Chris Bangle’s designs are still a shock to the system. I still cringe whenever one of the BMW's “flame surfaced” 7 Series hoves into view. I still shake my head when I catch a glimpse of a 5 Series’ mascara headlights. I still avert my eyes when any of his models drive past, for fear of glimpsing the rightfully reviled “Bangle butt.” So I was flabbergasted when I encountered the new 335i coupe in the metal. From its balanced proportions to its elegantly cut creases and demure posterior, it’s a stylishly conservative yet sporty design. Was Mr. Bangle on vacation when The Board of Directors approved this machine?
There’s another pleasant surprise when you open the 335i’s door: no iDrive. As BMW is currently upgrading its navigation system to include real time traffic reports, early coupes are blissfully free from the dreaded electronic verruca vulgaris and the binnacle bulge needed to contain its screen of impenetrable wonders. Wow, I can control every system in the car just by pushing a clearly marked button placed handily on the dash before me. What a concept! There’s even a cute cubby where the iDrive might otherwise have been.
And that’s it for warm fuzzies. The rest of the 335i’s interior is best described as workmanlike. The well-tailored leather, for example, is about as sensually satisfying as a business class airline seat. There’s also an unwelcome lack of attention to detail. The window controls are set too far forward on the doors. There’s a large blank plastic spacer covering the space for rear window switches. On the positive side, the 335i boasts the best stereo of any 3-Series BMW ever. Outward visibility is also outstanding; the 335i’s greenhouse reminds me of the old 2002.
The 335i holsters the world’s first direct injected twin turbo inline six. The 3.0-liter engine’s 300hp output slots between the 330i sedan (255hp) and the as-yet-unpriced and unavailable next gen M3 (400hp). So, for an extra $4k above the 330i's sticker, you lose a couple of doors and gain… torque. LOTS of torque: three hundred foot pounds of the stuff.
Fire-up the 335i and there’s no indication you’re in for a WWF-style body slam. The powerplant is quiet and still, in the great BMW tradition. Give it some, and the 335i starts as it means to finish: assaulting your neck and body with shove, shove and more shove. The great bugbear of turbocharged motors– a lag between low rev thrust and high rev insanity– has been slain, skinned and made into an attractive throw rug. The Bimmer’s blown engine accelerates from any speed to any speed with unrelenting urgency, without the slightest hesitation whatsoever. There’s little turbo whistle either– just a mellifluous resonance that morphs into an unearthly mechanical howl.
Everybody is going to love this engine. The 335i ambles about town with mindless ease, goes like Hell, and delivers unimpeachable fuel economy. (I measured 28 mpg over 50 miles on a green engine.) Before driving the 335i, I leaned towards smaller engined BMW’s, just to listen to those wonderful straight sixes wind out. So much for that, This motor altered my paradigm in a major way. The 335i's six-speed automatic gearbox is also a revelation. The aluminum paddle shifters may look like they were designed by HR Giger of Alien fame, but the transmission upshifts flawlessly and blips the throttle for perfectly timed downshifts (note to BMW: add SMG to the list of technology I can live without).
As you’d expect, the 335i’s dynamics are pretty much flawless. The brakes are a tad too taut for stop-and-go traffic, but they achieve perfection when the pace quickens. Likewise, the steering is too firm at low speeds but just right in every other situation. With less than 3600 pounds to toss around, carving corners in the 335i is as smooth as writing on copier paper with a fine pen. Despite run flat tires, BMW has cracked the code for simultaneous plushness and road feel. In fact, the 335i drives like a sort of gentleman’s M3: relaxed and serene when you want to kick back, maniacal and focused when Mr. Hyde rears his ugly head.
The 335i is the best driving BMW I've ever driven, and among the top three automobiles, I’ve experienced this millennium. It's a killer app that simply spanks the competition. In case I haven’t been clear, the BMW 335i Coupe is the best way to spend $40K – $50k on an automobile and feel like you got a bargain. It’s more fun to drive than cars twice its price (650 anyone? Nope.). The 335i is fast, comfortable, economical and good looking. And if you forego satellite navigation, there's nothing to remind you of those “other” BMW’s.