2010 BMW 335
2010 BMW 335 Expert Review: Autoblog
We like to think of ourselves as a voice of the people – a place for the proletariat of the interwebs who clamor for an honest take on the latest automotive hardware. To that end, we've always viewed the constant stream of fawning over BMW with something of a jaundice eye. We get it. The company builds good products, but does it really deserve wave after wave of gushing prose in every car magazine? Even more troubling, does the 3 Series deserve its honored position as the benchmark against which all other mid-sized sports sedans must be measured?
In a word, yes. We say that almost against our plebeian nature, but if you've come searching for a scathing tear-down of the bread-and-butter 3, best point your clickers elsewhere. After a full week with the 2010 BMW 335i sedan, we've come to understand why the bastions of auto-journodom have spent the last 10 years drinking the BMW Kool-Aid. It's just that good. Read on to find out why the latest 3 Series continues the tradition.
Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
BMW has had 35 years to get the 3 Series recipe just right, and stylistically, the car has never exactly shattered the mold with wild bodywork. While Bimmer fanboys continue to debate whether or not Chris Bangle was the brand's savior or Satan, no one will debate the fact that his work on the 3 Series was a much needed change of pace. To this day, Bangle's influence still lingers over the sheet metal of our sedan. While the "Bangle Bustle" never quite made it to the four-door's rear, the subtle creases and slight flares that came into the BMW bloodline under the designer's reign remain to this day. The look isn't something that we'd call outrageous, but it is quietly gorgeous.
Up front, the 2010 335i couldn't be mistaken for anything other than what it is. The nose wears the same flared nostril grille and round headlights as the rest of the Bavarian flock and the slight contour of the hood line gives the face something of a furrowed brow. As a result, you can't help but think that if this car could speak, it would do so in a series of guttural grunts and growls. Whatever the tongue, traffic seems to understand just fine – cars make room for the 2010 335i like a bad habit.
Our tester came dipped in Le Mans blue – a dark metallic paint that makes every crease and curve pop no matter the lighting. The sedan also wore a set of 18-inch, 15-spoke dancing shoes that are part of the $3,750 M Sport package. For that kind of change, BMW will be kind enough to equip your four-door with a slightly tweaked suspension and reworked aerodynamic cues, along with a speed limiter that allows a higher top end. We'll – ahem – have to take their word on that last part. Out back, the 335i can be differentiated from its less potent kin by the prominent dual exhaust and a reworked rear diffuser. When viewed from the rear, the car loses some of its menace, but the design is still plenty attractive.
The M Sport package brings with it a smaller, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an M-branded shift knob and door sills. Our tester also came with a snappy two-tone interior, complete with beige leather seats and a black dash with faux metal accents. The overall effect is attractive, though the M goodies seem at odds with the light-colored leather. That's okay, though, because that steering wheel and shifter feel fantastic in the palm of your hands, even if they look like the 335i is wearing a pair of running shoes with a three-piece suit.
While some buyers may find the dash a little plain, we're smitten by the fact that it isn't awash with unnecessary buttons or dials. In a world where most manufacturers have taken pains to turn their consoles into quasi functional art, BMW seems content to make everything easy to find and a cinch to operate – at least in this spec. A calm, uninterrupted line carries all the way from the instrument cluster to the passenger side door. And speaking of the instrument cluster, BMW has stuck with its standard two dials. There's a speedometer, a tachometer, and not much else.
The front thrones are supportive enough for long interstate hauls with bolsters capable of keeping your rear planted should you decide to fling the sedan through the mountains. The rear seats are also nice, but don't quite have the same derrière-gripping ability as what you'll find up front. They offer decent leg room, though, so passengers in the six-foot realm can reasonably fit back there, even for extended periods of time.
That's a good thing, considering we found ourselves hijacking our passengers for extended romps through a variety of backroads. Few things will talk you into taking the long way home quite like the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that BMW has used under the car's hood since 2007. The engine produces a dead even 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, and the muscle is enough to hustle the sedan's 3,593-pound curb weight through traffic. We noticed a considerable amount of lag below 2,000 rpm, which other 3 Series have complained about and BMW has acknowledged and attempted to fix at least once. That said, we expect this issue to be addressed with the 2011 model that features a single, larger turbo.
