First Drive: 2011 BMW 335iS

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Sensational Meets Sensible Even before I got behind the wheel of BMW’s new performance coupe, my pulse was quickened. The aero updates on the exterior …

Sensational Meets Sensible

Even before I got behind the wheel of BMW’s new performance coupe, my pulse was quickened. The aero updates on the exterior are aggressive and sharp, drawing you in for a closer look. The front fascia, side skirts and rear bumper are all new – the later incorporating a functional rear diffuser. All 3 series Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) updates are present including the new “open eyed” head lights. A few additional changes were made including solid glossy-black side mirrors and blacked out window trim and kidney grills; all of these details scream, “sports car!”

Once behind the wheel, unique interior appointments catch your eye including “335iS” logos on the dash that allude to this car’s sporting intentions. But the party really starts when you push the engine ignition button and let your ears enjoy the rich auditory treat exiting the rear tail pipes. On several occasions while walking around the track paddock I found myself awe-struck by the sound of this engine, quickly turning my head to catch a glimpse of the animal serving up this sound. Time and time again – I was “rubber necking” after the 335iS: it sounds that good. This, in the company of several other high performance BMWs including the M3, mind you.

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With the choice of manual or Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) at my disposal, I searched for a manual down the line of cars in pit row. To my despair, all of the manual cars were already snagged by other like-minded journalists – but as I soon found out, the DCT was no door prize. Dropping the gearbox into first with a flick of the right paddle, I slowly rolled down pit lane. It was almost creepy feeling the transmission modulate the clutch slippage in first gear – as if my brain was saying, “Hey! That’s my job! What about job security?” Don’t worry brain, we have a place for you in my favorite manual cars.

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“…all of these details scream, “sports car!”

With a flag marshal giving the thumbs-up, the 335iS rocketed away with surprising acceleration. 320 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque accomplish the work, the engine never feeling stressed. The New Jersey Motorsports Park includes a highly technical right, right, left corner combination (turns 3,4,5) that rewards neutral handling cars and punishes those that heavily understeer. The 335iS was a dream through this section, turning in easily to consistently clip the apex. In many ways, the 335iS makes you feel like a better driver than you probably are – because it accomplishes every instruction you give it without drama or resisting. A decreasing radius turn? No problem. A sudden emergency lane-change? Who needs airbags?


Accelerating away from the apex, the 335iS stays neutral and feels very light in your hands. A heavy dose of throttle starts to rotate the car – but not in a 1970s Porsche 911 kind of way – rather a very progressive, linear way that keeps you in control and out of trouble. I cannot possibly praise this car’s handling enough – suffice it to say it is excellent and no changes are in order for track use. Just sign the papers, jump in and enjoy at your nearest race track (yes, that includes all residents of Nürburg).

“I found myself awe-struck by the sound of this engine, quickly turning my head to catch a glimpse of the animal serving up this sound.”

The brakes are strong and completely fade free, after several very hard laps they felt as powerful as the first time around. Engine power is very immediate and linear in delivery – if you blindfolded your friends and took them for a quick lap, they would not be able to tell that this car uses forced induction. In a prior conversation in Detroit with Martin Birkmann, BMW NA’s head of product planning, I learned that 2 tenths of a second is the definitive reaction time needed for throttle response to be considered on par with natural aspiration. The all-aluminum twin-turbo inline-6 N54 engine of the 335iS responds in well under 2 tenths, and as far as your grey-matter can tell – this car has absolutely no turbo lag, it is imperceptible. There is lots of power, then: more power, right up to it’s 7000 rpm redline.


Official BMW numbers state a 5.1 second 0-60 time for the manual car and 5.0 seconds for the DTC. Swallow the tenth and go for the manual, I say; us manual drivers are, after all, an endangered species.

“A sudden emergency lane-change? Who needs airbags?”

Jumping out of the DCT equipped car I was able to find a manually equipped 335iS ready to drive. And oh-what-a-drive. If it appears that I am raving about this car, that would be because I am. This car is so much fun to drive, so liberating from whatever could be on your mind, so exciting, sexy and powerful – it could be contraband in some Countries. The manual 6-speed is very precise, allowing for quick shifts whenever called upon. The clutch feels firm and positive, perfect for performance driving, yet not too stiff for street use. Not a single stall all day tells me that it is easy to use from the moment you jump in. Since this was early on in the first day and I had not yet learned the circuit, I invited one of BMW’s attending M Performance School instructors to jump in and hone my driving. By our last lap I was positively on the limit and loving it – we actually caught an M3 by the end of the lap. More about that rivalry in a later article.


“Just sign the papers, jump in and enjoy at your nearest race track.”

