Of all the characteristics for choosing a car there are really only two that can inspire pure passion from potential owners. Those are attractive styling and raw power, if a car can boast both it’s sure to become an object of desire. The BMW 3-Series has seen 34 years as exactly that, an object of desire for social climbers and now in its fifth generation is showing no signs of weakening. For 2009 the E90 3-Series has been aesthetically reworked to put a refreshed face in front of some serious mechanical muscle.
Within the current 3-Series range the 335i is the right high-spec specimen to show off BMW’s engineering triumphs. Car and SUV bypassed the necessary raw ambition and financial achievement to get behind the wheel of a new 335i sedan and uncover its allure.
The 335i starts where many 3-Series models have before it with a straight six-cylinder petrol engine. But unlike its naturally aspirated ancestors the 335i breathes deeply with a pair of turbochargers. It’s an athletic and advanced power plant pumping out 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque that’s available from just 1300rpm. This all aluminium unit’s signature blend of flexibility, sheer grunt and mild manners has seen it take three awards in the International Engine of the Year competition.
Open the throttle on the 335i and it’s quick to show what the fuss is all about. It springs off the line with plenty of vigour and without turbo lag taking occupants to 100kph in just 5.8 seconds. While the silky smooth six-cylinder engine is impressive standing alone it’s the turbo configuration that’s the real star of the show. It’s a three phase set up that uses a small turbo that kicks in almost immediately on taking off, the second larger turbo then engages to strengthen the boost and as the revs climb the smaller one drops away leaving the larger turbo to take care of business solo. Power delivery is instant, seamless and while strong never distorts the 335i’s regal character as a luxury cruiser.
If you’re thinking that this sort of grunt will hit you hard at the petrol pump, BMW is out to prove you wrong. Following some spirited driving and a mostly suburban road test the 335i achieved an average fuel consumption of just 10.1l/100km. This was a remarkable feat for a turbocharged performance engine and only slightly higher than BMW’s quoted 9.6l/100km combined figure.
Gear shifting duties are handled by a clever 6-speed automatic gearbox, that may not be as technically impressive as twin-clutch competitors but is as good as a traditional box gets. Shifts are smoothly refined in three available modes — normal, sport and manual that makes use of steering wheel paddles or a sequential floor shift. The gearbox is certainly no dummy blipping the throttle on downshifts and picking the right moments to hold the car in low gears. That said, the manual paddles work very well and are fun enough to inspire regular use.
In terms of handling the 3-Series chassis and suspension compliment the engine well. Helped by a perfect 50:50 weight distribution the 335i squats flat and feels sure-footed and keen during cornering. Wide low profile runflat tyres wrap around 18-inch alloys and guarantee plenty of rubber on the road with ample levels of grip. The suspension is set with sporting intent rather than total comfort, this can mean some uneven roads are jarring in the cabin, but once you hit some twisty stuff with some space to open up this well balanced beast all else is forgotten. The steering has a reassuring solid feel to it that is precise, responsive and most importantly communicative. Put simply, the BMW 335i offers truly rewarding and ultimately rousing driving dynamics.
Visually the 2009 facelift has revised the styling most noticeably up front with a new grille, headlights and bonnet providing a more purposeful face. Taillights and sill panels have also received treatment. Our test vehicle was fitted with the M-Sport package that adds further visual muscle to hint at what’s packed under the bonnet. The 335i’s uncluttered lines will appeal to many and although safely understated they remain lively enough to evoke passion.
The interior of the 335i is highly functional and appealing with soft leather seats dark plastics and silver metal trim. It’s pleasantly basic with minimal perfectly positioned switchgear. BMW has stuck with its often-criticised iDrive system but has put some serious work into it and the results are impressive. Everything from radio settings to sat nav can be controlled through the large control dial, it’s a system that’s easy to learn and intuitive. The large display screen is crisp and can split in two so you can keep an eye on your navigation while performing other operations, you’ll just need a third eye for the road. The entertainment system is backed by a 80GB hard disk that can also store up to 8GB of audio files.
Interior fit and finish is excellent and all touch surfaces feel just right. However the cabin is lacking good interior storage options, this doesn’t extend to the boot which has a very useful 450-litre storage capacity. The front leather seats are cosseting and offer a variety of electronic adjustment, combined with a reach and rake shifting steering wheel getting set up is easy for any body type. Entry and exit of the vehicle isn’t quite as easy, and with the seats placed low within the cabin older drivers or those with mobility issues could be deterred. Although the 3-Series dimensions have grown over the years it remains a small sedan and rear seat space is suitably limited. With the correct adjustment three adults can fit in the back without issue, but if you’re planning on carrying rear occupants regularly it may pay to look to the larger 5-Series.
Safety credentials are all in order with a full cache of six-airbags and plenty of acronyms working under the surface: ABS brakes, stability and traction control, cornering brake control, electronic differential lock, electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake detection.
It’s difficult to fault a car like the BMW 335i, it has lashings of raw power when required the understated style to illicit envy and the practical manners to make it an easy daily driver. Overall, the current 3-Series is and always has been the benchmark for the small sports sedan segment and the 335i defends this title staunchly. It is priced accordingly at $104,900 but BMW is currently offering reasonable equipment upgrade packages on new vehicles so now may be the time to take a closer look. If your passions and aspirations are pushing you toward the ‘ultimate driving machine’ then the 335i has the style and the fire to match your desire.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications.
What we like:
- Subtle design inside and out
What we don’t like:
- Price premium over base model ($68,900)
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
BMW 335i (2009) – Specifcations
Capacity in ccm 2,979
Stroke/bore in mm 89.6/84.0
Max. output in kW (PS) at 1/min 225 (306)/5,800
Max. torque in Nm at 1/min 400/1,300-5,000
Power-to-weight ratio (EU) in kg/bhp 5.3
Weight in kg
Unladen weight EU 1,610
Maximum permissible weight 2,055
Permitted load 520
Permitted axle load front/rear 995/1,110
Drag (cw) 0.30
Top speed (km/h) 250
Acceleration 0 – 100 km/h (in s) 5.6
Acceleration 0 – 1,000 m (in s) 24.6
Acceleration 80 – 120 km/h in 4th/5th gear (in s) 5.3/6.3
Urban (l/100 km) 14.4
Extra-urban (l/100 km) 6.8
Composite (l/100 km) 9.6
CO2 emissions (g/km) 231
Tank capacity in I (approx.) 63