According to the specs, the inline-six manages to crank out its full torque from just 1,400 rpm, but the power simply isn't there until the mill begins to spin a little quicker. Fortunately, the revs build fast and it's easy to keep the engine where it needs to be thanks to the six-speed manual transmission. Shifts are quick and gear changes feel precise without being notchy. We did notice that hard shifts from first to second require a certain amount of patience, though that could have just as easily been attributed to the fact that our tester came with over 7,000 brutal miles at the hands of the cruelest of the cruel – auto journos.
Buyers familiar with typically weighty steering from BMW will find the tiller in the 2010 335i a comfort. The wheel feels a little on the heavy side while you're muscling around the parking lot of the local Target, but comes into its own should you decide to do any hustling down your favorite stretch of tarmac. Turn in is excellent and there's little doubt it could get around a track with purpose. That sensation is bolstered by the brakes on the 335i. With 13.7-inch discs up front, the sedan has no problem scrubbing speed for the corners or coming to a complete halt should you demand it. In all, it's the balance in the big bad 3 Series that kept the grin on our faces.
With a damn-near perfect 50.9/49.1-percent front/rear weight balance in manual transmission guise, the car begs to be flung around. Throw in springs that are firm without being brutal and spot-on dampening, and the turbo 3 series is – to put it lightly – magnificent to drive. Despite the button down exterior and executive interior, the 2010 335i has bones that are simply meant to be flogged and truly enjoyed – something we have a hard time saying for nearly any other car in this segment. From the bark of the dual exhaust to the bushels of grip and braking power, the 335i leaves little to complain about.
But hey, we're the motoring press. If we weren't complaining we'd be on a cold slab in the county morgue. According to the EPA, sane drivers should manage to see somewhere around 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway – decent numbers given the horsepower on hand here, but not exactly figures you'd want to bring home to your mother, either. Do some quick averaging, and you realize that combined fuel economy sits at a shave above 21 mpg. Speaking of naughty digits, BMW does make you pay for all of the engineering goodies that it's packed into the 335i. The car carries an MSRP of $40,600, and that's before you start adding on fun stuff like the M Sport package or special paint.
Set your eyeballs on that price tag, and it's easy to start nitpicking all that the 335i doesn't have as standard equipment. As a base model, you don't get navigation, satellite radio, a rear facing camera or any of the other tech goodies more economical manufacturers hand over for next to nothing these days. And at first, that really irritated us. But as the week drew to a close, we began to realize that the car's price tag wasn't wrapped up in useless electronics or bells and whistles we'd use once and then forget about. No, each and every penny in the 2010 335i is soaked into what matters most in a car to people like us – the engine, transmission, chassis and suspension. The 3 Series is a driver's car and it deserves every accolades it receives. The aforementioned 2011 model packing BMW's new N55 single-turbo engine should receive even more.
Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Sporting character in every model.
The BMW 3 Series cars accelerate, turn and stop with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense. The 3 Series sedans define sports sedan and remain the target for every luxury car brand from Acura to Volvo.
The 3 Series comprises a range of sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons, with different engines, a wide variety of options, and a spread of $35,000 from the bottom to the top of the line. All models share mechanical components and similarly compact exterior dimensions. Differences lie in body style or exterior design, though the coupe and convertible seat four passengers while sedan and wagon seat five. We all like the top models, but we also recommend the less-expensive 328 models. They have as much power as most drivers will ever need, and they deliver the same inherent goodness as the 335s and most of the key features.
For 2009, BMW 3 Series gets a new version of that love/hate device known as BMW iDrive, the mouse-like interface the driver can use to adjust nearly everything inside the car. The sedans have been freshened with exterior styling updates and small interior refinements.
For 2009, BMW has introduced the 335d sedan, with a new-age diesel engine that's as clean as any of its gasoline counterparts. Despite its improved fuel economy, it retains the sporting character that has long defined the 3 Series line.
