Review: 2013 BMW 335i M-Sport Steptronic
I don’t think that my review of the M235xi rustled too many jimmies among the B&B — but it did cause one of our readers to sit up straight in his chair and say, “Hey, I want this idiot to drive my car, just to uphold the honor of the mighty Roundel.” Or something like that. So what we have here is a fully loaded, fifty-seven-thousand-dollar Bimmer 3er, ready to rip around my modest suburb and show off a few party tricks.
Let’s get started.
Looks proper, doesn’t it? The visual… stubbiness that afflicts the 2-Series is absent here, mostly because this is a very large car by BMW standards prior to the turn of the century. Some of the details are really nice — look at the three-dimensionality of the chrome grille and the overt sporting nature of the bodykit. The front end is clearly drawn to comply with European pedestrian regulations, but you’d never mistake it for anything but a [s]Pontiac Grand Am[/s] BMW and more importantly, neither will your neighbors.
I’d praised the interior of the M235xi, but not all of you agreed that it looked like a fifty-grand car. Well, this one is better, and there’s a distinct improvement in the materials quality across the board compared to the Two. The lower-spec 335i that I drove for R&T’s Sweet Science test had a two-tone interior that did not stand up to direct comparison with the opulent confines of the Q50 or the Eighties-Nippon-chic of the Lexus IS350. In the funeral full black of this example, with just the metallic blue trim stripe to distract from what would otherwise be a completely monochromatic cockpit, things are somewhat improved.
We start the test drive with me occupying the passenger seat so the owner — let’s call him Chip, because that’s a great name for a 3-Series owner — tells me about his career and his relationship with the BMW marque. He’s younger than I am and this is far from his first BMW. It also wasn’t his first choice; he picked it because four-door M3s weren’t thick on the showroom floors when he was shopping. His next car will be the twin-turbo M3 DCT that has managed to capture my respect, but not my affection. Chip shows off the various features of the car, including a frankly fascinating display mode that shows you what cameras mounted on both sides of the nose can see. This is beyond brilliant for urban environments where you often have to poke your car’s front end out past a bunch of double-parked Range Rovers and whatnot. Every Viper and Corvette should come with these cameras.
When it’s my time to drive, Chip puts the car into Maximum Sport mode, or some approximation of it. Launched from a stop, this Three feels a little more spry than the Two. I’d guess that the broken-in motor makes enough power to account for the frankly minor weight difference between an RWD Three and an AWD Two. The same comments — rapid but not DCT-accurate shifting, a willingness to sit at redline in manual mode, relatively close ratios — that applied to this transmission in the smaller car apply here. It’s so lovely, however, to not have that moronic front axle interfering. I could come to like this car for the way it torques its way out of roundabouts and the near-seamless shift from second to third when you’re trying to hustle on back roads.
If only I could love the way this big Bimmer corners — but I cannot. It’s balanced and predictable, about as close to neutral as you can have in a modern street car, but again you’re steering by eye and ear, not by feel. I’m willing to put up with this shit in a C5 Corvette, because in a C5 Corvette you can lay waste to a wide variety of drooling mooks at pretty much any open trackday, but in a car that (cue the furious comments) is barely any faster than my Accord, I’m not as forgiving. What I will say is this. Given the usual caveats, such as “you can’t really learn much about a car’s handling on the street”, I think this car out-handles the M235xi. I was able to get a few miles per hour more exit speed on a few different corners and the drama quotient was very low. You can get all four tires squealing in a long turn and the 335i is very well-behaved while you’re doing it.
I know what you’re thinking. RWD car out-handles AWD car. Film at eleven, right? But it’s more than that. It’s the way the steering ratio works with the longer wheelbase, it’s the better driving position, it’s the way you can adjust the car a bit without worrying about when the front axle will take an interest in your shenanigans and what it will do when that interest appears. You don’t need to go to a racetrack to feel the difference. If you think you need the “X” version of a BMW, you should drive both and decide whether you can live with what the tacked-on FWD does to the car’s dynamic qualities.
