YOU HAVE TO wonder what Gottlieb Daimler would make of a modern car.
On that day in 1886, when he and business partner Wilhelm Maybach screwed their strange 0.5 horsepower ?grandfather clock? single cylinder petrol engine onto the bones of a wooden carriage, can Daimler have imagined what his creation would become?
Would he now recognise it? Could he possibly have envisaged that his technological triumph, the ?motorised carriage?, would evolve in the space of 120 years to offer the comfort, power, versatility and sheer capability that we take for granted in the modern car.
What then, would he make of the sublime twin-turbo BMW 335i Touring?
Near flawless in every detail, arrow-true on-road dynamics, effortlessly powerful and a technological tour-de-force, it is a brilliant car in any context.
It is not alone of course, there are other brilliant cars. For some, their brilliance lies in their value, what they offer ? for the money ? in all-round competence and ownership satisfaction.
Every car is a value equation for buyers. In assessing a premium BMW, like the 335i Touring, price has to be the moderating point when making comparisons ? after all, these cars sit in rarified air in the showroom.
The question then becomes: does the sheer excellence of the BMW 335i Touring justify the leap of 40 thousand-plus dollars above, say, the excellent and somewhat similar, HSV Clubsport R8 Tourer (that we also have under review at this time)?
It?s the showroom price that makes them exclusive - otherwise everyone would have one in the drive. It also pays for the superior technology. At $112,200 plus on-roads, you?d expect the 335i Touring to be better than damn good.
And, in nearly every way, it is.
It is difficult to fault the lines of the 335i Touring. Balanced, athletic and purposeful from every angle, it is a super looking car.
Like the 3 Series sedan, the rear of the touring is improved by the new tail-light design. So too, the deep front dam with driving lights, deep ?arrow? crease over the bonnet, heavily accented flanks, ?blistered? wheel arches and stronger kidney grille give the current model 3 Series real on-road ?lan.
To these eyes, the 335i Touring, with a rakish roof-line and sitting fat on 225/40 R18 rubber and 18-inch guards-filling alloys, looks even better than the sedan.
That long roof and rising belt line creates surprising space inside and lends a poise and athleticism to the wagon, and exclusivity, that the sedan doesn?t quite capture.
To any eyes, the 335i Touring is a handsome car. That it comes with one of the most desirable badges in the business, is all bonus.
Trimmed in rich tan Dakota leather, with brushed metal highlights and superbly designed dash, console and interior lay-out, the ?work-bench? of our 335i tester was pure premium accommodation.
Fashionably restrained and tastefully styled: to sit at the wheel of the 335i, to run your eyes over the surfaces and to take in the fit and finish, and the sumptuous feel of the leather, is to know that you?re in a special car.
There is a range of thoughtful features throughout: like ?puddle? lights in the footwells, door handles that light-up at night, ambient under-dash lighting, keyless entry (with a proximity key), two-stage indicators and a tail-gate window that can be opened independently of the rear door (a handy design touch for loading groceries and smaller items).
And then there?s the iDrive. The ?reductionism? of the iDrive controller - getting rid of all those little console buttons and putting their functions into one simple-to-use, single controller with multiple functions and multiple layers - is a triumph in modern design.
It may once have confounded users, but is now perfect simplicity. I know this because I can use it. (And I am a total luddite? it?s proven.)
Not quite as satisfying for my preferred driving style is the driver ergonomics. While I found the cosseting buckets comfortable (if not at the head of the class), I struggled a little in getting the driver?s seat and wheel set ?just right?.
I like to drive with the wheel set low. Doing this blocked out the top section of the dials? and, arguably, the most important information (if you value your licence). No biggie, but getting set at the wheel compromised things for me.
Out back, the load area is surprisingly large and well shaped, with a low lip for easy loading and as beautifully trimmed as the rest of the interior. Thanks to the fold-flat 60/40 split rear seats, it can also swallow bulkier items if pressed into duty.
In a way, if you missed the twin pipes at the back and the big rubber below, the versatility, comfort and everyday usefulness of the BMW 335i Touring would suggest it?s just another premium wagon.
Few would guess it is can post scorching track times straight out of the packet.
It looks benign, and offers family-friendly practicality. But it?s a ?steppenwolf? below the skin.
Equipment and Features
You would expect the 335i to be loaded. It is: standard equipment includes a premium sound system with USB/audio interface (aux-in socket for MP3 player), automatic climate control air-conditioning, on board computer, preparation for Bluetooth mobiles, 8.8-inch high-res colour display, DVD drive, sat-nav (with voice recognition) and multi-function sport steering wheel.
The navigation system, operated from the iDrive controller, comes with a new menu structure and offers full-screen mode on the colour monitor and three-dimensional relief maps.
The integrated 80 GB hard-disc drive allows the storage of up to 8 GB of audio that can be loaded from CD or USB files.
There is also (as mentioned) keyless entry and start, front fog lights, rain sensor, rear park distance control, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlamps, high beam assist, six airbags, seatbelt tensioners and force limiters (with split-second activation in the event of collision) and a host of dynamic safety features: ABS, EBD, traction assistance, and emergency brake detection.
The heart and soul of the 335i is its magnificent twin-turbo 3.0 litre six-cylinder engine.
Part of BMW?s ?EfficientDynamics? design engineering, it features a light-weight magnesium-alloy crankcase, four-valves per cylinder, variable valve control and BMW?s High Precision Injection (HPI) - enabling the engine to run in lean-burn mode over a broad range of engine speeds.
