Up Front. The tagline in billboard ads for the new BMW 335i is that the car represents "the coup d'etat of coupes." It's a cute line, but my own reaction was more like a "coup de foudre," which is French for falling in love at first sight.
Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, the 2007 BMW 335i Coupe is one of the finest cars I've ever driven. BMW's 3 Series coupes and sedans have always been marvelous vehicles—quick, agile, and good-looking. But this new coupe goes a step beyond the previous models: It's the first BMW to get the company's new turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. The engine has not one but two turbochargers, raising its rating to 300 horsepower, 45 more horses than in the '06 BMW 330i Sedan and 75 more than the '06 330ci Coupe.
Putting so much power under the hood of an entry-level Bimmer is a real revolution. Within BMW's lineup, it makes the 335i about as fast as the more expensive and traditionally far speedier M3, which is now going out of production. (BMW won't comment, but next year the company is expected to come out with a new M3 powered by a 400-plus-horsepower V8.) The 335i's new engine also puts BMW back in the game vs. such rival Japanese models as the Lexus IS350 (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/5/06, "2006 Lexus IS 350"), with its 305-horsepower V6 engine, and the Infiniti G35, with its 298-horsepower V6.
In BMW terms, the 335i is a relative bargain. The base price of the 335i Coupe is $41,295, only about $3,000 more than the '06 BMW 330ci. That isn't much of a price hike, considering all the extra power you get. Impressively, the new 335i starts out at more than $8,000 less than the 2006 M3. (There's also a new 335i Sedan, which starts at $39,395 and is just arriving in the showrooms. It has four doors but doesn't have the coupe's sporty suspension. If power and blinding speed aren't your priority, the '07 BMW 328i Coupe with a naturally aspirated engine costs a lot less than either 335. More on the 328i below.)
Of course, in real-world terms the 335i is more expensive than its main rivals (Mercedes, as usual, is the exception). The Power Information Network—which, like BusinessWeek, is owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP)—figures that the average current selling price for the 335i Coupe is $45,905, vs. $39,473 for the Toyota-built (TM) Lexus IS 350, $35,938 for Nissan's Infiniti G35 Coupe, $32,915 for the Cadillac CTS from General Motors (GM), and $32,575 for the Acura TL from Honda (HCM).
Part of the reason for the BMW's high selling price is that—as is typical of German cars—adding options can really jack up the price. For starters, the BMW comes standard with a stick shift, which is what driving enthusiasts tend to prefer, and adding the Steptronic six-speed automatic transmission that many American buyers want costs an extra $1,275. Other major options include heated seats ($500), Sirius satellite radio ($595), active steering ($1,250), Dakota leather ($1,450), active cruise control ($2,200), and a navigation system ($2,100).
There's also a $2,450 premium package that includes fold-away power adjustable outside mirrors, Dakota leather, power lumbar adjustments in the seats, and Bluetooth communications capability. A $1,000 sports package adds 18-inch alloy wheels, run-flat performance tires, and eight-way power adjustable front seats.
The BMW's price doesn't seem to be deterring many buyers, however. The new coupe just came out in September, but sales so far have been very strong. The average 335i spends a mere eight days on a dealer's lot before selling, according to the Power Information Network. The only rival model that's anywhere close is the Lexus IS 350, which spends an average of 20 days on the lot before selling. The comparable figures are 42 days for the CLK350 Coupe, 45 days for the Acura TL, 60 days for the Infiniti G35 Coupe, and 78 days for the Caddie CTS.
Behind the Wheel. You can get into a Lexus, Infiniti, or Cadillac and think that they're great cars. In fact, in my review of the Lexus IS 350, I speculated that if car reviewers could do blind driving tests like the blind taste tests wine writers do, the Lexus might top the BMW a lot more often. Well, I was wrong. When you slide behind the wheel of the 335i, you realize that there isn't anything quite like a Bimmer.
For starters, this new BMW coupe is significantly faster than BMW rates it. The company says the 335i will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds with an automatic transmission and 5.3 seconds with a stick shift. Don't believe it. I easily got my test 335i with an automatic to do the trick several times in under 5 seconds. My fastest time was a blazing 4.8 seconds. That's four ticks faster than my best time in the Lexus IS 350 and two ticks faster than my best time in a Chevy Corvette with an automatic transmission (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/6/06, "The No-Sweat 'Vette").
