San Francisco–we might’ve left our hearts there, too, but the bigger tragedy by far was the new-for-2007 BMW 3 Series 335i coupe we had to say goodbye to last week. After spending just a couple of days becoming familiar with the 335i twin turbo, we’re missing it more than any old internal organ. The 3 Series Bimmer is heralded world-’round as the benchmark of the entry-luxury class, and it’s clear why from the moment you step into one. The 2007 models have taken everything that made BMW’s reputation in this class what it is, and improved from there. The end result is a sight to behold, inside and out–and an awful hard automobile to walk away from.
Under the hood is where the biggest news sits. Pop the latch on the top-dog 335, and staring back out at you is a 3.0-liter inline six, based on the familiar mill from last year’s car. It’s an all-aluminum affair, with the VANOS variable valve timing. Sitting atop that familiar sight, though, is a pair of serious-looking Mitsubishi turbochargers-the likes of which haven’t been seen on any US-bound auto wearing the propeller badge in 25 years. The added aspiration adds up to 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm, and just about the flattest torque curve you ever saw, with all 300 lb.-ft. on tap from 1400 all the way up to 5000 rpm. The effect is like putting a finely-honed welterweight on steroids–all the smoothness and sublime response is still there, but with a new veneer or pure power as well. From a standing start, the 335i makes it to 60 mph in a scant 5.3 seconds (.2 seconds more for an automatic).
BMW’s sheetmetal artists went with the same ‘building upon excellence’ motif. This car is obviously a BMW, and clearly the descendant of the 3 Series two-doors of yore. Down to the C-pillar’s ‘Hofmeister kink’ framed in chrome. Yet compared to the outgoing models, the 2007 affects an air of graceful nobility; more graceful and sleek than it ever was. It’s a good-looking car, for sure; we prefer the looks of this model to even the four-door.
Traditional BMW touches mark the car’s interior as well; the tri-spoke steering wheel, sparse black center stack and brushed-aluminum trim wouldn’t be in any other car. Even iDrive has trickled down into BMW’s bread-and-butter machines (those with GPS, at least)–thankfully after enough R&D time has lapsed for the engineers to have gotten this control system (closer to) right. What we’re most excited about, though, is the new touches BMW saw fit to equip the 3 Series with. At night, the ambient lighting in the doors, for instance, gives the impression that you’re sitting in a much more expensive car; it seems too rich a touch for a $41,295 machine. Close the door, and another new nicety presents itself, in the form of a robotic arm motoring the seatbelt to within easy reach. Even the back seat is much improved–not just in passenger space, of which there is now enough for an average-sized adult to sit comfortably; but in luxury as well, with a full-length center console and temperature controls for the rearmost passengers.
Speaking of the steering wheel, automatic cars get cool column-mounted shifters that we found just about perfect for snapping up and down through the STEPTRONIC 6-speed transmission. On the whole, in fact, the slushbox is a honey of a tranny–although we still prefer the six-speed manual.
No matter how one prefers to stir through the gears, however, the suspension offerings present only one real option for true drivers. The 335 gets it outright; 328 owners have to pony up extra for the uprated springs and stabilizer bars of the ‘sport’ setup. It’s well worth it, though.
Depending on model and suspension package, wheels are either 17″ or 18″ in diameter; the 17s wear 225/45 all-season rubber, while the 18s get much more aggressive tires measuring 225/40 in the front and 255/35 out back. Active steering is optional, with DSC standard all around.
Overall, the BMW 3 Series has succumbed to the same growth pattern that all new cars seem to suffer from today, with the 328 weighing in at around 3400 lbs., and the 335 at almost 3600. Fortunately, the coupes are lighter than their sedan counterparts–albeit a rather measly 22 lbs. less. Still, we respect BMW’s attention in this area–witness the composite-plastic they used to mold the front fenders. Due to such nifty weight-saving touches, the 335i boasts a weight distribution ratio of nearly 51/49 front/rear; the 328i coupe actually scores a point better.
328s get their motivation from a similar 3.0-liter aluminum inline six, minus the turbos, of course, and with some magnesium in the metallurgical mix. Output on this engine is rated at 230hp at 6500 rpm, and 200 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750. BMW claims acceleration times of 6.2 seconds for 328s with the manual transmission, and 6.8 for the automatic. Our preference is obviously for the more-substantial 335–but starting under $36,000, the 328i makes a case for itself as well. Xdrive all-wheel-drive is also available in the 328, although it adds a couple grand to the pricetag, and a few tenths to the 0-to-60 times.
So it’s official, then–the 2007 BMW 3 Series Coupe is as good as it should be, and better than ever. We’d crown both the 335 and 328 as the reigning benchmark kings without hesitation.2007 BMW 335i Coupe First Drive: Benchmarking the Benchmark,