Though undersquare (84.0mm bore and 89.6mm stroke), it will happily rev its head off. And, thanks to that long stroke, it delivers a scorching 400Nm of torque in a delicious and irresistible stream from as low as 1300rpm all the way to 5000rpm.
Though power is a very healthy 225kW @ 5800rpm, it is the broad torque band that gives the engine its tractable nature, and why it works so well with the six-speed sequential automatic transmission when being hustled along.
With those 225kW and 400Nm working for you, and absolutely creamy delivery, it is a very potent unit. Should you decide to run it against the clock, you?ll see 100km/h in a mere 5.9 seconds.
It sounds sensational once you start winding it out. (A BMW straight-six in full-song is one of the great sounds of the age.)
The sequential six-speed auto is also a surprise. Drop it into sport-mode, bury the shoe, and the ?box holds the gears, upshifting at the top of the rev range for thumping acceleration.
In sport-mode, like the Lexus ISF, shifts are blindingly quick. In press-on diving, it changes down pre-emptively, always keeping the right gear underfoot.
And, in either sport or normal drive, you can take things in hand with the paddles ? up-shifting with the fingers, down-shifts with the thumbs.
Brakes, ventilated discs all round (348mm up front, 336mm rear) and near-perfect pedal feel, are astonishingly effective, pulling up straight and true time after time.
Show me the person who does not enjoy the experience at the wheel of a sporting BMW, and I will show you a corpse. The sheer sure-footed dynamism of a BMW on the run makes any heart beat a little faster.
If ever a car had you looking for the ?long way round?, BMW?s 335i is such a car. It is sheer driving pleasure: effortless across the ground and astonishingly quick.
On a reaching run along the back-roads skirting the foothills in Victoria?s North East, the 335i was in its element. Out here, powering through long looping curves, switchbacks, crests and hollows, the chassis balance, sure-footedness and sheer engineering excellence below positively shines.
The 335i is a driver?s car from the kidney grille to the tips of its twin-exhausts.
With double-joint spring struts up front and five-link rear axle, there is nothing particularly sophisticated in the suspension set-up. It is just in the way it works that sets the 335i apart.
What happens below is brilliant really: it?s involving, taut but not too firm, well-connected but free of jarring through the wheel, and, when pressing hard, it sits flat and unruffled with arrow-true turn-in.
It is simply a matter of holding the power (and your nerve), working the six-speed transmission to keep the twin-turbos on song, and spearing from one apex to the next.
It is so well-engaged with the road, unfussed and unflappable, it is inspiring at the wheel.
For overtaking, it is blisteringly fast. Punch it back to third (down-changing with the thumbs) and fire. Between 80-140km/h, it feels like it could suck the doors off anything.
Throttle response from the twin-turbo six up front is instantaneous. Best of all, as it wakes, and the tacho needle dances across the dial, the rising rasping wail that accompanies the action above 5000rpm is glorious. It?s the kind of sound you would package if you could.
The only downside to the drive is at lower speeds. Pottering around, some will find the wheel a little heavy away from the dead-ahead (compromising the experience in urban driving).
For those doing a lot of urban driving, BMW's Active Steering System might be an option to consider. By integrating a planetary gear set into the steering column and an electric motor that adjusts the front wheels' steering angle in proportion to the car's speed, the system is designed to reduce the effort at parking speeds considerably.
As speeds rise however, the feel of the ?active? rack and pinion steering improves markedly. At speed, it is near faultless.
Occasionally on secondary roads, the run-flat tyres also make their presence felt: bridge joins, breaks in the bitumen, the pot-holing where livestock cross (cow manure is dynamite on bitumen) can thump a bit. And more noticeably on the 335i than the 320d we had recently.
There is also some tyre roar; not intrusive, but there? the inevitable consequence of wide rubber and a sports suspension set-up.
We loved this car ? so potent, yet so versatile.
As a performance drive, the 335i Touring is blisteringly fast and as agile and as satisfying as they come. Driving it, savouring its engagement with the road and the sound of that rorty yet sophisticated twin-turbo six up front, is a wholly visceral experience.
But it is equally satisfying as a prestige wagon. Inside, flawless, it pampers just enough to satisfy the most discerning of buyers.
The inescapable question though comes down to that sticker price. If you need a wagon with sportscar performance capabilities, and the sticker price is within reach, we?d recommend the 335i in a heartbeat.
The exclusivity, the cachet in that BMW badge and the satisfaction in the knowledge that you are driving one of the best wagons on the planet, comfortably bridges the price gap for the premium buyer.
Of course, most of us would need to think more than twice about that $40k-plus price differential over the likes of the finely executed and quite remarkable HSV Clubsport R8 Tourer? or even Volkswagen?s surprising Passat R36 Wagon.
The simple fact is though, we?d all buy a 335i if we could, wouldn?t we? It is, quite simply, a superbly executed car.
- Astonishing chassis balance and on-road dynamics
- Fabulous undersquare twin-turbo in-line six
- Understated, stylish interior
- Brilliant iDrive (now a plus)
- Wagon versatility, with sportscar performance
- Premium fit and finish
- Driver ergonomics not for everybody
- Heavy steering at low speeds
- Run-flat tyres still make their presence felt
- A little tyre roar on coarser blue-metal roads