First Drive: 2012 BMW 335i Sport, Getting Caught in a Definition Sport Sedan

 

Billy “Snap” MacGillicuty is back to give us his first impressions of the new F30 BMW 335i

Betchyerass I’m waiting for the M3, but I prefer this one if my 3 Series is for every occasion

Can we judge how great a sports car is by the size of the fine the officer hands us? It depends, I guess, on the officer and how understanding he or she is, whether they like sports cars, whether they’re bowled over by my affable humility in accepting that I’ve been caught having too much fun on their beat.

Boy, did I get caught. California’s Highway 1 heading south out of Monterey was barren on a perfectly sunny day. Apparently the explanation was that there had been a landslide down south a ways and so people were avoiding the road out of fear of getting turned around due to the closure. It was a gorgeous day, a day absolutely made for the car I was driving, the latest BMW 335i sedan with 302 SAE horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque in Sport trim with standard six-speed manual. And in Melbourne Red Metallic.

BMW had a range of 328i and 335i sedans available, from the 328i in Modern trim with manual up to the car I was destined to pick, the turbocharged I6 on the Sport chassis with manual. They also had the 335i Sport with optional eight-speed automatic and the paddles of the sport steering wheel, but I was completely uninterested in that, or in any other trim 3 Series this day. I came to drive hard the car I would buy if I was in the market for a German sport sedan.

I’d been tear-assing southward through the famous curves and over the national landmark bridges built in the 1930s, loving every sight, feeling remarkable, not even really minding much the 19-inch Goodyear Potenza run-flats which tend to bother me with their deadness and weight as they meet the pavement. I came to just north of the remote village of Lucia and there opening before me was the last long-ish straight prior to the bunt-and-coffee stop. I laid into it in third gear coming out of the final well designed curve, hit 6,800 revs and pulled the stick down into fourth. I approached a little bridge with a large manzanita bush at the opposite end on the coast side. Right then, I said to myself, “Perfect spot for the CHP to perch.”

When I saw the black fender panel of the Ford Explorer peak out from behind that bush, I must have been doing – yes – many mph and about ready to toss it into fifth gear like a pro.

BAM!! instead on the brake pedal, all my belongings on the passenger seat chucked into the right foot well, and the guilty sound of a muted skid as the whole stationary CHP Explorer went past the passenger windows as if in slow motion. I was making an officer’s day, maybe their week. The ventilated compound brake discs bit really well – not too soft and not too hard – and the feel at the pedal was pretty firm and steady. Car didn’t deviate one inch from its intended line of travel.

The officer was nice about it, gotta say. He ticketed me for 85 mph and saluted me by saying, “Man, I wish I could be out here patrolling in this car instead of that Explorer.” He even joked and said what I had thought just before: “Heck, you made my day!”

The rest of my time on Highway 1 was less hair-brained, don’t worry. But it is not easy to leash the hounds in this car. I do desperately love a good day in an M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG, but my choice would be either this exact car I’m driving or an Audi S4 with manual. The choice would be tough, but I do enjoy much more the new design language on this F30 generation 3 Series, so it’d probably win out. At $43,295 MSRP plus destination when U.S. customers can take delivery on February 11th, too, it avoids the nose bleed section of this sporting segment of cars. Fully duded up in Sport line clothes and just the way I like it, it’d still be under $50k, and that number does make sense to me. If you want a Japanese car or Korean car or American car that somewhat competes with this 3 Series, go right ahead. As far as overall experience behind the wheel, none of these nations’ models reach quite this high in true owner satisfaction. Drive any of the others alongside this 335i Sport with manual shifter and, unless you’re a person who thinks a car is an appliance that wanders occasionally from home and only price per horse matters, you’ll get what I’m talking about here.

After heading back north along the coast highway with my tail tucked between my legs, BMW had a treat for me that would easily make up for the salty fine and the point on my driver’s license record. They insisted that I take unending laps around Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca in a car identical to that which I had driven on the road. What would have been a kick for me would have been to have the officer from that morning in the passenger seat with me as testament to the fact that this 335i set up this way is arguably impossible to drive within legal speed limits. I’m certain he would have torn up the citation right there in the pits. Dontchya think?

Laps on a track are the greatest way to see just what I might swap out on my 335i Sport in order to make my laps all the better. I would get a non-run-flat set of 19-inch tires that work perfectly with the car, maybe some Michelin Pilot Sports, and I would hunt around for a more robust brakeset. Basically, these are the items that are always on my list after thrashing around in any 3 Series-sized sport sedan. The run-flats are very predictable sliders in the bends, I must say, and they are fun in their way, but they slide simply too much of the time. I kept the car in Sport+ of the Driving Dynamics Control at all times and this made it easier to compensate for the lifeless tires by playing with the more responsive throttle and steering, and leaning on the more rigid suspension.

