Our 335is test car was a pre-production model and, although the Monroney listed cruise control and a two-way power glass moonroof and sliding interior sunshade as standard features, they were absent from our car. Presumably they will be present in any 335is coupe sold to a consumer. Our test example was alpine white over a coral red and black Dakota leather interior, a nice combination. This means red seats, red door inserts, but black dash and carpets, for practicality, and who wants red carpet anyway? Pebbly silver metal trim stretches across the width of the instrument panel and on the center console.
The BMW 3-Series coupe is of course a familiar and admired object for us. What is new here is that this is the sportiest version yet of this coupe and I dare say the sportiest non-M3 BMW 3-series ever. The 335is coupe retains BMW’s twin-turbo (N54-series) in-line six-cylinder engine, whereas most BMWs are switching to a single-turbo, dual-scroll six (N55-series) for emissions reasons. Here, the N54 is tuned to 320 hp and mated, in our test car, to BMW’s brilliant new dual-clutch transmission. This is my second experience with this new gearbox, and it is a superb device. I also spent a weekend recently with a Z4 sDrive35is roadster, which has the same powertrain although with 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Here in the 335is coupe, the torque rating is normally 332 lb-ft, but an overboost function engaged when you select sport mode rockets that up to 370 lb-ft.
As is so often the case with high-performance cars these days, there is a learning curve with the transmission. Sure, you can simply pull back on the lever and engage Drive and never do anything else with it, but there is, of course, more to it than that. Nudge the chrome-trimmed lever to the left, and the dual-clutch goes into sport mode, indicated by an “S” in the driver display. It will continue to shift automatically but significantly more quickly and aggressively. Hit the gas pedal on an empty stretch of road, and you’ll be blown away by the acceleration.
For even more control, at any time you can grab the lever and shift manually, whether you’re still in Drive or already in Sport mode. You pull backward on the lever to upshift and push forward to downshift. Naturally, when you come to a stop, the gearbox automatically selects first gear.
You can also use either of the paddles flanking the steering wheel to shift. I confess that I never used them, but then again I’m seldom a fan of shift paddles in any car, and if I’m shifting manually I’d rather just use the shift lever. Perhaps this is because doing so more closely replicates the process of using your right hand to manually shift a traditional manual transmission. Call me old-fashioned.
Anyway, this powertrain really sings in Sport mode. The engine itself sounds fantastic, noticeably more sonorous than the newer N55 single-turbo six, and the 335is coupe’s acceleration is really quite breathtaking, making you wonder, do I really need an M3? I’d say for a lot of people, you don’t. This car also strikes me as a satisfying alternative to a base-model Porsche 911. Add in superb brakes, great grip, good seats, and room for an occasional third or fourth passenger, and there really is a lot to like here.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I first drove the 2011 BMW 335is on the Estoril race circuit in Portugal, but I had just as much fun behind the wheel of this 335is here at home. With less power and a lower price than the M3, the 335is is the automotive embodiment of the adage less is more. More pertains to both the fun, and the torque. Thanks to the two turbochargers hanging off the inline-six, the 335is boasts more torque over a broader rev range than the V-8-powered M3. In the M3, you find the sweet spot just south of 4000 rpm, but the 335is starts hitting its peak torque at only 1500 rpm. That makes the 335is the perfect car for around-town antics. In comparison, the M3 feels like a stern-faced racer that’s all business and no play.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Like Joe DeMatio, I questioned the M3’s appeal after only a short amount of time behind the wheel of the 335is. I know the M3 is supposed to be the ultimate 3-series, and to many people the ultimate BMW, but the 335is is far more satisfying to drive on public roads than an M3. The overboost function delivers 370 lb-ft of torque, a full 75 lb-ft more than the M3’s V-8, and even the normal rating of 332 lb-ft is more useful during real-world driving than the M3’s extra 94 hp.
My only gripe about the 335is is the choice of body styles. I’ve never liked how this generation of 3-series looks as a coupe or a convertible, yet those are the only two offerings for this model. A sedan would be my choice, although I can understand why BMW chose to offer the “is” with only two doors. Apparently the reason a 335is was added to the U.S. BMW portfolio is to fill the performance gap between 335i and M3. Americans didn’t exactly understand how close the 335i and M3 are in terms of performance, so BMW is splitting hairs and offering an incremental improvement in performance — and profits.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
On the surface, the 335is seems totally unnecessary. But after spending some time behind the wheel, I have to agree with Joe and Phil that the latest flavor of 3-series represents the pinnacle of the model, at least with regard to usable performance. I adore the M3, but the 335is offers more than enough raciness to satisfy all but the most experienced SCCA license-holders. (Come to think of it, even the base 328i has enough power and grip to put a smile on at least 75 percent of enthusiast drivers’ faces.)
Like Phil, though, I’m disappointed that the 3-series’ best-looking and most desirable (to me) body style — the sedan — isn’t available as a 335is. C’mon BMW, this fantastic engine note and these gorgeously aggressive wheels would be great with a four-door, too.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The British may have birthed the idea of a Q-ship, but it seems the Germans have all but perfected the art. Apart from the small emblems on the front fenders, along with the blacked-out exterior trim, large wheels, and aggressive suspension stance, the 335is looks virtually identical to any other generic 3-series coupe. Only hard-core BMW spotters will know you’re driving something with a little more power.
Make that a lot more power. BMW representatives told us the 335is was designed to serve as a stepping stone between the 335i and the M3, but the impeccable performance served up in this package may be enough to tempt people away from the M car. Heck, my allegiance is swaying simply because the driver isn’t forced to delve through an endless array of menus, settings, and M-modes to dip into that power-just select sport mode, and nail the accelerator pedal. Voila-instant torque (up to 370 pound-feet, thanks to the nifty overboost function).
As much as I admire the M3’s appearance, particularly its dramatically bulging sheetmetal, the 335is has me wondering if the M is really worth an extra $8000. Unless you actively campaign your daily driver in weekend racing, I’m inclined to say it isn’t.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
How does BMW make a turbocharged engine sound this sexy? I had time only to pilot the 335is to the airport, which is a rather dull ride save for the tunnel you have to pass through before getting to Departures. I rolled down the windows, tugged at the left-hand paddle twice, and luxuriated in the sweet music. To be sure, the M3’s screaming V-8 would have made even more intoxicating a noise. But $8000 more? My short sampling leaves me agreeing with my coworkers that this is the “just right” 3-series.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 BMW 335is Coupe
Base price (with destination): $50,525
Price as tested: $59,025
3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine
6-speed manual transmission
Dynamic stability control
Dynamic traction control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring system
Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling
8-way power-adjustable front seats
Heated and power mirrors
Heated windshield and washer jets
AM/FM stereo CD/MP3 player audio system
Auxiliary audio input
Adaptive brake lights
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation system — $2100
7-speed double-clutch transmission — $1575
Coral red/black Dakota leather — $1450
Harman Kardon surround sound — $875
BMW assist with Bluetooth — $750
Comfort access keyless entry — $500
Heated front seats — $500
iPod and USB adapter — $400
Satellite radio — $350
Key options not on vehicle:
Premium package — $2650
Active steering — $1550
Convenience package — $1500
Cold weather package — $750
17 / 24 / 19 mpg
Size: 3.0L turbocharged I-6
Horsepower: 320 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Unladen weight: 3571 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 8.0-inch aluminum wheels
225/40R18 front; 225/35R18 rear Bridgestone Potenza performance tires