BMW sells more manual transmissions in this class than any manufacturer, and that probably says something about the type of drivers choosing the 3. Even the optional automatic transmission is tuned for crisp, sporty shifting. These are rear-wheel-drive cars, though all-wheel drive is available. Handling response is sharp and precise, and braking capability is best in class. The base engine in the 328s, BMW's trademark 3.0-liter straight six, is more than powerful enough for brisk acceleration and a sinfully good time. The upgrade twin-turbo six in the 335i is one of the most viscerally satisfying engines in production.
The four-door 3 Series sedan is most familiar, and among the most passenger friendly. The Sports Wagon adds substantial cargo space and utility. It's great for couples or families who often bring the dog, though it isn't available with the twin-turbo engine. The 328i and 335i Convertibles might be the sexiest 3s, with a fully automatic, one-button folding hardtop.
The two-door 3 Series coupes are the sportiest. The firmer sport suspension, optional with other body styles, comes standard on the coupe, and these are the lightest cars in the line. They seat four, like the convertible, but they'll appeal to those who want sporting capability something like a sports car's but need a reasonable back seat and decent-sized trunk.
The powerful engines are also efficient, and EPA mileage ratings go as high as 36 mpg Highway. Exterior dimensions for all models are relatively compact, making them good cars for crowded city centers. All are distinctively styled and clearly recognizable as BMWs, which should get you a good valet spot, depending on the places you frequent.
All 3 Series models have a full array of airbags, with good scores in government and insurance-industry crash tests. Available all-wheel-drive adds extra security in foul weather. All models feature the electronic wizardry that has become BMW's stock-in-trade over the last decade, including one of the auto industry's most complex stability-control systems. All offer gizmos you'd expect in larger, full-on luxury sedans, though we wouldn't recommend some of BMW's high-tech options such as Active Cruise Control, except to technology buffs.
Few cars in this class can match the 3 Series for its overall balance of high-technology, rationality and most significantly, performance and driving pleasure. Some competitors offer more room, more power, better mileage or maybe better interiors for less money. But aside from subjective price-value analysis, the noteworthy hitch in the 3 Series is the downside of its many electronic gizmos. There are long-time fans who'll tell you that the basic appeal of their favorite Bimmer is getting mucked up with too much annoying stuff.
The 2009 BMW 3 Series includes four-door sedans, two-door coupes, wagons and convertibles in 11 distinct models, without counting the extra-powerful M3s. Most are powered by BMW's familiar 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, and all-wheel drive is available. A diesel-powered sedan is new this year.
All 3 Series variants come standard with automatic climate and headlight control, a climate-controlled center console, heated windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD and BMW's self-braking Dynamic Cruise Control. Wheel size varies from 16 to 18 inches. All offer a choice of aluminum or different wood interior trims, with vinyl upholstery. A six-speed manual transmission standard, a six-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,325) is optional. Model designations are consistent across the body styles and standard equipment is similar, though the coupes and convertibles include a few more features in the base price.
The BMW 328i sedan ($33,600) is powered by a 230-hp 3.0-liter inline six. The 328i xDrive sedan ($35,600) adds BMW's xDrive permanent all-wheel drive system, noted by the x-designation on all 3 Series models so equipped.
The BMW 335i sedan ($40,300) and 335i xDrive sedan ($42,300) feature a turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter six, delivering 300 horsepower. The 335 models also add features, including power front seats with memory and BMW's Logic 7 audio upgrade.
The BMW 335d sedan ($43,900) is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel six in the same inline configuration. It generates 265 horsepower and a whopping 425 lb-ft of torque, and at 23 city, 36 highway, it delivers the highest EPA mileage ratings of any 3 Series model. It also qualifies for a federal tax credit of roughly $900.
The 328i Sports Wagon ($35,400) and 328i xDrive Sports Wagon ($37,400) offer more load-carrying potential and versatility than the sedan, with a rear tailgate and rear window that can be opened separately. The wagon is not offered with the turbocharged engine.
