Mountainman, November 2, 2006
"This is by far the most amazing machine I have ever driven. I came from a 325i, which I thought was fun. I did not realize the difference there would be. This is a gentleman's sports car. Can't imagine a $100K car being any more fun than this one. Suggested improvements: Maybe a little more storage, rear seat is spacious but the elimination of the center seat seems unnecessary." — patrickallos, October 16, 2006
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.