It's not often a company such as BMW does an about-face. All is forgiven, however, at the first turn of the key of the new BMW 335i. This car is awesome, and it's all down to turbo-charging!
The last time BMW had a turbo-charged car was more than 20 years ago with the 745i, a car which we didn't get in SA in that form (our 745i had the BMW M1 engine) and since then BMW has consistently stated that it prefers to go the way of advanced engineering rather than the simpler forced induction route (turbo-charging or super-charging).
However, thanks to the introduction of direct injection taken from BMW's famed diesel technology (giving better economy) BMW has gone back to the turbo with its new 3-litre 225 kW 335i motor.
This engine manages without expensive double VANOS and VALVETRONIC valve actuation, making it simpler in its initial makeup (and presumably less expensive), but which produces a lot more power and torque than a comparable non-turbo motor.
Fit the engine into the new 3 Series Coupe and the result is staggering. You get a car with almost the power of the iconic BMW M3, but with the ease of driveabiltiy, the road manners, and the ride quality of the 540i.
Put the car into sixth at just 1 300 r/min and this car pulls like a train, all the way up to its electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.
Translated into zero to 100 km/h, we're talking 5.5 seconds, just a couple of blinks slower than an M3. But on the flipside, we're also talking overall fuel economy of 9.5 litres/100 km. Now THAT is a combination worth crowing about!
For the sedan, too
What's more, at the end of the year this engine will find its way into the 3 Series and 5 Series sedans, filling perceived gaps in the BMW lineup, and providing family motorists with the same advantages as those who go for the zooty two-door coupe.
Now, back to the Coupe.
This is NOT just a 3 Series saloon with a fast back.
To my mind it's the best-looking BMW four-seater on the market (until the cabriolet version appears in January) with the smooth uncluttered lines that previous generations of BMWs offered, an attractive front end with new lights and a power bulge on the bonnet, plus that clean and smooth tail, and with lights that look like they emanate from Germany, not Korea!
Add to all that a huge boot (440 litres), a stiffer body for improved handling, and enough room inside for four (not five - there's a centre console in the back) and it makes for a fantastic package.
What's more there are two more pluses.
If you can't afford (or don't want) all that extra power in the 335i, there's a 160 kW non-turbo 325i version.
Smooth auto 'box
And if you want an auto, well BMW has pulled its new auto 'box out of the hat, a quick-shifting smoothie (with the option of steering wheel paddles) that, quite frankly, makes manuals almost obsolete, without the vices of SMG or the fuel economy losses of an ordinary torque-converter gearbox.
The secret here is that the torque converter clutch locks up at VERY low speeds, giving direct drive almost straight away, so you get the best of both worlds. And it changes gears in just 100 milliseconds, regardless of whether the transmission has to shift down one or several gears in the process.
Inside the car is very much as the 3 Series sedan, but with more choice in colour schemes. For instance we drove a silver version with beautiful red upholstery that looked a million dollars!
Interior space is just as good as the saloon, even in the back, and comfort levels are high.
There's none of the hard ride of the M3, yet handling is almost as crisp thanks to that stiff body, while the brakes, though 330i derived, not M3, are well up to the job.
I know, for I drove the car up and around several tight mountain passes in the Eastern Cape, including the famous Bloukrans Pass outside Plettenberg Bar, and then onto George, and it impressed more, and more and more.
Damage caused by heavy rains had caused the road surface to deteriorate in places, and at one point the car was thrown up into the air just before a tight left hander.
However, the car's electronics took over, gathered things up, and we went around as if nothing had happened - though my heart was a lot closer to my mouth than it usually is!
Later, fast cruising on roads which, again, are far from perfect (the rule seems to be to effect quick repairs rather than fixing them properly) the suspension absorbed all the imperfections, and the long journey back to George Airport was relaxed and passed quickly.
You don't need to rev the 335i to get the best out of it, for with 400 Nm of torque, most of which is available in a flat plateau that starts at 1 300 r/min and ends at around 4 000 r/min there's no need to.
But if you want to - well max power is at 5 800 r/min so you can hold your change to there, or you can rev it right to 8 000 r/min just for the hell of it!
The feature list is long, and includes bi-Xenon headlights as standard, as well as electric windows and mirrors, climate control air con, and radio/CD, and in BMW fashion you can add to this such items as sat nav and a sunroof to cutomise to your own needs.
Naturally it gets all the electronic aids you needs, including ABS with brake assist, electronic stability control including DSC traction control, plus lots of airbags.
Wow, what a couple of beauties!
Just when we thought BMW would take another generation to get its cars looking beautiful the company has done it in one fell swoop.
And with this new twin turbo motor (one for each set of three cylinders in the straight six engine) it has shown that it is still the best in the world when it comes to teaching old dogs new tricks!
- 325i 6 speed manual R342 500
- 325i 6-speed automatic R356 200
- 335i 6-speed manual R488 500
- 335i 6-speed automatic R502 200.