The 3 Series coupe is available in four versions: 328i ($36,500), 328xi ($38,400), 335i ($42,200) and 335i xDrive ($44,100). The shapely coupe has two doors, a two-place rear seat and a slightly smaller trunk than the sedan, with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension that's optional on other body styles.
The 3 Series Convertible features a retracting metal hard top that opens and closes with the touch of a button and comes in 328i ($44,300) and 335i ($50,400) versions. The convertible seats four, like the coupe, but it's not offered with all-wheel drive.
Options include the Premium Package which adds Dakota leather upholstery, Bluetooth cellular phone interface, power folding side mirrors, a digital compass in the rear-view mirror and hardware for BMW Assist. The Telemetric package provides safety, convenience and concierge services. The Cold Weather Package adds electrically heated seats, a heated steering wheel, high-intensity headlight washers and a split-folding rear seat with ski sack. The Sport Package includes sporting suspension calibrations tuned by BMW's M performance division for the sedan, wagon and convertible, more heavily bolstered sports seats and a wheel-performance tire upgrade. Radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,400) and hard-drive navigation system ($2,100) are available as stand-alone options. Sirius satellite radio hardware ($595), the Logic 7 stereo upgrade ($875) and other features are available individually.
Safety features include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags. The convertibles add knee airbags that help keep front passengers from sliding under the seat belts. Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid collisions, include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when it's raining.
The big news for 2009 applies to the 3 Series sedan. The four-door's look has been freshened with what's known in the car business as a mild facelift. The sedan, wagon, two-door coupe and convertible all look different, but all 3 Series variants are immediately recognizable as BMWs, and each shares design traits with the others.
The model line's high-tech theme is visible from the outside. All have xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, while many models come with adaptive bi-xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel to aim into a curve. All feature BMW's adaptive brake lights, which are based on the idea that drivers in the cars following a 3 Series will know when the 3 is braking hard: The LED lights illuminate more intensely, over a larger area, when the driver applies the brakes full-lock or when the ABS operates.
The similarities between 3 Series models start with a 108.7-inch wheelbase, which is the only obvious hint that under the body panels all 3 Series models are nearly identical. By every other exterior dimension, all body styles come within two inches of the other. In general, these are the largest 3 Series cars ever. Most of the extra width and length translates into more interior space compared to previous generations, particularly in the back seat.
The sedan is the best seller, and perhaps most familiar to the motoring public, though it's been updated for 2009. BMW's traditional double-beam headlights are now set in chrome tubes, with LED surrounds that serve as daytime running lights (DRLs). The new turn signals are vertically layered, with LED elements.
In side view, the 2009 sedan's rocker panels have a more aggressive flare. The side mirrors have been streamlined, without reducing the driver's field of vision. In back, the taillights have a more pronounced L-shape, and all the lighting elements are LCDs
Overall, the 3 Series coupe is a bit longer and lower than the sedan, and not as wide. With standard xenon headlamps, its front light clusters are smaller. The coupe's hood looks longer, and it's fashioned with a subtle dome that suggests a powerful engine underneath. The windshield flows into a roofline that's long and curved in a continuous arc, and lower than that on the sedan. With extensive use of plastic composite materials for parts such as the front fenders, the coupes are also the lightest cars in the line, even though they carry more standard equipment.
In profile or front three-quarter view, the 3 Series Convertible closely resembles the coupe. Its front end, and the arc its roofline, are nearly identical. The difference, of course, is the convertible's retractable metal hardtop, which opens or closes at the touch of a button in just 22 seconds. The top folds in three pieces and stows itself under the trunk lid. That lid is hinged both front and rear, so that it can open toward the back to swallow the folding top, and from the back to load the trunk. Thanks to the weight of the top's operating mechanism, as well as body reinforcements intended to maintain structural integrity when the top is open, the convertibles are heavier than the lightest 3 Series cars by some 400 pounds.