In Sport+, the Dynamic Traction Control is switched off while the Dynamic Stability Control stays on the job, albeit with a slightly higher threshold allowed by the ECU. The conditions were so ideal this day that I wanted to go further and switch off the DSC, too, but then I felt the loosey-goosey tires would work even more against me. Get the better tires for track day at least and, on a sunny day, poke off the DSC to let the real lap times begin. Nonetheless, the optional sport-tuned suspension on my car, which lowers the chassis by four tenths of an inch, was my greatest ally lap after lap. (Adaptive M Sport suspension is also available on the options list and lowers things to the same degree.) The grace and balance under the hardest lateral gs with the run-flats howling was exemplary. Definitely an M3 would nail all this like there’s no tomorrow, but then I don’t want to drive an M3 every day, not even in my dreams. This every day driver, however, I could see in my garage without a moment’s hesitation.

Which brings me to something that deserves to be in some hall of fame for sports cars: the Getrag six-speed manual “K” gearbox. The clutch and shift lever work like a vaudeville duo that’s been on the circuit for twenty years. The shifts are remarkably faithful, just notchy enough without being chunky style, and the exit and entrance into each gear is silky sweet. Not once did I find the wrong gear in the forward or rearward trio on the lever, and into and out of some of the eleven turns at Laguna Seca this is a regular occurrence in many other cars. Would I rather live with an essentially dead left foot and flicking fingers, or revel in the joys of well executed heel-and-toe shifts and blipped throttles? Need you ask?

The N55 TwinPower Turbo 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder that’s getting so much attention these past couple of years is sensational here. The sport exhaust with separated twin blackened tailpipes is a sweet singer for a not-quite-an-M3 car. Pulling power and pushing torque from the rear axle and twin-scroll Borg Warner turbocharger with 8.7 psi of boost pressure are both so damned smooth, and the even smoother Getrag six makes the powertrain and drivetrain even more tank-like in their smoothness, if you get my drift.

And zero to 60 mph acceleration in 5.4 seconds? My ass. This manual 335i Sport in Sport+ can do this dash – I’ll swear by it – in 5.0 seconds flat, maybe even having a 4.9 in it somewhere. Top speed, a figure I really don’t care about at all unless the straights are really long on this or that track, is a typical BMW top trim 155 mph, or way more than adequate.

I do like the exterior-matching red trim accents on the interior in this Sport, and the leatherette with red stitching of the standard power front seats with lumbar support is attractive and comfortable for many miles. Go ahead and whine about the sobering colors of my car’s interior, but I want black in there if the exterior is red. The support from the seats while under lateral duress especially could use just a scootch more upper body assistance, but the three-spoke sport steering wheel kind of makes up for this by being really good to grip and leverage. And four adults can have a hell of a good time in there while on the track, too, although at that point maybe it would be time to admit the need for an M3 to transfer all that weight side-to-side and up toward The Corkscrew.

When driving that everyday route and with traffic, the timid new Eco Pro mode of the DDC helps save fuel and recuperate energy for the battery via smart charging using natural engine braking. This recuperated energy allows the air conditioning and other ancillaries to run off the battery directly instead of off the alternator which saps a surprising amount of power from the engine.

I have to admit: I didn’t like much the Eco Pro way of doing things in the 335i Sport with the manual. The shift indicator is almost immediately urging me to get to sixth gear and I don’t want to do that until speed is sufficient. The DDC with Eco Pro is most at home in the 328i with eight-speed automatic, which is no surprise, but I can thankfully just choose to not indulge it in this 335i with six-speed.

After about 25 hot laps at Laguna Seca, the 335i Sport and I were one. I found it was smarter to leave the Getrag ‘box in third through a few of the turns where some less ambitious drivers might force it to second gear. The amount of torque available down fairly low is just right for third-gearing like this while carrying through a bunch of speed and enough revs. I was having a ball and, like with our diligent CHP officer, this Bimmer had made my day.

BMW 335i Sport

Price: $43,295 + Sport options

Motor: 2,979 cc, 4-valve

Power: 302 hp @ 5,800 rpm

Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1,300 – 5,000 rpm

Transmission: standard six-speed Getrag “K” manual

Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons

City/hwy combined mpg avg.: TBD by BMW

Performance (est.): 0-60 mph 5.4 seconds, top speed 155 mph

Length x width x height: 182.5 x 71.3 x 56.3 in (55.9-in height w/sport suspension or M adaptive suspension)

Wheelbase: 110.6 in

Curb weight: 3,571 lbs

Cargo space: 13.0 cu. ft.

[ Billy “Snap” MacGillicuty – text; BSM and Greg Jarem – pics]

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