The BMW 3 Series' outstanding performance and handling complete a consummate all-rounder
What is it?
Until the M3 receives this latest round of revisions, it’s the flagship model of the new 3-series range.
Unlike the 330d which receives an all new engine, BMW deemed the 306bhp, twin-turbo motor fit to be carried over unchanged. And while the engine is available with a new seven-speed double-clutch gearbox, it will currently only be bolted on to coupe and convertible models.
So the substantive changes are almost all cosmetic, and involve the usual tweak to the front and rear bumpers, side skirts and light units.
BMW has also taken the opportunity to widen the track by 24mm, partly to improve its visual stance on the road, but also to add stability.
But the biggest change, at least to those who choose to live with a 335i, is that the iDrive system has been entirely overhauled and is now based on a hard drive system which allows not only quicker navigation and clearer mapping, but also the ability to store over 100 albums of music.
And now, instead of having a simple controller and menu button, each individual area of activity, be it navigation, radio, CD or telephone is now selected by its own unique button and only then operated by the usual rotary dial.
What’s it like?
Most of the time, really quite exceptional. If you didn’t know, it would be all but impossible to tell that the engine was turbocharged.
It’s quiet when you need it to be, pleasantly rorty under hard acceleration and so responsive all around the rev range its powerband stretches from little more than 2000rpm all the way to peak power at 5800rpm.
All it needs is one short stretch of autobahn and it will head butt its 155mph speed limiter in either fifth or sixth gears.
This much we know from the old car, as we do the fact that it handles beautifully thanks to the natural balance of its chassis and the suppleness of its suspension. Even so, a spell of wet weather highlighted more than ever this car’s need for more traction. Quick getaways from wet junctions could result in frantic flashing of traction control lights and if you turned all the systems off (blessedly still possible), it’s still far too easy to spin an inside wheel. No change there, then.
What has changed and immeasurably for the better, is the new iDrive operating system.
I suspect BMW adopted its new layout only through gritted teeth. The system’s basic concept follows that of Audi’s MMI alternative so faithfully that to have a clearer acknowledgement that its rival got it right first time, BMW would need to write to every owner who has battled with the old iDrive system to apologise for the inconvenience.
It still takes a little learning, a little more in my judgement than MMI, but even in a couple of hours I was making fewer mistakes with it than I was after several years with the old iDrive.
Should I buy one?
If you can make the numbers add up, of course. The 335i is a good as ever and the new operating system removes the one substantial drawback of the old car. Even so and in these straitened times, I can’t let you go without drawing comparison between the 335i and the cheaper 330d.
The 330d has a little less power but a lot more torque. It’s half a second slower to 62mph (though few are going to find 6.1sec exactly tardy) and has the same 155mph top speed.
Where they do differ and by really rather a lot is that while the 335i will do just 31.0mpg, the 330d manages a ridiculous sounding 49.6mpg. And if CO2 emissions are important, a 330d tax disc will cost £145, that of the 335i some £210.
Good though the 335i is, I struggle to see how it’s that good.