motioncars
Teutonic Express: BMW 335i (2007)
 
On paper, it seemed like a gargantuan task: traveling from BMW’s Press Center in Munich all the way to Berlin. Worse was that I had a strict schedule to follow or else risk being left by my flight going back home. In the light of such matters, it only seemed logical to contract a car renowned for its unparalleled cross country pace and enough space to hold my Filipino bulk luggage. The BMW M5 was the only car on my mental list. No such luck according to the folks at BMW; someone already beat me to the punch. So, I just had to ask: what’s the best car that you have with enough space for my stuff and still have the pace to guarantee that I make it on time? Without batting an eyelash, they replied: the BMW 335i.

Though settling on the 3 Series Coupe when your mind is set on driving the M5 seemed like being a bit shortchanged, in my mind, it didn’t seem like it. In more ways than one, the 335i and the M5 are similar. For instance, both engines received The World Engine of the Year plum and both are filled with high tech stuff. In fact, the 335i shares one big advantage over its V10 engined big brother: it’s offered with a manual transmission from the get go (the M5 was initially offered with BMW’s Sequential Manual until the US market clamored for a stick shift). Perhaps, the 335i could be a worthy surprise waiting to be driven.

From the outside, it didn’t seem like it. Although the coupe version of the 3 Series shares almost no body panels with the sedan variant, the look is quite restrained. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the 335i’s lines: every bit is as crisp and clean as a neatly pressed Armani suit. However, the design is a bit too conservative for a coupe, an indication that all the wheel bulges and engine vents were reserved for the M3. Oh, how I wished some of the musculature could have trickled down on this car too. Having said that, the lack of unnecessary gashes, streaks and chrome bits here and there is a huge testament to BMW’s excellent fit and finish—and the 335i is a genuine example.

Inside, the story’s quite the same. Those familiar with the 3 Series sedan will be right at home with the 335i’s cockpit. Everything is logically placed and the driving position is spot on. And like its sedan brethren, the iDrive controller is left for satellite navigation duties only. Getting into the 335i’s driver’s seat is a slightly crutching affair—confirming that this car sits slightly lower than the sedan. Once inside, the interior’s a snug fit. There’s adequate head, leg and shoulder room but the leather sports seats have aggressive bolstering—hinting that designers anticipate a lot of lateral acceleration. With the center tunnel running through until the rear section, the 335i is only a 2+2, but at least the rear seats are genuinely useable. My 335i had a two-tone interior package with a black upper and beige/tan lower dash. And with the dark burr-walnut strip that runs through the dash, it does wonders to visually lighten the cabin.

One of the most unique interior features in the 335i is the automatic seat belt presenter—a mechanical arm that deploys to serve up the seat belt to driver and front passenger each time they enter the car. After offering the belt for about 10 seconds, the arm retracts, irrespective of whether the belt has been taken or not. First, I found the auto presenter a novelty, then a pain, then a genuinely useful feature. It takes some time to quell the urge to reach around and grab the belt manually, but once I’ve acclimatized and waited for the auto presenter, I found the device quite a nice touch.

Although it’s pretty easy to get lost in the 335i’s numerous creature features, the real raison d'être is the driving experience. Gripping the fat, three-spoke steering wheel and pressing the engine start button surely enhances the feeling of being a Formula One driver, but they just play second fiddle to the wonderful bellow of the twin-turbo inline-6 up front. Serving up 306 horsepower and 400 Nm torque (from as low as 1,300 rpm)—the 335i is the first BMW in a generation to feature turbocharger technology. And while some will raise eyebrows over concern with poor fuel economy and turbo lag, BMW has designed the new 3.0-liter inline-6 to counter these very two things. On the subject of fuel economy, the 335i uses direct high-pressure fuel injection and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust to improve the mileage by as much as 3 percent while improving emissions by as much as 20 compared to its normally aspirated 3.0-liter engine. On the performance aspect, the low pressure threshold of the two turbos and the flat torque band of the engine made sure that the car need not rely too much on the turbo boost to attain top-end performance.

All these technical advancements surely sounded good to me on paper, but it sounded even better from behind the wheel. Flicking the transmission into first, I set off for what was going to be the first of my thousand kilometer journey. Relying solely on the GPS navigation, I joined the Autobahn and quickly hammered the throttle pedal. Trying to disprove about the absence of turbo lag on the 335i, I made sure to be critical about it. But there was none. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the variable valve timing at work or the turbos, but whatever it is; redlining the 335i to 7,000 rpm is smooth and effortless.

One minor quip I have with the 335i is the transmission’s sometimes vague engagement. Though still very much slicker than your average sedan, the 6-speed manual seemed to have some hesitation on engagement. The extra-effort clutch is no help either. However, it’s a very minor distraction, and generally, doesn’t deter too much from the highly engaging driving experience.

On the subject of an engaging drive, the route from Munich to Berlin is mostly taken on the Autobahn. But with the help of the navigation system, I set forth toward the more entertaining back roads, where the 335i really strutted its stuff. This car handed everything I threw at it and every bend I threw it into. It manages to balance being an out-and-out sports car and a highly comfortable long distance tourer quite well. This is no doubt down to BMW’s prowess in suspension geometry and design with the 335i sporting aluminum front double pivot- and five-link rear suspension. In addition, this car has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. BMW made extra sure of that by relocating the battery in the trunk and even carving out the front fenders of plastic to counter the extra weight of the two turbos up front. The car’s so good; I once had to disengage the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) just to find out what kind of hijinks this car’s capable off. And rest assured, since I’ve written this story, I can tell you the 335i is a commendable handler with computer assist on or off.

After a few dozen kilometers of pushing the 335i to its 250 km/h speed limit and turning the traction control on and off, I settled down to a regular pace and focused on the long journey ahead. It’s times like these that you can easily mistake the coupe for its sedan brother because of its outstanding comfort despite running on lower profile run-flat tires. And unlike the sedan, the 335i has the extra push when overtaking is needed thanks to that amazing twin turbo inline-6. On the subject of fuel economy, I was accompanied all the way by an X3 3.0si. And despite the 335i having a 34 horsepower and 85 Nm torque advantage, the X3 had to stop 20 percent more times for petrol.

At the end of the long journey, I’ve never felt the arduousness of it. From behind the 335i’s wheel, I felt so wired, so connected to the car that I felt I had 24 valves in my heart instead of 4 and Castrol synthetic was circulating rather than blood. The flight back home actually felt more tiring. It took darn long for BMW to enter the turbocharged fray, but what an entry it is. Without a doubt, they’ve managed to re-written the sports car rule book once again and given the turbo veterans a big up yours.

By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang
As Published in the November Issue of Top Gear
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Astra La Vista: Opel Astra (2000)
September 18, 2000
Old World Brute: Nissan Patrol Safari
September 18, 2000
Newly Hatched: Toyota Echo (2000)
September 18, 2000
Goodbye Beetle: Toyota Echo (2000)
August 15, 2000
Steer Flick'n Good: Audi A4 (2000)
July 9, 2000
No Lucky Stars: Ford Taurus GL (1998)
June 11, 2000
Simply Bulletproof: The Honda Accord VTi-L Long-Term Test Update (1998)
June 11, 2000
Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998