The 3 Series Sport Wagon is identical to the sedan from the center roof pillar forward. Rearward, its roofline tapers slightly all the way to the rear of the car, while the bottom line of the rear windows tapers upward slightly, creating a teardrop shape. Roof rails are standard on the wagon, and its rear gate opens electrically, with a switch on the key fob or dashboard. The rear glass opens separately, which is convenient for quickly loading lightweight items.
The 3 Series sedan's interior had been refined for 2009, and all models in the line get another evolution of BMW's iDrive system. The 3 Series cabin takes the best of several ideas first applied in the larger BMW 5 Series and 7 Series models, synthesizes them for a smaller car and improves them in the process. We aren't completely enamored with everything inside the 3 Series, but we have few serious gripes.
There are subtle interior differences in various models across the 3 Series. The coupe, for example, has different instrument script and a third wood trim option not offered in the sedan (dark-stained poplar). But the essentials, including dashboard, console and front seats, are the same across the four body styles.
The soft vinyl and plastics improve on previous generations in both appearance and feel, and they put the finish on better footing with the best in class. For 2009, those in the sedan have been upgraded again, with refined graining and more subtle differentiation in two-tone color schemes. All models offer a choice of real aluminum or various wood trims, and there's a lot of it on the dash and doors. BMW's Leatherette vinyl is not the least bit tacky, while the optional leather is soft and thick. The 3 Series follows BMW's tradition of soft orange backlighting for the instruments. Some will like it, some won't.
The dashboard has a pronounced horizontal format, with more community and less driver orientation than previous 3 Series cars. There are actually two dash designs. The standard setup has a single bubble, or hood, over the gauge cluster, while the optional navigation system is installed in a dash that accommodates it with a second hood in the center.
The front door panels are different on each side. The passenger side has a sloped, vertical door pull, while the driver's door lays the door pull horizontally in the arm rest. Window switches are clustered near the driver's arm rest, where they're easy to locate without glancing. In the 2009 sedan, the window and power mirror switches have been moved slightly rearward, giving most drivers an easier, more natural reach.
The 3 Series has no keyed ignition switch, relying instead on a slot-type key fob and a starter button. We do not like this system, and we're not sold on the benefit it has over a conventional key. The fob slides into a slot next to the steering column, and you push the button to fire up. The Comfort Access option makes everything automatic, and the thinking here is more obvious. With fob in pocket, the doors unlock automatically as the driver approaches, and the seats are waiting in their proper position. The driver just pushes the start button, and pushes it again when it's time to get out.
Seats have long been a 3 Series strength, and these are better than ever. Even the standard-trim front buckets provide excellent support without feeling too hard. The manual adjustments work great, though we recommend using them when the car is parked. The 335 models get power adjustments with three memory positions. The power seats that come with the Sport Package are outstanding, though the additional back and bottom bolstering make them harder to slide into. As passengers we might like them less, but as drivers we love them.
The audio controls could be higher in the center stack for easier access, and the buttons for station presets and assorted functions demand more concentration than they should. Switching between AM, FM and other modes can be distracting while driving. The orange readout on the stereo is almost invisible when wearing polarized sunglasses on a sunny day, even though similar readouts for climate control are perfectly legible.
The automatic climate control features separate temperature adjustments for driver and front passenger. A mist sensor measures moisture on the windshield and automatically adjusts the defroster, while a heat-at-rest feature keeps the cabin heated for a time after the car is turned off.
The single-CD stereo sounds good, with 10 speakers and separate subwoofers under the front seats. The 335 models come with an audio upgrade called Logic 7. It adds wattage and three speakers, with the latest digital sound processing and surround technology. Audio controls on the steering wheel work well, once they're mastered.
BMW's multi-layer, mouse-style iDrive interface is optional in the 3 Series, but if you want the navigation system, you'll have to take iDrive. For 2009, the iDrive control has been updated with BMW's fourth-generation version, which adds more buttons and a larger, sharper, 8.8-inch control screen. We'd probably still do without the navigation system. We've encountered few testers who like iDrive in any of its evolutions. It makes simple tasks like calling up a map or pre-setting radio stations a challenge. The navigation system comes with a hard drive the can store up to eight gigabytes of music, or about as much as the typical iPod.