Ensuring reliability on this performance-focused car is an additional radiator fitted behind the left-side front air intake. An oil-cooler is fitted behind the right side air intake and the N54 engine has been fitted with a more powerful electric cooling fan. Unlike many other manufacturers, BMW has designed every gaping intake and swooping line to serve a purpose. That purpose becomes very clear after several laps of a proper racetrack.

“Add in the manual and your brain will throw a party.”

Now that we’ve gotten the sensational out of the way, lets talk sensible. To start off, a slippery drag co-efficient (Cd) of 0.30 should help the 335iS on its way to good highway fuel efficiency. EPA numbers are a respectable 18 city/26 hwy, 22 average – very similar to the fuel consumption of the standard 335i.


When driving around on public roads the 335iS felt comfortable and relaxed, in no way a frenzied track car. The engineers have struck a great balance between on-track responsiveness and off-track comfort. The melodious exhaust note is never muted, but it doesn’t howl at the top of its lungs unless provoked.


“…as I soon found out, the DCT was no door prize.”

In American pricing, the 335iS will cost $50,525 dollars – a relative bargain in a sea of less focused sports cars. The same utility and practicality offered in the standard 3 series is offered here, there are no compromises that your significant other could pick on. Insurance costs will likely be lower than on several of this car’s competitors, so between purchase price, insurance costs and fuel efficiency, the 335iS can make both sides of your brain happy.

Add in the manual and your brain will throw a party. Your helmet is invited.


40 responses to “First Drive: 2011 BMW 335iS”

  1. 100$ GUY says:

    I can`t stand the black dumbo mirrors.
    Not sure if this car is a good value.
    Thou sure of its overall appeal.

  2. Andrew says:

    Great review, Shawn!

  3. Jordan says:

    Awesome review Shawn! I love that exhaust note, the first time I heard it I couldn’t quite believe BMW put that on a production car, it sounded almost louder than the stock M3!

    About the M3…. after driving this, why would someone get the M3?! I think driving dynamics would be better in the iS and the M3 would have a bit more power, any feedback?


    • Shawn says:


      You make a good point, but I can’t spill the beans quite yet as we have a direct comparison article coming out soon about the new 335iS vs the M3 driven back to back on track.

      Sorry to make you wait! :)

  4. I love the 3 series coupe, I just sold my e46 330ci, I needed to buy a big borinjg 530d touring, I would love that new 335 coupe, I bet it’s a better car all round than the M3

  5. BD says:

    It’s “contraband” not “contra-ban”. R U really that dumb?

  6. chas says:

    It may have no turbo lag, but all e90s have crappy throttle response in stock form. Fortunately you can fix this with the 328 models.

  7. Dan S says:

    What an amazing car! Sure, it’s not an M3, but it surely is an enthusiasts automobile.

    Btw, great photos also!

  8. Doug says:

    “Your helmet is invited.” heh! Very nice review.

    So, I’m confused, I thought the coupe update was using the N55 and would expect the 360 ft-lb torque boost to be in the ___is edition. In fact, why wouldn’t they switch over to that engine completely?

    • font9a says:

      The N54 has been around longer and has had more time to get tuned. Also, twin turbos more easily keep the lag imperceptible, whilst allowing for a bit higher boost.

      I have an ’08 335i with DCI and JB3+ stage tuning for about 380 ft/lb and 385 hp on the N54. There is non-existent turbo lag, and full-time fun factor.

  9. Max says:

    Shawn, you should have brought that one to Mosport instead of that truck! Impatiently waiting for the comparison with M3. Good photos

  10. Great review, I have been waiting for a fresh review of the 335is. I look at it this way, BMW is synonymous with the inline 6 cylinder, say what you will about M3 and their V8’s, it was the 6’s that made BMW and is still their most efficient and popular engine. I ordered a 335is, probably one of the first in Canada, and yes I went with the DCT, yes I am helping kill the manual species. I would rather have a lighter 6 which could be moded to outperform an M3. I love M, but if a I6 can fly like a V8, I would rather stay with a I6 or skip the V8 and purchase a V10 or V12 BMW super car…oh 2008 M1 homage….drool.

  11. Lou Tattrie says:

    After driving this car, and buying the new S4, I sum it up with…if you want to spin the tires and feel like the car is an animal, this 335is does the trick. If you want to actually go faster in greater comfort, and room, go S4.

    5.0 0-60 is half a second slower than road and trackis 4.5 in the s4 6-speed.

    As good as this 335is, is…better at least test drive the slightly cheaper S4 before making a final decision. The S4 is that good recently.

    • lol says:

      The S4 isnt competition for this car. The S4 is a long bygone outdated model that used to compete with the M3. When the M3 dominated it after many years, Audi said “lets add an R and lamborghini-developed engines” and thus the RS4 is born, a real M3-fighter.