Now let us turn our hymnals to page 2002, like the man said, and take a look at the $14,000 worth of options:
The base car is $43,150. That’s a bit of a deal, actually; I paid that much for a 330i M-Sport back in 2001 and it was a hundred horsepower south of this car. Not, mind you, that I wouldn’t rather have that 330i and a solid punch to the throat over the modern F-whatever Bimmers. The M-Sport package is $3,200. Yeah, you want that. If you stopped right there, you’d have a hell of a car. Cold Weather Package is $950, and it’s hard to do without it here in Ohio. And it has heated rear seats too, just like a Hyundai Elantra! The Driver Assistance Package is $1,900 and I’m not sure it’s worth the money, even if it has BMW NoseView(tm). The Premium Package is $2,200. BMW has some nerve to charge that kind of money for stuff my Accord V6 has standard. The Technology Package is an eye-watering 3,100 for a nav system and Bluetooth audio. Come on, man!
The automatic transmission is $500.00. Chip got it so his wife could drive the car. The last few women I’ve dated have been motorcycle owners or stick-shift Jeep Wrangler drivers so I wouldn’t have to make that choice, thankfully. The side window shades, which are very nice for children, are $575.00.
The M3’s base sticker is $62,925 or thereabouts, but remember that you don’t get all this stuff with a base M3. What Chip’s constructed here is a very rapid, very comfortable, very well-equipped luxury sedan. It’s basically an old 535i with a 335i badge, minus the Bangle-era flame surfacing and the brilliant steering. Costs like one, too. The current Five feels like a Seven, and the current Seven feels like a Wal-Mart version of the Rolls-Royce Ghost with which it shares mechanicals, so this is all just fine. You can think of it as the opposite of the downsizing the domestic manufacturers did thirty years ago. Remember how the LeBaron became the New Yorker, and the Le Mans became the Bonneville Model G? This is the same thing, in reverse.
Just as the hasty downsizing left big Parisienne-sized holes at the top of automaker lineups, BMW’s commitment to fatkini-friendly proportions has left a very conspicuous empty space in their showrooms. Something the size and weight of the E36, maybe. The M235xi ain’t it. The upcoming smaller BMWs will be FWD. It’s amazing, really; BMW doesn’t make a proper 3-Series any more. Yet their sales continue to grow. It would be like if Jeep just canned the Wrangler, or if Ford stopped making the F-150.
Driving Chip’s 335i, I kept thinking of my old 330i M-Sport. The moment I saw it in the dealership lot, I knew I’d pay whatever it took to put it in my driveway. I had raw desire for it, the kind of thing that shakes you by the scruff of your neck, the way you feel when a woman in the fast-food line ahead of you turns to give you her profile and it’s simply perfect and in that moment you fall for her, the needle and the damage done. I liked this Estoril Blue sedan but I didn’t have any desire for it. Just as soon have an A4, or a Cheap-class, or my Accord. Just don’t care. Fifty-seven grand is a lot of money to not really care — but if something about this car does call to you, I beg you, leave that front differential at the Dingolfing plant, okay?
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I bet the "Chip" guy is some kind of handsome dude with a baller job, attractive wife, and lives in a huge McMansion. To a dude like that, $57K on a car is not that much money... and he probably doesn't drive an Accord because he can afford to pay the extra cash for something awesome. If I ever meet this "Chip" dude, I will congratulate him on having good taste.
As a former zhp owner, I know exactly why I sold mine. Every non drivetrain related part was falling apart. I remember my justification to the wife at the time I bought it, a 330i zhp with an Active Autowerk supercharger is all the car I will ever need, I'll never sell it...it was a great drive though, now it resides in Memphis. I replaced it with an uber rare (at least in KC) 2010 G37s sedan MT. Much better brakes, 95% of the steering feel and cooler tech type stuff I'm not really into. I miss this car dearly, but an injury forced me into automatic tranny car.