In other respects, the 3 Series cabin is more user-friendly than ever. The coupe, for example, has seatbelt presenters, or motorized arms that emerge from little doors built into the rear side panels. It used to be that the driver and front-seat passenger had to reach way back to find their shoulder belts. Now occupants just sit down and close the doors, and the belts come to them. There are more storage pockets and nooks than before, and those in the doors are much larger. The new climate-controlled center console is a huge improvement, in both function and appearance. In the 2009 sedan, there's a larger storage tray in the center console, near the auxiliary audio input connector, which provides place to lay an MP3 player or other audio source. The cupholders are better than ever, too, though they still aren't the best.
Rear-seat accommodations are adequate. The rear air vents can be separately adjusted for temperature and air volume. Remember: this is a compact car, and rear passengers with long torsos will feel hair rubbing on the headliner. The center position is best left to children.
The rear accommodations are a little better in the coupe in terms of roominess, though access is more difficult in the absence of rear side doors. Because the coupes are four-passenger cars, the center space in back is replaced by a console, which includes individual storage boxes, additional air vents and footwell lights. There's decent legroom and more shoulder room. It's almost like sitting in a little limousine. There are even buttons on the outside edge of the front seats, in the shoulder area, so those in back can reach up and power the front seat forward to ease exit from the rear of the car.
The trunk is largest in the sedan (12 cubic feet), though still smaller than many comparably sized competitors. The 3 Series coupe's trunk is smaller (11 cubic feet), but the split-folding rear seatback is standard (an option on the sedan). A separate compartment under the trunk mat, measuring 1.7 cubic feet, adds space for small items that won't slide around.
The Sport Wagon is easily the best choice in the 3 Series line for cargo hauling. From the handling, accelerating or braking standpoints, it gives up nothing to the 328i sedan, and it adds a dimension of utility. Cargo volume increases to 24.8 cubic feet, floor to ceiling, behind the rear seat. With the rear seat folded forward, the 3 Series wagon can swallow nearly 61 cubic feet of stuff, more than some small SUVs. The wagon's load area is flat, too, which is good for dogs and cargo. It's fully lined with thick, soft carpet, and it's full of convenient features, including separate enclosed bins, cargo straps, bag holders, a power point, a cargo cover at seat height and a roll-out cargo net. The wagon is available with all-wheel drive, giving it winter-weather capability.
The Convertible offers the least cargo space. There's a maximum 9.0 cubic feet when the top is closed; lower it, and cargo space reduces dramatically. With the top down, count on maybe a medium-sized duffel bag, and make sure the top is closed before stowing anything.
The BMW 3 Series offers rear-wheel drive and manual transmissions in a class increasingly filled with front-wheel drive and automatics.
BMW's x-Drive permanent all-wheel-drive system, available in all but the 3 Series Convertible, greatly enhances all-season capability. The x-Drive delivers most of the power to the rear wheels most of the time, maintaining the sporting feel associated with rear-wheel drive, but it's great for getting the 3 through the worst winter slop without dramatics.
For 2009, the diesel-powered 335d sedan represents the most prominent addition to 3 Series line. It's powered by an ultra-high tech, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder diesel engine, with features such as all-aluminum construction, high-pressure direct fuel injection, and a turbocharging system that employs both a small and larger turbocharger for optimum response at low and higher speeds. EPA mileage ratings increase to 23 City, 36 Highway, or about 30 percent higher than the gasoline-powered 335i, though the current price of diesel fuel (15 to 20 percent higher than gasoline) largely negates any reduction in operating cost. The 335d is eligible for a federal tax credit for extra efficient cars (up to $1,500, depending on the model). The diesel generates fewer exhaust emissions than many gasoline engines and it produces less carbon dioxide.
