I remember when the BMW 330i came out, with its fat 18inch 5spoke rims and heaps of torque. That was the last of the top of the range naturally aspirated 6 cylinder units from BM. Fast forward to 2012, and the F30 335i delivers dizzying performance for a sedan from a turbocharged 6cylinder engine, but purists don’t have to jump in front of the Gautrain just yet.
I’ve previously driven the 320d, and thoroughly enjoy the newest incarnation of 3. Both units have been Sport Line (something I myself would choose), but the 3 is also available in Modern and Luxury line. The engine in the new generation 3, code name N55, replaced the twin turbos in previous 335i for a single turbo using twin-scroll technology, VANOS and direct injection. For those who care, twin-scroll turbos have two inlet valves (letting the air in) one angled sharper for quick response and another wider and less angled for peak performance. This helps the turbo dial up power faster at lower revs, and yet deliver consistently across the power band into the red line.
I focus so much on the 335i engine because it truly is one of the most amazing engines I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting behind. Where a C63AMG is pure power, big muscle torque and loud noises (all of it fantastic), the 335i delivers the same relentless power in any gear at any rev range thanks to that turbo. The note from the 6cylinder engine isn’t as evocative as a big burbly V8, and you don’t get that turbocharger dump like in the 4cylinder units, but it delivers refinement with that little bit of engine note in a perfect balance. Pushing out 225kW and 400NM from as low as 1200RPM the 335i provides power in all gears and anywhere in the rev range unlike any other engine I’ve experienced.
The 0-100km/h is done in 5.5seconds. It’s fast, but what surprises is that it’ll just keep going, or get going at any speed with no delay. There’s no waiting for turbo to spool just relentless power right up till you get to illegal speeds before you know it.
The unit I had came in Sport Line as mentioned above which brings numerous changes to the front end, high-gloss-black trim and similar red inserts in the dash and on the key. The Sport line befits the nature of the engine, and thankfully was also fitted with the adaptive suspension, which offers Eco, comfort and sport modes. This does allow the 3 to settle into a more relaxed, comfortable cruiser when you need to. It’s definitely worth the extra money, my only gripe being that it’s a little too artificially wafty in comfort mode, and not just comfortable. Select sport on the dynamic drive as well as sport for the 8-speed ZF gearbox and the 335i hones down to become a targeted sports sedan. With faster shifts and firmer suspension it leaves you wanting very little in the handling department. Get going and you might catch yourself out running into a corner too fast, but the superbly tuned suspension will reward with feedback, and in Sport+ mode it’s all in your hands to keep the rear reigned in. Where the new 3 is slightly dialed out of a totally engaged experience, is due to the dynamic suspension and the variable sports steering (an option), that can sometimes give a very artificial steering feedback. I just loved how focused you could have the experience, and then dial it all out to just cruise or save fuel in eco / comfort mode. Such a polarized experience from one vehicle is impressive, and it’ll be the future of most vehicles as they offer different modes and styles for your mood.
I raved about the interior in the last 320d and the 335i was pretty much the same spec. As said before the iDrive system is much improved and I find it the best system of the German trio, with a lovely colour screen on top of the dash that looks like it folds away but in fact doesn’t. A good pairing was the Head-Up display (option) that projects speed and various other data (Traffic sign recognition also shows the speed limit in that exact area) onto the windscreen in front of you. It’s really useful considering you can lose all sense of speed. The rest of the interior is typical BMW, with high quality materials and I really enjoy the simplicity to each dial and button. Ergonomically a lot of work has been done to make the interior as simple as possible to work with, with such little things that stand out, such as when you gently slide your finger over the 1-8 radio buttons the selected channels for each button show on the screen without having to select it. What has to be noted is that there are still very little standard stand out features. The Bi-Xenon adaptive headlamps (option) were an absolute dream, probably some of the best I’ve encountered, adapting in breadth and length at every point and turn to make sure the road is illuminated at all times, unfortunately the automatic high beam didn’t get it right all the time, no doubt giving many an oncoming motorist arc-eye in the process.
The 335i really surprised with its polarized nature, select ECO-Mode and regenerative braking and other engine and vehicle technology make sure every move is as economical as possible. I returned close to 12l/100km overall, with little use of the technology, and that’s pretty damn excellent considering the driving style in the 335i. BMW claims you’ll get just over 7.2l/100km should you drive like you actually bought a 320, but I doubt fuel efficiency is really high on a 335i buyers priority list.
The new 3 is so hard to fault, it does everything a sports sedan has to do, and more. It can carry 4 adults in comfort in the rear (leg-room improved), their baggage in the rear and still keep the same performance. Problem is, fully loaded, it is expensive. Base 335i with Sport Line (Auto) is R570K (sounds reasonable), but add Driver Comfort Package + Sunroof + Parking Package + Driving Lights Package + others and it’ll set you back R646 000 which is a lot of money for a very quick sedan with some nice kit.
Helpful buyers advice: go for the 328i, which will save you a R80K and has similar (read slightly slower) performance, and you can spend the rest on putting in options like leather seats, a steering wheel etc.