BMW loves America, and to prove it, BMW is sending us a North American exclusive sports coupé and convertible. No, it is not some fabulous concept car turned production, its last year’s 335i cranked up a notch with some M3 parts and an exhaust system that’s too loud to be sold in the EU tossed in for good measure. Does that make the 335is the perfect 3 series? BMW tossed us the keys to one for a week to find out.
Before we talk about the 335is, we need to talk about the refreshed 2011 3 series first. Since the 3 series has remained largely unchanged since 2007, BMW decided a mid-cycle refresh was in order. For 2011, all 3 series coupés and convertibles get a new nose, new headlamps with new LED “angel eyes,” some new tail lamps, rear bumper tweaks and some rocker panels. As a result of the rhinoplasty, the 2011 model gains an inch and a half over the previous model making it the longest 3 series ever (3.5” longer than the sedan). Inside the changes are essentially limited to the instruction of the latest generation of iDrive and some new paddle shifters on models with that option.
The biggest change BMW has made for 2011 is under the hood, and here is where 335is owners will have some explaining to do on autocross days: The 2011 335i has traded in its twin-turbo setup for a new twin-scroll single turbo setup ala Volvo’s T6 engine. The twin-scroll design uses two exhaust gas inlets on the turbine side of the turbocharger, one each for of three cylinders. BMW says that this increases turbo response and improves efficiency. The new “N55” engine in the 335i delivers the same power output as the former “N54”engine in 2007-2010 335i models, but does so with greater efficiency and a slightly better torque curve. The N55 also brings BMW’s Valvetronic system to the party offering not just variable valve timing, but variable valve lift.
Now here’s where things get a bit complicated: the 335i uses the new N55 engine, the 335is uses a lightly reworked version of the N54 (twin-turbo) engine producing 320HP and 332lb-ft (with an overboost function boosting the torque to 370ft-lbs for 7 seconds) vs the 335i’s 300HP/300lb-ft. Big deal you say? Two words: aftermarket tuning. I am told by an aftermarket chip company that the N54 has a far greater mod potential than the new N55 engine. There are a number of companies out there than will take an N54 engine up to 400+ HP and 400+ lb-ft of torque. For those wanting M3 performance on a “budget” the 335is is now the new foundation.
Compared to the plebeian 335, the “s” gets you a more sculpted front and rear bumper with large cooling vents placed where foglights reside in the regular 335, and a blacked out front grille. Out back there is a sports exhaust system which BMW claims to be unique to the 335is, but forum fans indicate it is available as an aftermarket accessory from BMW. Under the hood the cooling system has gone supersized with a high output fan, upgraded oil cooler, an auxiliary radiator and widened openings in the front bumper.
All this is included because BMW assumes 335is buyers will track their car on weekends, so they need the extra grunt and the stay-cool-bits. Lest we forget the important part, the 335is carries a $7,000 larger price tag. (When adjusted for standard equipment, the premium is around $4,000) Anyone notice something missing? That’s right: no brake upgrades. This is the chink in the 335is’ armour. Basically BMW has created a car that goes faster and handles slightly better with the capacity to drive the car harder, but did nothing to improve the stoppers. Given the extra shove the 335is provides, this is a problem on windy mountain roads where I managed to get the brakes overheated without actually trying. I’m not sure I’d want to track this puppy without addressing the brakes in some manner.
Inside the 335is there are fewer differences from the 335i. The “s” brings the 7 speed DCT transmission from the M3 (with fewer modes however) vs the 6 speed slushbox, an M steering wheel and short shift 6 speed transmission with an M shift lever and some faux-snake skin aluminium dash trim. Other than that the interior is stock 3 series, which is not a bad place to be. The Dakota leather seats are very comfortable, the up-level Harmon Kardon sound system hits all the right notes, and although our tester was a pre-production model without cruise control of any sort, BMW’s web site claims all 335is models will have radar adaptive cruise control standard. Also standard on the 335is, like all 3 series models are just about the worst cup holders available on this continent. I seriously want to know who thought the flimsy pop-out cup holders that are both miles away from the driver, and cause ingress/egress problems for front passengers were a good idea? Gadget hounds will love the new 4th generation iDrive with the high resolution screen and 3D effect navigation maps, and they will probably rave over the automated seat-belt-hander-thing that pops out of the rear. Personally, a car that hands me my seatbelt kind of creeps me out.
On the road, the 335is behaves basically the same as the 335i with the M sport suspension, which makes sense since that’s what it is. Power delivery is effortless, grip is substantial and damping is firm. The 335is equipped with the BMW DCT truly shines; the shifts are not only crisp and practically perfect, but 0-60 times are greatly improved. BMW quotes the standard 335i as 0-60 in 5.3 (manual) and 5.5 (automatic) while the 335is clocks in at 5.1 (manual) which is only a slight improvement, but 5 seconds flat when equipped with the 7-speed dual clutch transmission. What makes this stat impressive is when you consider that this is 5 seconds flat repeatable every time, with perfect launches. After some practice runs I was able to eek a hair under 5.4 seconds (no rollout) to 60 with the 6-speed manual transmission. Apparently I should not quit my day job and race for a living. In my defence however, at these power levels the road surface is your greatest enemy, had the road surface been perfect I’m sure I would have hit 5.2.
On large oval tracks, owners will notice the “s” model gets you a top speed limited to 150 vs the standard 130 (335i models with the M sport package also have a 150MPH limiter), but it’s not the top speed that makes the 335is a great car at the end of the day: It’s the fact that BMW has made an able highway cruiser that handles and accelerates well enough for an occasional weekend at a BMW owners club event. Purists will deride the lack of upgraded brakes, which did bother me, until I came to the realisation that BMW is truly the new Mercedes. Chock full of electronic gizmos, widgets and nannies, well executed designs and high-quality interior parts; this is exactly what I would want Mercedes to make. Except Mercedes would have probably given me decent cup holders.
Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the 335is. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers. Tony J: With our G-Tech accelerometer based performance meter, I recorded a skidpad of .88-.89Gs on an approximately 300ft skidpad (open parking lot). I have seen reviews as high as .93, so road surface of course plays a huge role here. Patrick C: Yes, it actually will do a burnout, fairly easily I might add. Richard M: I drove the 335i to the community pool, but was denied entry.
BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.