Welcome to Innsbruck, the 800-year-old former outpost of the Hapsburg Empire, where we've come to drive the new BMW 3-series coupe, the car that for centuries (OK, maybe it only seems that long) has been the most notable of semi-affordable sport coupes.
Every six or seven years, BMW staggers the launches of its new 3-series lineup, and, somewhere in year two, along comes a new coupe. We know what to expect by now, and it is good. Indeed, BMW has another handsome evolution of its coupe waiting for us, with more safety, even more surefooted handling, and a lineup of even better engines. So what else is new? If only all the world's carmakers took the evolutions of their cars and engine families as seriously.
A Tyrolean city of 135,000, Innsbruck has many classically Austrian edifices that look, in their quaint uniformity, like they fell out of the same model-train shop. But they still sit harmoniously alongside hypermodern expressions from contemporary Germanic architects, providing an appropriate working metaphor for the new 3-series, which neatly combines the old and the new. On some twisty back roads not far from town, shaggy cattle wandering across the roads and large men in lederhosen remind us of the old world, even while the new world is aptly represented by the 335i, which is quicker than the spry coupe it replaces and lacks little if any of the classic soul that has made the 3-series a benchmark.
At the heart of every BMW worth remembering is its engine, and the new coupe is no exception. The pick of the litter is the new twin-turbo 3.0-liter six, good for an Alpine 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The latter figure is more remarkable for the fact that maximum torque is available at a very sea-level-like 1300 rpm, helping banish lag and making for smooth power from takeoff all the way to the 7000-rpm rev limit (and the sport package's 150-mph governed top speed).
In fact, you're almost unaware that you're driving a turbocharged car. BMW dabbled in turbocharging gasoline engines in the 1970s--its low-production 2002 Turbo of 1973-74 marking an interesting historical footnote--but this latest engine represents a key reaffirmation of turbo technology from one of the world's most respected engine builders. BMW has decided that the advantages of the turbo six--less mass and lower consumption and emissions--outweigh the advantages of a V-8. Of course, that's what BMW is saying here at the twin-turbo engine's launch. We'll see what it has to say at the welcoming festivities for the upcoming M3, which will contest Germany's hell-bent-for-leather (trousers) horsepower arms race with a V-8 of its own. In the meantime, the 335i's aluminum-block six is good for 5.3-second 0-to-60-mph sprints, which strikes us as acceptably rapid. It sounds great, too.
BMW claims that the twin-turbo six weighs 154 pounds less than a V-8 with comparable power yet ought to average 25 mpg or better. It credits not just the two small (hence lag-resistant) turbochargers, each of which feeds three cylinders, but also High-Precision Injection, its name for the piezo injectors that are stationed directly between the intake valves for exceptionally consistent and direct pulses of fuel. Will the wonders of computerized fuel-delivery systems never cease?
One step down from the turbo is the base model 328i coupe, with 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. No slouch, it will rip off the 0-to-60-mph run in six seconds while also topping out at 150 mph. Expect fuel economy in the high twenties. Since it is less stressed than its turbo relation, the normally aspirated 3.0-liter is able to use lightweight magnesium in its block and bedplate.