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Car Corner
BMW 335i - Driving Impressions

April 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

Last month we test drove two BMW 328i cars. At the time I had no idea there would be a part two to the story. Well, here it is a month later and we have a test drive of a 2007 BMW 335i.

This story has a happy ending. Unlike last month we actually bought this car. It was that good, and that good of a deal. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We'll start with driving impressions of the 335i then move on to the unusual way we found and bought the car.

The Car

The car we bought was a white 335i equipped with the Premium Package plus heated seats and automatic transmission. It had a sticker price of $43.6. Although used, the car still had the new car smell. In fact, it only had 974 miles (more later). As for being used I could not detect any issues that it did not drive exactly like a new car.

The 335i had the same sharp steering and sensitive brakes as last month's 328i without the Sport Package. I like it. The brakes take a little getting used to to be smooth, but nothing you wouldn't do if you were driving the car everyday. It took me a little longer to adjust to them as we switch vehicles here. I really like the amount of effort in the steering and the level of feel it returns. Our 335i has slightly heavier steering than the base 328i I drove, but nowhere near the heavy feel of the 328i equipped with the Sport Package.

Overall this is exactly what I wanted. The Sport Package was pretty firm, and having driven a Mini Cooper with the Sport Package I wanted a little more luxury in a sedan. I have not been able to find the limit to the car's handling. This car is already so good that I would have to get it on a race track to explore its handling limits. On the street the Sport Package does not provide any capability that you can use... legally, but if you like the firm tight feeling then it does that well. I just didn't want the compromise in ride that comes with the Sport Package, and I am glad I don't have it. The ride of the 335i is slightly firm, and you know when you are hitting road imperfections. However, it soaks up bumps very well and truly feels like a luxury car. I miss the seats on the Sport Package with their adjustable side bolsters. Darn!

I know what you want to know... how fast is the 335i, and how well does it run with the automatic transmission. I do not have test equipment, so I can't give you exact numbers. Sorry. However, we can have some fun with numbers. BMW claims the 335i with a manual transmission will go from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, and the automatic is close behind at 5.6 seconds. At this conservative rating the 335i is 0.1 seconds faster than my wife's 1999 Porsche 911 also equipped with an automatic. The closest road test I could find of the Porsche with an automatic had a time of 5.7 seconds.

You can't compare one set of number to another, as everyone's testing methods are different, and they can't correct for each others weather conditions etc. But we can come close. Car and Driver road tested a 335i and managed to beat their test car to the tune of 4.8 seconds to the magic 60 mph mark. If we assume Car and Driver would get similar numbers with an automatic then we can draw the conclusion they would get the automatic to run the sprint in 5.0 seconds. It is not uncommon for road tests of BMW's cars to easily beat BMW's published numbers. For instance, Automobile magazine not only road tested, but put a 335i on a dyno. They got  5.1 seconds out of a 335i Coupe. Road & Track, who's numbers have traditionally been more conservative than other magazines, scored 5.0 on their road test of a 335i sedan.

O.K. enough with make believe. I have no reservation saying this car will run to 60 mph in the low 5 second range. That makes this car faster than my 93 Camaro Z28, which was questionably faster than my 73 Road Runner GTX with a 440 (putting out an estimated 425 "gross" hp). In other words... this car is fast.

How does the automatic work? If you have read my reviews in the past you know I usually bash automatics pretty badly. The 335i is not so bad it needs bashing, but it is not perfect either. The automatic has 6 gears and three driving modes. There is the standard mode, a sport mode and a manual mode. In standard mode the transmission is a bit tricky off the line. As best I can tell it tries to launch the car in second gear. However if you apply enough throttle it downshifts to 1st gear. When it does this the engine is on the borderline between mild acceleration and a bit of turbo lag. That's right, this awesome 3.0 liter, inline 6, twin turbocharged engine does experience a little bit of turbo lag. It is very small, but it helps throw the transmission off and it is difficult to launch the car smoothly.