      335iS would be compared to the top of the line A4

      • font9a says:

        I think it’s the other way around. S4 lost its edge and now has to compete against the downmarket and less focused 335i (compared to the new M3.)

        I would still say both vehicles are very close in performance, but the BMW is WAY more fun to drive, even if the Audi is a bit faster in a straight line.

  12. Pete says:

    The first mod i did to my 2007 335i was black the window trims and grills. It’s good to see I’m ahead of the factory.

  13. waduh…pengin cepet pulang aja kalau liat ini,

  14. aasif says:


  15. Luca says:

    Passat CC with a stage 2 chip anyone? Oh yeah for 15,000 USD less!!

  16. m3overthis says:

    umm. it’s very frustrating when people compare this car to an M3… Look at these pictures – look at the body roll – they aren’t even in the same league. So, you caught up to an M3 at the sponsored event?!?! – maybe the guy driving the M3 was terrible, maybe he was not 10/10ths?

    I understand this car has gobs of torque – and can ruin tires, as you show in the numerous images of smoke pouring off expensive rubber, but we aren’t looking for burnouts when purchasing a sports car. I would buy a live axle mustang if I wanted to do donuts. If I want to go fast around a track – it would be an M3 for me… I would have the INSANE engine response characteristics of an M that my “grey matter” can certainly discern – while yours can pretend it can’t.

    • lol says:

      M3s have a lot of body roll too. A 335is will be able to handle very close to an M3

    • Joe Watsa says:

      Wow – did you even read this article/know anything about driving? First of all, he didn’t do a single donut, if you look at the pics and the tire marks, it’s all high speed drifting, impressive car control – not red-neck donuts in your Mustang in the Walmart parking lot. There’s one burnout pic and if they’re like any other top mag – R&T or Car&Driver, they do this because it’s exciting to look at and it’s art. The car companies want their sports cars shown in action, because it’s what sells sports cars. Basic marketing.

      The point of this car is that it is less money than an M3 but still offers a lot of track performance, BMW built this car just below the M3 for a reason. Unless you’ve driven both back to back, maybe you don’t know how they compare?

      • m3overthis says:

        No, I certainly don’t know anything about driving. This is all speculation… Come on now.

        I am using “doughnuts” as a word for “dumb pictures that sell things to idiots”. If this is really what makes a good car – it sure must be GREAT since they have 21 photos of a car “not balanced through a corner” if you need exact terminology.

        The M3, with less torque, surely won’t act like this – it’s not meant to. This is the whole point. I am not buying a car for its “drift capabilities” – I am buying it to go as fast as possible when the time is right/at a track/etc.. I am not going to say I haven’t slid my M3 around a corner – but mashing the throttle down while creating clouds of smoke with one side of the car’s body 4 inches higher than the other is not “impressive car control” – it’s showing off for the camera to make people get excited. There is almost nil body roll in an M3 around a corner with wheels spinning – literally almost nothing.

        Regarding body roll, you have no idea what you are talking about – the car depicted is not balanced – and if you ever see someone actually “drift” around a corner (I am not talking drift competitions) – you won’t see this amount of smoke and/or body roll… It’s all for show.

        You can believe what you want – these cars aren’t even in the same category. BMW knows this – as do enthusiasts. You can PRETEND that it is a “baby M3” – but it’s not. It’s a sedan with an engine that creates a lot of torque – and makes great power. It handles pretty good – and also brakes good, but it’s not an M. There is a HUGE difference.

        I have an M3 – have driven a 135i and a 335i (not the is); my guess is that you have driven neither if you can even compare the two… Here are a few things that you will notice INSTANTLY:

        1. For straight-line performance – try 0-100 not 0-60 – this will explain horsepower to you, and will also depict what an M is all about.
        2. When you move the throttle a few millimeters in an M3 – and you actually feel the engine respond, that’s called engine response – do the same in a 335i (or any turbo car), and then say you can’t tell the difference.
        3. For your own “comfort” – snap both of them around a 90 degree bend at 30 – see which car you prefer/which is better balanced/which one actually feels like a sports car. My guess is that you will probably wrap the 335i around a tree once the body settles midway through the turn – but since I don’t know anything about driving, and you do – let me know what you think.
        4. Repeat.
        5. You will notice two things at this point. The M3 can do this all day long – while the 335i will have overheating issues/braking issues – etc. One car has a naturally aspirated race engine (literally), one has a turbocharged “very good engine” – suspension, same deal – brakes, same thing again – the list goes on, but you are the expert driver – so you know this already. Again, there is a reason that a whole division of BMW is devoted to building M models – it’s because the engineering is on a whole different level. You really need to drive both yourself before making assumptions. I am guessing you just want to feel better about what you purchased, or will purchase, etc. – and look only at numbers and pretty pictures to make your decision. If that’s the case, buy an S4 over the 335is – the numbers are much better.

