Sensational Meets Sensible
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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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.