After a morning session of lapping the 2012 BMW 335i Sport Line around the near mountainous Laguna Seca Raceway, I was ready for a break as, after riding for a few laps with Joey Hand, my easily coaxed stomach was feeling a bit queasy.
After a quick lunch and an introduction to Steve Dinan and his beastly dark grey Dinan-tuned Alpina B7, I was paired off with all-round great guy and driver Dave Undercoffer from the LA Times. As our track session was winding down, the agenda was to take out a handful of F30′s in various specification. Dave had done us a favor by picking out an elegant Sapphire Black 335i Luxury Line on Saddle Brown leather.
After piling in all of my camera gear and helmet into the 335i’s generous truck, I plopped down into the passenger seat to serve as navigator for our afternoon journey up the coastline of Monterey. Leaving Laguna Seca, we headed South on the Monterey-Salinas Highway towards Salinas.
Cruising through Salinas city traffic the 335i felt very docile and easy to drive, we left the suspension primarily in Comfort and Eco Pro modes as we dawdled from stop light to stop light. The suspension in Comfort and Eco Pro rewarded our decision by marginalizing bumps and abrasions on the surface roads – great for helping settle my stomach out after the morning track session. While poking along in traffic, I was able to review the window sticker of our 335i Luxury Line and our car came equipped with what seemed to be nearly every available option – and it should have been considering the hefty price tag well north of $50,000.
In scanning the list, the highlights of our 2012 BMW 335i Luxury Line were the Technology Package giving us on-board navigation and the Head-Up display, the Parking Package giving side and rear cameras for navigating the narrowest of parking lots, and Premium Sound Package, equipped with a 420 watt, 13 speaker sound system courtesy of Harman Kardon.
As we were entranced by the sweet burbly exhaust of the N55 out of the twin pipes at the back of the F3, we did not take advantage of the Harman Kardon system to its full extent until later in the trip. However, as we began to snake along the coast line late in the afternoon, we popped it over to XM radio and caught some incredible sound flowing from the 13 on-board speakers – a must have for any audiophile at only $950 for the full system(328i included).
As we left Salinas, we pulled onto Highway 101 South, headed straight toward Fort Hunter-Leggitt, a US Army training facility and the one large parcel of land between us and the idyllic Northern California coast line. It was on Highway 101 that I found my first grievance with the F30 in general. It would seem that at highway speed and a hair above, there was a tremendous amount of wind noise permeating the cabin of the 335i.
When accelerating, the wind noise heavily muted the exhaust and seemed to dominate all background noise. Many complained of the same issue with the E90 and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been rectified in the latest 3 Series, either. Aside from the wind noise, the 335i was well-suited as a cruiser. Set to Comfort, the adaptive suspension and Dakota leather seats felt well-paired to let us travel in comfort for hours, the bolstering is a excellent mix of the Sport seats and previous generation non-Sport seats: comfortable, supportive but not a bench seat. Both of us being over 6 feet tall, the front seat was a mercifully spacious area in which to plant ourselves for the next few hours – never leaving me cramped or uncomfortable.
Continuing southward down Highway 101, we made for a quick driver change allowing me some wheel time and it was off and through the property of the US Army known as Fort Hunter Liggett. While I’ve not been on many US Army installations, Hunter Liggett was incredibly beautiful and, surprisingly, open to the public to drive through. Our particular route found us in a massive, lush valley of the installation with a circuitous path called Nacimiento-Fergusson Road leading us out of the base and onward to the coastline. While feeding through the base on a series of mostly second and third gear bends, I found my second big qualm with the new F30 – the run flat tires.
Our car came equipped with 18 inch alloy Style 416 wheels, wrapped in run flat tires and when we encountered a quarter mile of abrasive, uneven surfaces; the suspension was quite rough and jarring. I thumbed my way back down through the adaptive suspension to dial in the Comfort setting. To my dismay, none of the suspension settings made much of an impact on how the F30 was able to deal with road surface – leading me to believe that the run flats hadn’t progressed as far as I initially thought. The cure?I loaded up the throttle and used the 300 horsepower of the N55 engine to shoot past the unpleasant section of asphalt.
As our journey toward the Pacific took us further west on a series of interconnecting hairpins, it also began to take us skyward. Through countless switchbacks we would emerge from a low-slung canopy of trees and out into the bright, afternoon light – revealing impressive valleys far below us – possibly a picturesque final resting place if we were too enthusiastic with the throttle and not enough so with the brake as there were no guard rails to minimize any missteps.
Pulling over for a driver change at a small shelf on the edge of a bluff, we stepped out of the plush interior of the 335i Luxury Line and found ourselves standing at the edge of an incredible view. Massive, green hills, falling sharply into jagged brown rocks who clashed with the pure aqua sea. There were no sounds, aside from the soft flow of wind around us and the faint explosions of ocean for what seemed like miles below us.
The momentary reprieve from noisy, overly distracting society was finally broken as the faint scream of an N55 turbocharged six cylinder as it makes use of its hefty 300 lb-ft of torque to climb the hills behind us. A short time later, a Mojave Brown 335i Modern Line squeals around the bend and off down Highway 1 to explore what could be considered one of the most beautiful parts of the United States. We thought we should join them and do so in a rapid manner.
Good thing I had faith in my driving partner for the day.
Our descend toward sea level was done in haste. The 335i Luxury Line, when dropped into Sport Mode, was a compelling car. We popped open the sunroof and the cool ocean air poured into the cabin, I keyed on the mildest setting on the heated seats and sat back and tried to just enjoy the scenery – a mix of blurred trees, brown rocks and quick views of nearly turquois sea water. Doing that helped me forget that we were on fast hairpins again with no guard rails on a road barely wider than a go kart track. Highway 1, is gorgeous, but in some parts not for the faint of heart or those slow with the brake! As I said, I had faith in my driving partner.
After snaking our way along the coastline, we managed to catch a few journalists ahead of us at the quaint Lucia Lodge along Highway 1. During our brief reprieve we were warned of numerous CHP stalking would-be speeders up and down the coast. Duly warned and refreshed from some sandwiches and sodas, we pointed the protruding nose of the 335i due North, taking off towards Big Sur state park. Jetting along, heavy into the power band of the turbocharged N55, it slowly donned on me that these roads are what BMW’s are made for. 180 degree hairpins, cliff-hugging serpentine roads and undulating, beach-front expanses – the F30 handled them all with aplomb.
Yes, this is the best 3 Series yet – it’s fun, luxurious, sounds good, looks good, handles well and will overwhelm you with the levels of technology buried within the car. We haven’t touched on the customizable apps and social media integrated into iDrive!
As the golden sun slipped below the horizon, we found ourselves back in Monterey and on to our hotel, The Clement,sitting bayside. Leaving the 335i Luxury Line behind, another revelation struck me: the 335i Luxury Line isn’t a softened up car. It’s a joy to drive and surprisingly, on par with the 335i Sport Line in terms of fun factor. the E90 chassis and previous 3 Series felt a bit soft and less focused with equipped with only Premium Package and not the coveted Sports Package.
The F30 manages to close the gap between Sport and Luxury by a significant margin. As an enthusiast, that goes against the grain of everything I should want in a car – but I think, for an all-round car, one that rewards around town and performs on the the local back roads – the 335i Luxury Line might just be an option that will surprise you.
Yes, the run flats still have the ability to ruin the overall ride of the car. Yes, the F30 335i is an expensive proposition in any of the three available lines and yes, it isn’t a naturally aspirated big six – but it is convincing enough to make you forget all of those things and just get down to the business of enjoying the driving experience.