The 335d diesel also provides a lot of power: 265 horsepower, with a whopping 425 pound-feet of torque. There's so much torque, even a casual jab at the gas pedal can spin the rear tires substantially exiting a parking lot. Once a driver gets used to the throttle, however, the 335d's torque can be a joy. In short bursts of say 100 ft, it will accelerate more quickly than just about anything on the road. It goes from 0-60 mph in under six seconds, in our best estimation, or about as quickly as a gas-fueled 335i with the automatic transmission. The diesel delivers the performance-oriented kick that has long been a 3 Series trademark, with none of the smoky, oily, stinky quality that old-time diesels might condition buyers to expect.
The 335d does have some shortcomings compared to its gas-fueled siblings, to be sure. It clatters more when idling, especially when it's cold. It's louder and rougher in general than the 3 Series gasoline engines. It's not as smooth as the latest diesels from Mercedes and Audi. The BMW requires urea to meet 50-state emissions standards. This ammonia-like substance is stored in an onboard reservoir, and the tank is more than large enough to be filled only at typical oil change intervals. Still, if the tank runs dry the 335d won't restart until it's replenished with urea. The 335d is the most expensive sedan in the standard 3 Series line. All things considered, we probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't a hard-core diesel enthusiast, or anyone who doesn't demand the CO2 reduction.
The heart of any BMW is its engine, and those in the 3 Series, including the new diesel, are first rate. They remain true to BMW's commitment to straight or inline six-cylinders, as other manufacturers have switched almost exclusively to V6s. The straight six presents more packaging challenges, but its unique performance characteristics and smoothness make it a favorite among enthusiast drivers. Every 3 Series is a fine performer and a technological tour de force. Driving has never been much better, or at least not with seating for four or five, decent mileage and a high level of comfort.
In both the 328i and 335i models, the engine is fantastic. We found the 328s fun to drive, with good throttle response that made us feel a class above other cars in traffic. Few will feel short-changed on performance if they make the more economical choice.
Either engine delivers quick acceleration by any standard: 0-60 mph times of 6.3 seconds for the 328i sedan, and 5.4 seconds for the 335i sedan with the standard manual transmission, according to BMW. And despite the impressive performance, all 3 Series models deliver decent fuel economy. EPA ratings range from a low of 16/25 mpg City/Highway for all-wheel-drive 335xi models with the manual transmission to a high of 19/28 for the rear-drive 328i coupe and sedan with the automatic.
We prefer the manual transmission, even though it isn't perfect, mostly because it allows the driver to more thoroughly exploit the goodness in the 3 Series engines. Clutch-pedal effort makes taking off easy, without having to think about it, and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced for either the base or turbocharged engine. During a casual drive through the countryside in a 335i coupe, we were content to leave the manual in third or fourth gear, depending on the road, and enjoy the scenery as the engine's broad power band kept the momentum flowing.
In a more aggressive mode of travel, working the gearchange frequently to keep the engine near its power peak, the 3 Series manual shifter falls short of the car's overall high standard. The throws are shorter then ever, but the gears engage with a vague, slightly stretchy feel. It's as if the engineers tried cramming slots for six forward gears into a shift pattern more properly proportioned for five. Coming back down through the gears, drivers must take care if they choose a gear out of its normal sequence (fifth to second, for example), as this requires some careful aiming.
For those who prefer not to deal with a clutch through their tedious morning commute, the six-speed automatic works very well indeed. The automatic can be a bit slow to react with an appropriate gear change in Normal mode, but leaving it in Sport mode solves the problem, with a slight payback in more abrupt shifting. Then there is the Steptronic manual mode, which allows manual gear selection. No problem with shift response when you do it yourself, and the optional steering-wheel paddles mean you can manually shift the automatic without removing hands from the wheel.
Beyond strong engines, every car in the 3 Series is characterized by an excellent balance of ride quality and handling response. For 40 years, this has been the prototypical sports sedan. It's about as close as you can get to sports-car driving dynamics in a more practical car, yet the fun never comes at the expense of beating up the passengers inside. The current 3s are superbly balanced cars, and in the right circumstances they're sinfully fun to drive.
The steering is light when it should be, at low speeds, with proper resistance and feedback at the higher speeds these cars constantly tempts drivers to explore. Nearly equal front/rear weight distribution leaves the driver in full command of where the car goes when, with a nicely tuned stability control system to keep watch should a driver venture beyond his or her capabilities.