Handling is also marvelous. This car feels very tight. That's partly because the frame on both the 335i Coupe and the sedan is 25% more rigid than on the models they are replacing. The sports suspension also has been upgraded. For the first time, the 3 Series coupe now comes with the double-pivot front suspension that's standard on more expensive BMW models. The coupe also gets the more agile five-link rear suspension that already comes standard on 3 Series sedans and station wagons.
If you're not into manual transmissions, you can still have a blast driving the car. If you let the car do the shifting itself, the Steptronic transmission is tuned to emulate the shifting pattern of an experienced driver using a stick shift. The car sounds and feels very much like a manual transmission would as it goes through its paces on its own.
But, of course, it's a lot more fun to do the shifting yourself. If you go with the automatic transmission, I'd definitely pay the extra $1,000 for the sport package mentioned above, because you can then add steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for just $100 more. Maybe I'm getting old, but I find using paddle shifters almost as much fun as a stick shift (and you don't have to master using a clutch pedal). The latest version of the Steptronic transmission is much quicker than the old one. BMW says there's 40% less lag time than in the past when you start a shift, and the transmission now completes the shift in half the time it took before. Moreover, you can move effortlessly in and out of manual and automatic modes: If you don't make a shift manually within 15 seconds, the system goes back into automatic mode on its own.
The great thing about the 335i's new turbochargers is that you barely know they're there. Working in conjunction with a direct fuel injection system, the turbos deliver enormous power in one long, constant band. There's no lag when you punch the gas, as there often is with turbocharged engines. You hit maximum torque (of an impressive 300 lb-ft) at just 1,400 revolutions-per-minute, and the power is maintained right on up to 5,000 rpm. You feel like you could just keep accelerating like a bat out of hell forever. Yet there's none of the annoying whining that turbochargers often have. The 335i's engine has a low, throaty growl.
The 335i's interior lines are clean, and there's a very distinctive curved plane running the length of the dash that adds some flare to the design. The workmanship of the leather is impeccable. Dark burl walnut trim is standard, but you can substitute lighter woods or brushed aluminum at no extra cost. The sporty power seats in the coupe are very comfortable and supportive.
Keep in mind, though, that this is a very small car by American standards (the Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a subcompact). The coupe has a center console in the middle of the rear seat, so it can only accommodate four passengers (the sedan lacks the rear console and seats five). The front seats are roomy enough, but head and leg room in the rear passenger area will probably seem very tight to anyone over six feet tall.
Buy It or Bag It? The big question with BMWs is always whether they're worth the premium price. If money is a major concern, my suggestion would be to test-drive the new Bimmer against whichever of the rival models mentioned above you prefer. The 335i is a heck of a car, but paying ten grand less for, say, an Infiniti G35 is pretty tempting. And you always wonder if a BMW will match the long-term quality and durability of a Lexus or an Infiniti.
Then again, if blinding speed is a priority and price not much of a worry, you may want to wait for the new BMW M3, which is likely to hit the showrooms next fall. And if you absolutely have to have a Bimmer but are hard-pressed to afford one, consider the 328i, which has an average selling price of $40,994, about five grand less than the 335i. You'll also save a lot on gas: In a stretch of 355 miles of mixed driving I got 25.6 mpg in my test 328i Coupe, vs. only 20.8 mpg in 120 miles of mixed driving in the 335i Coupe.
The 328i's naturally aspirated inline six cylinder engine has been bumped up to 230 horsepower, which makes it plenty fast for most people. In a 328i with an automatic transmission, I got 0-to-60 times of about 6 seconds, and the car handles similarly to its more expensive sister model. Plus, the 328i is now available in an all-wheel-drive version at a starting price of $37,795. A fair number of female buyers end up going this route: 40.3% of the 328i's buyers right now are women, according to Power Information, vs. only 18.2% for the 335i.
For myself, though, I think I'd try very hard to scrape together the extra cash for the 335i. Every driving enthusiast should own a Bimmer at some point. And for the money, there are none that can match this one's speed and agility.
To see more of the BMW 335i, click here.