All of my complaints with the automatic in standard mode disappear in sport mode. Flip the shift lever to the left and the transmission becomes a great performance unit. It launches in 1st gear, and holds gears to keep the engine revs up and ready for action. In sport mode it is very hard to tell this is a turbocharged engine. Power is a bit soft right off the line then it builds up like gangbusters in the 2500-3000 RPM range. Power just doesn't quit until redline at 7000RPM. Upshifts in sport mode happen right at redline, which is a pleasant experience. The only downside to sport mode is that when you reach cruising speed it hangs back a gear and drags the car, so you need to switch back to normal mode. Even cruising at 90+ mph it holds 5th gear instead of switching to 6th.

Manual mode is as bad as they come. It works well enough sometimes, but it is hardly a real manual mode. I tried to see how much turbo lag I would get if I lugged the motor a bit. I put it in 3rd gear and settled the car at 2000 RPMs. When I stopped on the throttle the transmission downshifted to 2nd gear. I tried it again in 4th gear and it still dropped down to 2nd gear. So much for manual mode.

The dynamic traction control (DTC) is far too intrusive. I have tried turning it off, but I have not been able to get a good slide out of the car, except in the wet. Personally I don't like the DTC. It kicks in far too early. Even with it off, the combination of the automatic transmission and minor turbo lag make difficult work of smooth, spirited driving off the line.

The Deal

At the beginning I mentioned we bought this car in an unusual way. Well, my wife found it on Autotrader listed by a wholesaler. We thought it was weird. The first time we called it was lightly raining and they said they don't test drive cars in the rain. That's what had us go to the BMW dealer, which led to last month's 328i experience.

Since we didn't buy the 328i because the dealer low balled our trade and would not budge on the price of their car, my wife checked Autotrader again. They still had this 335i at the wholesaler. It was the lowest priced 335i listed in Autotrader. In fact, it was the same price as the 328i at the BMW dealer. We thought for sure it was going to be a base model with "leatherette." The car was also advertised as having 14,000 miles.

When we got there they told us they made a mistake on the mileage. They mistakenly listed the car with the mileage when the next service was due... 14,000 miles. The car actually had 974 miles. We drove it and loved it. So it all came down to price... not theirs, but how much they would offer for my Mini Cooper. The manager took a quick walk around the Mini and rubbed a little dirt off the front, to make sure it was not rock chips. He took down the mileage and went off. He never even drove it. When they presented their offer they "prepared" us that as a wholesaler they would offer significantly less than the BMW dealer. Well, they were wrong. They offered the exact same amount as the BMW dealer. But we got a car that was worth about $5000 more than the BMW dealer's car for the same price. We saved about $7,000 off the original sticker price for a mere 974 miles. It was a deal we could not pass up.

Conclusion

Overall I love this car. If you have been reading this column for any length of time you will note that this is my dream car... plus two doors. Let's reminisce a little:

Nov 1999 - I mention always liking BMWs and contemplate the 323Ci.
Sep 2000 - I eliminate the 3 Series convertible from consideration due to price.
Feb 2002 - I look at the G35 Coupe as an affordable alternative to "my favorite coupe, the BMW 330Ci." I also look at the 330i sedan even though it is too expensive.
Aug 2003 - I mention, "Ultimately, I would like a BMW 330Ci Convertible. This is the dream machine."
May 2003 - I test drive a BMW 325Ci Convertible to see if it has enough power for me.
Dec 2003 - I mention, "
The car I really want is the BMW 330Ci Convertible." I console myself to the possibility of a coupe or sedan, even a used one due to price.
May 2005 - I consider a used 330Ci in the $28-32K range.
Jun 2005 - With the cost of a new 330i I consider a used 3 Series sedan.
Aug 2006 - I price a 325i and 330i to see if they fit in my budget.
Jun 2007 - I mention my wife and I are considering trading in my Mini Cooper for a
BMW 3 Series Convertible.

Clearly I have been interested in the 3 Series from BMW for a long time.

The overall experience at the wholesaler was amazing. They didn't jerk us around about our trade. They said up front they would be lower than regular dealers and then offered the same as two other dealers. They didn't try to sell us any extended warranties, no weird insurance to cover what my regular insurance won't cover, no paint protection. Just the car at the advertised price, which was at least $4000 less than any other 335i on Autotrader with the Premium Package. In fact, it was the only 335i on Autotrader with real leather for less than $40,000. Simple, easy and respectful. I loved it.

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