The 3 Series suspension layout is borrowed from the larger 5 Series sedan, with double-joint aluminum control arms in front and a five-link fully independent system in the rear. This is trick stuff, but it's nothing compared to the electronics that manage everything. If something is amiss, BMW's Dynamic Stability Control system senses that a particular wheel is losing traction, then applies the brake at that wheel or reduces engine power in an effort to keep the car going in the intended direction.
Some buyers may worry that BMW's firmer Sport suspension, standard in some coupe models, makes the ride too harsh. We found in most cases, it doesn't. With its tight, rigid body structure as a foundation, the 3 Series suspension can be fine tuned to provide the dynamic handling enthusiast drivers like without sacrificing a smooth ride that pleases passengers. The Sport suspension may be jolted by potholes, but it responds immediately and maintains a level ride rather than seesawing up and down.
Still, many drivers will find that the Sport suspension borders on stiff, and especially in the convertible, where it can emphasize the shimmies inherent in a fairly heavy, open-top car. Given the overall competence of the standard suspension, the Sport package could be considered an unnecessary expense. If you're not sure which you want, we recommend the standard suspension.
In general, cowl shake and body flex is better contained in the 3 Series Convertible than it is in the Volkswagen Eos or Volvo C70. The open-top BMW 3 is a solid as convertibles go, but the owner will experience little bits of twisting and shaking that he or she would not in any other 3 Series model. It's simply the price paid for wind in the hair and sun on the face.
The good news is that noise levels in the convertible are low, top up or top down. Top down, air flow is channeled in a fashion that allows front seat occupants to converse easily at freeway speeds. Top up, no surprise, it's as close to a coupe as it can be without actually being one. There's the slightest whistle from the seams between the top's pieces, but the thick headliner quiets almost all of the outside rumble.
Braking is excellent in any 3 Series. The brake calipers and rotors are larger than ever, delivering more clamping force than most competitors. And thanks to BMW's electronic management, the brake pads move within a hair of the rotors if the driver suddenly releases the gas pedal, even if the driver hasn't yet considered slamming on the brakes. The pads also lightly sweep the rotors every few seconds if it's raining, just to be sure there is no significant moisture build up. Again though, the slick electronics come with a payback. The non-linear, progressive algorithm that controls the brake system can make smooth stops a challenge in casual driving, at least until the driver has had time to get familiar with the feel of the brake pedal.
The BMW 3 Series provides something for every taste, from sedan to wagon, coupe to convertible. For 2009, there's a new high-tech diesel. Any of the 3 Series are among the sportiest, most enjoyable cars in a class full of good cars. All remain benchmarks for overall performance, and none exacts a significant toll in efficiency, practicality or comfort. The 3 Series offers BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, and every model is laden with leading-edge technology. Prices rise quickly and substantially from the bottom of the 3 Series line, and we'd guess that most buyers will find the least expensive models as useful and enjoyable as the most expensive.
J.P. Vettraino filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Detroit. Tom Lankard contributed from central California, and Larry Edsall from Marin County in Northern California.
BMW 328i sedan ($33,600); 328i wagon ($35,400); 328i xDrive sedan ($35,600); 328i coupe ($36,500); 328i xDrive wagon ($37,400); 328i xDrive coupe ($38,400); 335i sedan ($40,300); 335i xDrive sedan ($42,300); 335d sedan ($43,900); 335i coupe ($42,200); 335i xDrive coupe ($44,100); 328i Convertible ($44,300); 335i Convertible ($50,400).
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($2,150) includes M sports suspension, 18-inch wheels with W-rated performance tires, power sport seats and 155-mph speed-limiter; Dakota leather upholstery ($1,450); iPod and USB adapter ($595); Comfort Access keyless start ($500); Sirius satellite radio with one-year subscription ($400); steering wheel paddle shifters ($100).
BMW 335d sedan ($43,900).
2010 BMW 335 Information
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