2012 BMW 335i Review

Forget the Five, Try the Three

By Shahzad Sheikh

2012 BMW 335i

Back in March this year I had a chance to briefly try the new BMW 3 Series on the track at the Dubai Autodrome – read that story here. First impressions were good, so I’ve been waiting patiently till now to try it again on the road.

Unfortunately we didn’t have very long with the car, but it was enough to confirm my initial impressions and build on them leading to a conclusion that we’re all getting it a bit wrong in the Middle East when it comes to the BMW range.

Unlike Europe where the Three rules supreme, in the GCC BMW sales are a bit topsy-turvy in that it’s the flagship 7 that takes the bulk of the sales, with the 3 lagging way behind the 5 series.

Here’s the thing though, the new 3 series is longer both in terms of wheelbase and overall length, only slightly but significantly enough to result in a couple of key factors. Firstly it makes the car sleeker and more elegant in profile with a coupe-like longer bonnet proportion. Plus I do like that new face with the slim headlights connecting directly to the widened kidney grille – I hate it when they leave a gap, as on the 1 series.

Secondly it increases the interior space. So much so, that I could happily ease my six-foot frame into the rear behind the driver’s seat set up for me – so rear space is definitely improved.

Returning to business end though and there’s a big clear instrument panel and nice big infotainment screen sat in the middle, that sort of looks like it will fold or slide away, but doesn’t. And whilst I still struggle with the stubby BMW transmission levels, it’s nice to have your hand fall naturally on an old-skool handbrake.

The centre console is broken up with a curved blade to house the infotainment controls, which actually all work rather well and it really didn’t take me long to get my phone hooked up and play songs with Bluetooth streaming through the excellent sound system.

So it’s one of the better looking 3s from the outside and comfy and inviting on the inside. But the 3 series used to be about driving, I should know, I owned a 1988 E30 325i and loved it.

Good news number one – it still is, moreso than ever. Yes it’s got that electric steering which somewhat numbs the feedback from the front wheels, but there’s enough communication through the taught and compact chassis to keep you well aware of proceedings. Plus weighting is very well judged, response is spot on and the accuracy intuitive.

The eight-speed gearbox might seem like overkill but it works well both left to its own devices and overridden with paddleshifts – which is how I drove it most of the time. The changes were quick and satisfyingly snappy in Sports and Sports Plus.

Performance too is excellent, and whilst 0-100kph in 5.5 might not sound neck-snapping, on the road this thing doesn’t feel much slower than a full-on sports car – in fact the consistent wave of torque that your right foot unleashes, makes you rather wonder why you’d ever need an M3.

Actually you don’t, this has got plenty of shove, and with Sports Plus engaged, which also reduces traction and stability interference, combined with the car’s near-perfect 50:50 weight balance, this is a very keen handler that’s happier to display its naughty rear-drive sideways tendencies than its bigger brothers. It’s also more linear and manageable, with enough give in it to keep things entertaining. Turn everything off and it would not be hard to imagine this as an utter hooligan.

So yet another sign that BMW are getting back to the business of making driver-focussed cars again. With Beemer also getting more aesthetically pleasing, what’s not to like?
Well is it too little, too late? Have they alienated too many ex-owners like me, and are they scaring the rest off with high prices?

Well interestingly the price for this 335i in March was quoted as AED273,000 ($74,200), which seemed rather exorbitant for junior level exec, but now the price we have been given is AED240,000 ($65,000) along with AED180k ($49k) for the 328 and AED155k ($42k) for the 320.

You may argue that the Lexus IS300 is better value at AED183k for the range topper, and you’d be right. But there’s 70 fewer horses, it’s less roomy in the back and would come across as decidedly dated when compared to the 3 series. And whilst a great drive, it’s not quite as involving as the BeeEm.

A tougher rival would be the Mercedes C350, cheaper at $54,000 although with the must-have AMG Sports Pack that rises to $56,400 though that’s still over $8000 less than the 335i. Now that would be an interesting comparison.

In the meantime though, judging the new 335i on looks, comfort, quality, appeal, performance and sheer driving pleasure, it’s one of, if not the, best junior compact executive cars around; especially if you really enjoy driving. Definitely one for the short list – just haggle hard for a better deal.

Spec
2012 BMW 335i
Price: AED240,000 ($65,000)
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder inline, 306bhp @ 5800-6000rpm, 295lb ft @ 1200-5000rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 5.5seconds, 250kph, 7.2L/100km (PDK)
Transmission: six-speed manual or eight-speed auto, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1585kg

Read our Twin Test of this car with the Audi A4 3.0 TFSI Quattro

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