“Is this really it?”, I asked myself while glancing at the lines of the 335i standing inconspicuously in one of the parking bays of the pick-up point. Being well aware that this BMW just happens to be equipped with the 2007 International Engine of the Year, I did expect the flagship 3 Series model to be a bit more aggressively styled.
Of course, the saloon shape of the E90 doesn’t hurt the eye. In my opinion, the E90 shape is the best-looking 3 Series to date (I still prefer E92 – Ed); it’s just that nothing much really distinguishes the 335i from “lesser” models in the BMW line-up. There is a wider intake in the front bumper, 18-inch wheels and the lower section of the rear bumper does include a tailpipe on either side. So, there’s nothing really special there right? Wrong. Upon closer inspection, two huge exhaust mufflers are very much present behind those conservatively-sized pipes and, because BMWs were not turbocharged before, the intercooler does look out of place in the neat front design. The true calibre of the 335i really becomes obvious when one fires up that 225 kW 3,0-litre twin-turbo engine and blip the throttle just a few times…. What emanates from those twin exhausts is deep-throated burble, which begs you to unleash the full might of Bavaria’s latest straight six powerhouse.
Ironically, the throttle pedal needs a firm prod to get the Beemer moving from standstill, which could have been due to my reluctance to experience the full 400 N.m of torque, which is available from a very low 1 300 r/min, too soon. At the time, I still faced peak traffic on a rainy Cape Town morning. The six-speed automatic went along well with the crawl, always responded with alarming accuracy when I pushed the accelerator a bit deeper into the footwell, and kept the car in the optimal gear for when I needed to find quick gaps by the (then) quicker flow out of Town.
Out on the open road the 335i briskly stretched its legs, and I often glanced down at the speedometer… The car seems to be in its element at higher speeds, even with a load of three fully-grown males (okay, make that two and a bit) and a boot full of equipment. Although the 335i’s new six-speed transmission shifted up and down its cogs with dynamic precision, I wasn’t really blown away by the performance of the optional paddle-shifters located behind the steering wheel – shifting the automatic transmission felt quicker when executed by my left hand on the gearlever compared with pulling on the paddles. Then again, this is an auto, not an SMG, ‘box.
The 335i soaked up the bumps and imperfections well enough to make for a comfortable ride on the pothole-infested blacktop I had to navigate on the way to our destination. The NVH experienced due to the rather strong Southern Cape headwind was unfortunate, but I am sure that under more “sensible” conditions, the 335i packs ride refinement to trade blows with the best in its segment, even with low-profile 18-inch wheels and what I expect to be suspension leaning towards the sporty side. Just two taps on the “plus” button on the multi-function steering wheel saw my audio volume drowning out any noise, from a near-mute status too.
The BMW interior, while of high quality and superb finishing, fails to inspire any sporting driver to push the car into the unknown. Being a rather short fellow, I fitted snugly into the drivers seat, albeit with some adjustment needed, and was pleasantly surprised to have found my ideal driving position quite easily. My large-framed companion-for-the-day did complain of the difficulty he experienced just getting in and never quite looked all that comfortable in the passenger seat, while his assistant seemed to be in good position just behind, though at the expense of decent legroom due to my passenger having moved his seat to its rearward limit. I on the other hand, was too busy fiddling with the I-Drive controller, just trying to figure out how to get to the desired radio station. It must be said that as I sat in the driver’s seat, the stalk that accommodates the turn signals (or indicators, as they are commonly known) was completely out of my line of sight. Everything inside the vehicle fell into place perfectly for me, though the tilt required to keep checking if I was flicking the right stalk did irritate me slightly.
Overall, the BMW 335i is impressive enough to convince a self-confessed Japanese saloon lover like myself to consider the purchase of one. Even with the same amount of torque available at lower r/min, and the power deficit of 84 kW, the 335i suddenly makes me wonder why I ever wanted an M3….and certainly is saying something!