If you like to drive like your hair’s on fire, deciding between the athletic American 2008 Chevrolet Corvette hardtop coupe and the Bavarian corner carver 2008 BMW 335i is a bit like choosing between cocaine and cocaine. If you’re a more sensible motorist, it’s like choosing between A.H. Hirsch 16 Year Old Reserve Pot Stilled Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Schloss Rüdesheim VSOP brandy. in either case, the question is a matter of taste and price. Hence this test: which performance car offers the better buzz for $40k?
In recent years, BMW designers have suffered from the automotive equivalent of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, in which individuals become preoccupied with imagined or minor defects in appearance. Victims often resort to eating disorders. In this case, BMW turned to compulsive cosmetic surgery, pulling and tightening the sheet metal, and nipping and tucking away curves. Many BMW models look like they’ve had more work than Joan Rivers – with even scarier results. And don’t forget the gluteal implants (a.k.a. the Bangle butt).
Fortunately for the 335i, BMW has dialed back somewhat on the severity of the car’s look. The eyes (headlights) don’t look as overworked, the sides less scalloped, and the bulging trunk less Bangley. The overall comportment is now conservatively sleek and muscular without the distractions.
Compared to the Corvette, the cockpit of the 335i is an over-engineered fussy affair. I wish BMW’s automobilingenieure would have spent more time studying how to make it easier getting in and out of the car, rather than on the creepy mechanical arm that hands you the seat belt. Ingress and egress is much more difficult than the Vette’s. Front seats and steering wheel adjust 1,001 ways, yet I was never quite able to get the seating position exactly where I wanted it. And the tiny back seats? They’re not Mustang bad. How’s that for a compliment.
Much of the tester’s interior was a cream beige– which most buyers should should avoid. With only 14K miles on the odometer, the car was already fouled by smudges that stand out on the light-colored upholstery. The 335i’s instrumentation is classically European, which is a good thing, as are the tiny cup holders, which is a bad thing (unless you are on a diet – or only drink Red Bull).
The door-mounted power window controls are too far out of reach. I know I’m being picky, but BMW need only to take a ride in any Honda to find window controls that lie conveniently where the hand naturally rests. Can’t we expect as much from Germany’s vaunted engineers?
Once you’ve finally lost patience fiddling with the seat controls, you press the start button to animate the 3.0-liter dual overhead cam, 24-valve inline turbocharged engine. At idle, neither ‘Vette nor 335i telegraph their performance potential. But the BMW is a far smoother mill. Tooling around town under 3,000 rpm, you wouldn’t guess you were driving anything other than a vanilla four-cylinder Honda Accord. Give the go-pedal a kick, the turbo spools-up, and I’ll see your zoom-zoom and raise you zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom– all the way up to the car’s 7,000 rpm redline.
After driving the Corvette for three hours, the 335i’s dearth of horsepower is a major letdown. The fact is that the BMW has 136 fewer ponies to play with and weighs nearly 300 lbs more. This is more a testament to the ‘Vette’s strength rather than the Bimmer’s deficiency. Once the turbochargers catch their breath, the 335i hunts triple digits like a lonely cougar chases young himbos.
Ride quality is fully on par with the Corvette, which is a compliment for cars that offer this level of handling performance. And nimble it is. (Feel the force I do.) Despite its extra heft, the 335i weaves its way through corners with exceptional confidence and ease. The only demerit I would offer: the rear end gets hoppy under hard acceleration on anything less than a glassy smooth surface.
So how does this add up to a win over the ‘Vette? If you like to feel that the world is watching your every move or if you worship at the altar of Hippoi Athanatoi, the ‘Vette is the clear and unequivocal favorite. But the Corvette is frustrating to drive around town. A driver dare not do more than tickle the accelerator for fear of alerting the state police. The car requires a closed track to fulfill the full measure of its creation. The restraint required is maddening.
Conversely, with the 335i, BMW offers an elegant performance package that can be freely enjoyed with unrestrained abandon on surface streets and highways. In the real world, agility trumps epic grip. Day in and day out, the BMW 335i is simply more fun to drive.
[The vehicles reviewed, insurance and gas provided by CarMax]