        • lol says:

          Wow dude you really care a lot about this. If you like the M3 so much go buy a damn M3. This is a BMW blog. We are all BMW fans. I dont know why you are putting down a 335. Its a great car. Its not an M3, no, but the M3 you make other compromises in. The 335 and the M3 handle close enough on a track that your average driver wont notice. Your average driver has never been and will never go to the track anyways so why does any of that matter?

          Buy the car YOU want but dont tell ME the car is bad just because YOU dont like it or understand it.

          • m3overthis says:

            i never said it was bad/not good/don’t like it. please read the post – i actually said it had an excellent chassis, engine – etc…

            my entire point was that the handling (and everything else) is just not on par with an M. that’s all – i am just tired of people comparing the two cars – it doesn’t make any sense, as they are in two separate leagues. people who are purchasing a car should understand the truth – not just what is a better value. some people care about quality/the best/etc.

            i have owned 3 M cars through life, and have driven most 3 series since the late 90’s. The 50/50 balance of ALL BMW cars is amazing – and if you are a good driver, you can “take advantage” of this… and yes, the car will handle well, but to say that a stock 335(is.i,ix) handles as well as a stock M3 (or is even close?) – you have to be nuts. numbers are one thing – but, unless it’s track time it’s pretty much useless information. the slalom, although faster on car X doesn’t mean it can corner at corner Y at 110 MPH – there are a million variables at play. one HUGE one is body roll – which is VERY apparent in the 335is (both in the photos – and by driving it). check out the photos here to see the difference in both car’s attitudes:

            again, not bashing – just no comparison. sure, it’s a great value – but when you can pay another 10k to get an M AND you want the best sports car BMW makes – it’s an M not a 335is. People should stop with the confusion and just be honest with themselves/others.

            when people say “you just won’t understand until you drive it” regarding Porsche – I was like you… I thought they were jag-offs that just said it was better because it was a Porsche – that was, until I had a ride in a 997 turbo.

  17. m3overthis says:

    and one more thing… just in case you don’t want to take my word on it. read for yourself – same source:

    “Perfect balance runs in the family tree, at apex the M3 is neutral and ready for corner exit. Such precise handling seems to open up new possibilities in each corner; with such impressive accuracy you can place the car exactly as you want it.

    For all those who lust after ***tire burning***, track ready performance with a great blend of public road usability and value – it’s tough to arrive at any other car than the 335iS (inside, or outside of the company, for that matter). It’s every man’s sports car, full of passion and awfully fast.

    For those who yearn for something of a higher calling, the M3 offers race-bred pedigree, prestige, cache, and the excellence of M design that pervades every detail. This is not a car, it’s artwork. And it’s worth every penny.

    In conclusion: if you have the money, there is no substitute for an M car. But if your budget is closer to mine, you will not be let down by the underdog of this comparison. BMW’s 335iS is brilliant on track and comfortable on the road, it sounds like angels singing, and leaves you smiling after a playful drive.”

    Expert driver… meh.

  18. RandysV10 says:

    I applaud you m3overthis on your comments and “trying” to explain the differance. I had previously owned a E90 M3 and have moved up to an E63 M6. There is NO comparision in the driving characteristics between an M car and the balance it brings. If I always drove in the right lane then sure the 335 is a great car but for me, I’m the guy in the left lane passing.

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  21. font9a says:

    Since I have owned both a 2002 M3 and a this highly-tuned 2008 335i I am torn between which vehicle I’m more in love with.

    I love the M3 because it’s sharp, sharp, sharp. But it sounds like a bumblebee with bronchitis. I can run over a dime and tell you whether it’s heads or tails. It has less power and a whole lot less torque than the 335i. Not as quick, or as fast. And the SMG isn’t as silky. Violent almost.

    The 335i is gobs and gobs of torque and power. I had to put 19” Pilot Sport Cups on her to try to get some grip. She’s a bit slower to turn in, but tracks just as well, and isn’t quite as twitchy. She seems to communicate her limits in a more sultry voice than the M3 that gets there and slips, as if it were like brushing your teeth.

    The new iS won’t have those heat issues with the new IC and OC, and other cooling spa treatments. It will run hard everyday, with the M3. What you won’t be able to do is bolt on a JB3 to add 80+ whp — they’ve already given it a mild tune.

    The M3 for the track. The 335 for the street. win/win!

  22. david says:

    Is there tuning software available for the (is) yet?

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