Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
There’s a road close to my house that runs under a train track, with a cement wall close on one side. Driving it means taking the long way home, but that’s a small price for getting a good listen to a car with a nice exhaust note: lower windows, flatten throttle; repeat as necessary. I saw a lot of this road after I brought the 2011 BMW 335is home with me.
The 335is is a new addition to the 3 Series line this year. The ’s’ designation, available on the coupe and convertible, points to a number of extras – mostly functional – including a unique exhaust system that BMW says was designed to enhance its 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine’s rumble. And rumble it does, as well as snarl, growl and even pop-pop-pop when the car is coasting. It’s a tasty sound that keeps you on the lookout for open stretches of road, not just for the soundtrack, but for excuses to use the extra 20 horsepower and 32 lb-ft of torque this car gets, compared to the 300 of each found in the standard 335i. The 335is is also the only non-M 3 Series to get the option of BMW’s new seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission (DCT).
On top of the stronger motor and freer-flowing exhaust, there’s also a larger radiator and more powerful cooling fan to pull air through it. If the lack of fog lights on this car upsets you, rest assured that deletion was made in the interest of creating the largest possible airflow openings in the front fascia. The engine mounts are stiffer, too, to help the motor stay put in hard charging. An overboost feature allows the engine to generate up to 370 lb-ft of torque for short periods at full throttle. This turbocharged engine typically displays a hint of turbo lag at low revs, but the programming that goes into setting loose this engine’s extra power appears to have eliminated it.
M Sport aero upgrades, high-gloss exterior trim and sharp-looking grey 18-inch wheels complete the look. And what a look it is: body tight to the ground, wheels filling the fenders and big brake rotors filling the wheels. As if the 3 Series Coupe wasn’t already enough of a hottie.
The 335is feels a little quicker than the 335i, but it’s the torque boost that’s really noticeable in off-the-line acceleration. BMW says the 335is will move from zero to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds with the DCT, while the best the 335i will do is 5.6 seconds with the six-speed manual.
The seven-speed DCT is a nice piece of mechanics. Like VW/Audi’s DSG/S-tronic, Mitsubishi’s TC-SST and Porsche’s PDK, BMW’s latest gearbox (it’s actually built by Getrag) uses two clutches in order to engage two gears at once and allow very quick, very smooth shifts from one to the other. It’s good that gear changes happen without drama, because there’s a lot of shifting to be done with seven ratios to get through.
Left to its own devices, the DCT is programmed for economy, shifting early and often to get into top gear as soon as possible. A sport button just aft of the shifter sharpens throttle response and tells the transmission to hold each gear a little longer and makes shifts a little quicker at the expense of some smoothness. Moving the shifter to the left, into the manual gate, keeps the transmission in automatic mode but delays upshifts, and increases responsiveness even more. At this point, a push or pull of the shift lever or the shift paddles behind the wheel calls up manual mode, handing complete control over to the driver.
If you have your doubts about the DCT’s manual shiftability based on the performance of the manual modes in many traditional automatics, forget them. This transmission, like all of the other dual-clutch gearboxes, is a joy to shift for yourself, even in sedate driving. It just works well. My only two complaints are that the shift paddles are fixed to the steering column, so shifting while turning becomes an issue; the other is that while I like these dual-clutch jobs, I still think nothing beats a plain old manual transmission for driving fun.
With the seven-speed transmission, the 335is’ official fuel consumption estimates are 12.4/8.4 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester averaged about 13 in city driving.
BMW’s Active Steering, a controversial feature in the eyes of driving purists, is a $1,500 option that wasn’t included on my tester. Its speed-based variable ratio aims to make the car easier to steer at low speeds, while increasing stability on the highway. I’ve never thought it necessary; the 3 Series’ steering is fine just the way it is, even if it makes for more work in parking situations. What you miss without it is the automatic countersteer feature that intervenes in a skid.
The 335is looks fast, and it is fast, but the 3 Series’ trump card is always handling. This car won’t do much in corners that a regular 335i won’t do, though the inclusion of the M Sport package and its uprated suspension make this car the driver’s choice. The big wheels and low profile runflat tires mean you’ll want to avoid potholes, and rough roads can transmit some clomping and clunking into the cabin. Surprisingly, though, road noise in general is well muted for a car with so much performance baked into its chassis.
Inside, the 335is gets BMW’s M Sport upgrades as standard, including seats with adjustable side bolstering and thick-rimmed steering wheel. It’s a comfortable car, but one best enjoyed by drivers and riders of average height: there’s no surplus of head- or legroom anywhere. BMW solves the problem of a coupe’s hard-to-reach front seatbelts with what it calls “seatbelt handoff,” basically a motorized arm that grabs the belt and places it within reach. When promising rides to friends, don’t forget that the 3 Series Coupe only seats four, the centre rear seat having been replaced by a console that incorporates a surprising amount of small-item storage. Speaking of storage, the 430-litre trunk is smaller than that in the 335i sedan, but not by much, and the rear seat folds in a 60/40 split to reveal a large opening – this is a truly practical sports car.
Truth be told, while the exhaust note is intoxicating, it’s never intrusive when you’re not in the mood. The performance upgrades do little to upset the car’s refinement; in fact, they give it the attitude that a car capable of this kind of speed deserves. Road noise, too, is what you’d expect of an M Sport 3 Series: audible but not annoying.
The 335is is priced at $58,800, a $5,400 premium over the 335i. That’s the price for not only this car’s extra power and snorty exhaust, but also for the fact that this car comes standard with the M Sport package (which normally includes upgraded wheels, seats, steering wheel and aerodynamic add-ons), which is no longer available on the two-door 335i. My tester’s options – Executive Package (alarm system, garage door opener, comfort access, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, lumbar support, park distance control, satellite radio and upgraded stereo, all for $3,900), voice-operated navigation for $2,000; metallic paint, $800; and the $1,950 Double Clutch Transmission – bumped the as-tested price to $69,445 including freight.
The 335is bridges the gap between the 335i and the M3, adding a touch of power and attitude to what was already a great car, while maintaining a better balance between comfortable ride and track-worthy handling than the M3 can provide. A price tag $13,000 less than that of the M3 is worth a lot, but having a car that makes you want to take the long way home is worth even more.
Pricing: 2011 BMW 335is
Base price: $58,800
Options: $8,650 (Executive Package, $3,900; Navigation, $2,000; Metallic paint, $800; Seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission, $1,950)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $69,545
Crash test results
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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