First Drive: 2011 BMW 335is

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When thrown into corners, the 335is surprises with a feeling of engineered lightness. In fact, the sport car weighs roughly the same as a 3571-pound 335i. Blasting out of corners is where you'll find the true character of the 335is. An overboost function provides a temporary spurt of torque up to 370 lb-ft, lasting roughly seven seconds. The boost kick is tuned to fire up at higher gears in lower rpm ranges, so you won't encounter it often on a racetrack, but the surge is a fantastic reward for pummeling the throttle.

Equally entertaining are the burbles, crescendos, and screams from the sports exhaust, exiting through two subtle and sexy black chrome tips. Brakes remain unchanged compared with the 335i, but BMW engineers say they took the 335is to the Nurburgring to certify that the brakes were up to the task. In our drive, the stoppers proved more than adequate for performance driving and light racing.

M Sport styling
Cosmetic changes are largely drawn from the M Sport package that's already available on the 335i. The M Sport fascia is fitted with a gloss-black grille with discreet chrome edges. Side skirts also come from the M Sport hardware, but the rear diffuser is a new design. The mirror caps are also gloss black, and there is badging on both the trunk and front fenders. Eighteen-inch performance tires are standard; 19-inch rollers are available. Fog lights are only packaged with the convertible, while the coupe uses the space for additional cooling flow.

Interior changes are even more subtle, with the key elements being the M Sport steering wheel, a short shifter, and the comfortable, mildly bolstered sport seats. There's also a black headliner, door sills, sport pedals, unique gauges, and faux aluminum trim. Available options mirror those on the 335i, and a sunroof will be standard on coupes, though BMW is considering adding a delete option for the weight benefits.

Stuck in the middle
From behind the wheel, we're totally sold on the 335is. But looking at the components individually, the car is little more than a software tweak with the option of a dual-clutch transmission. 335i coupes already come standard with the sport suspension, and the cosmetic M Sport package can be had for $3250 on top of the car's $43,525 sticker. That leaves a $3750 difference with the $50,525 335is coupe paired to a manual transmission. There will be buyers who want the extra power, but how many of them have already bought an M3?

The 335is convertible will arrive first in April with a price of $59,075. The coupe then goes on sale in June. BMW says a 335is sedan will not be built.

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