2012 BMW 3 SERIES REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium luxury sedan
Price: $91,900 (plus on-roads), $101,760 as-tested.
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.2 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 11.0 l/100km
The top end of BMW’s 3 Series range was once the preserve of sonorous, revvy six-cylinder engines. But now, with the arrival of the F30 3 Series, that’s no longer the case.
If you want one with more than four cylinders, your only option is the 335i - the 328i has now shed two cylinders and grown a turbocharger.
The 335i’s engine is a familiar unit. It’s largely the same N55 twin-scroll turbo six found in late-model E90 335i’s. However now it’s mated to a new chassis, new suspension and new eight-speed gearbox.
The 3 Series has always been at the front of the sports sedan pack, and, as we found, this latest generation of 335i is no exception.
Quality: The fit and finish of the F30 3 Series interior is significantly better than the old E90, and the cabin design is far more visually interesting.
Trimmed in black leather and accented with dark glossy wood and silver-painted trim, the interior of our Luxury-grade 335i tester comes with a distinct air of opulence.
No complaints with durability either: everything as tight as a drum and rattle-free.
Comfort: Ergonomically the new 3 Series is ‘right’, with a driver-focused cabin that puts all controls within easy reach and a steering column with a wide range of adjustment.
Unfortunately, the front seats aren’t quite so satisfying. While the backrests give decent upper-body support, the squabs are flat with little bolstering.
It’s particularly frustrating when cornering hard; they do a pretty poor job of holding the driver’s legs in place (almost unforgiveable in a car with the sporting abilities of the 335i).
The back seats are also firmly cushioned and fairly flat, but there’s good under-thigh support and plenty of leg/knee room.
A pronounced transmission hump means adults won’t enjoy sitting in the middle seat (a lack of cabin width also means you’ll struggle to fit three abreast), but with face-level air vents and adjustable headrests, there’s enough comfort touches on offer to backseaters.
Equipment: Standard features on the 335i include bi-xenon dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, a speed limiter, sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors, electric front seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, an 8.8-inch LCD infotainment display and a Harman Kardon sound system with USB input and iPod integration.
The 335i we tested came in the optional Luxury specification, which added lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels, red stitching on the steering wheel and chrome exterior and interior trim.
Our test car was also fitted with a bevy of extras, including a head-up display, glass sunroof and keyless entry/ignition, which also included a foot sensor under the rear bumper that opens the boot when your hands are full.
Storage: The 335i’s boot measures a handy 480 litres, and the 40/20/40 split rear seatbacks can be dropped to boost cargo volume even more.
Storage space in the compact cabin isn’t overly abundant, but there’s plenty of cupholders and room for keys, phones, iPods etc.
Don’t expect too much of the glovebox or centre console bin though - they’re quite shallow and only suited to storing small, slim items.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: BMW’s three-litre turbocharged inline six was lauded last year as one of the ten best engines in the world. It is, as mentioned, the only six-cylinder now on offer in the new F30 3 Series range.
Developing a stout 225kW and 400Nm of torque, the 335i’s motor has plenty of urge no matter where in the rev range the tacho needle sits.
Low-end torque is especially strong, with peak twist available from between 1200rpm and 5000rpm.
That exceptionally wide torque band translates into superb tractability - it will haul from barely off idle. And though the 335i’s standard-issue automatic has eight speeds to choose from, it certainly doesn’t need to shuffle through them to extract very potent performance.
That gearbox, by the way, is superb. It will smoothly slur gears together during normal driving and deliver clean, crisp shifts when in Sport mode.
A pair of steering wheel-mounted paddles allow manual control of the ‘box, although the ECU will upshift automatically at redline.
Overtaking is a blur, on-ramps are dispatched in a jiffy and the 335i bursts from corner to corner with just a squeeze of the accelerator.
A twin-scroll turbine housing means there’s little turbo lag to contend with, and working the engine hard produces a satisfyingly smooth inline-six howl.
Refinement: The 18-inch alloys and run-flat tyres transmit some road roar into the cabin, but noise and vibration suppression is otherwise very good.
The 335i is equipped with engine start-stop as standard, springing back into life with just a slight judder as the engine is re-ignited.
Suspension: The ride has an initial sharpness that can mostly be attributed to the low-profile run flat tyres, but it’s far from uncomfortable on typical urban roads.
It shines brighter though when the 335i is shown a set of curvy roads, and it darts through corners with little body roll and excellent traction.
Our car was equipped with the standard coil springs and dampers, but keener drivers may want the electronically-adjustable dampers, lower ride height and sportier spring rates of the optional Adaptive M suspension.
The steering is electrically assisted, and ultimately a little lacking in feel and feedback. A variable-ratio steering rack is available as an option, but is also electrically-assisted.
Braking: A fast-responding pedal and large ventialted disc brakes give the 335i significant stopping power. We found them to be virtually fade-free even on enthusiastic downhill runs.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: Safety equipment includes six airbags, stability and traction control, ABS brakes with emergency brake assist and cornering brake control. Adjustable headrests and three point seatbelts are fitted to all seats.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres, additionally paintwork is warranted for three years, and body panels for up to 12 years against corrosion.
Service costs: BMW does not set servicing intervals for the 3 Series; servicing costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Lexus IS 350 F Sport ($71,800) - The closest competitor to the 335i in terms of engine output is Lexus’ sporty IS 350 F Sport, which produces 233kW and 378Nm from its naturally-aspirated 3.5 litre V6
It’s got quite a willing chassis and more compliant suspension. However, its six-speed automatic lacks the decisiveness of the 335i’s eight-speeder, and disappoints as a performance gearbox.
Rear seat accommodation is also substantially tighter than the BMW, and the interior is now dated. On the other hand, it’s a veritable bargain compared to the Euro competition. (see IS reviews)
Audi A4 3.2 FSI quattro ($95,300) - The naturally-aspirated 3.2 litre V6 in the A4 3.2 FSI can’t touch the BMW or Lexus for power or torque (it peaks at just 195kW/330Nm), but it does have the added security of all-wheel drive.
It is also priced slightly higher than the BMW in base form. (see A4 reviews)
Mercedes-Benz C 300 ($84,900) - The least powerful of this lot (185kW/340Nm), but also the second-cheapest, the lightly refreshed C300 puts a greater emphasis on passenger comfort than corner-carving.
For a performance sedan the Lexus or BMW is the better option, but if looking for a comfy cruiser with badge cred, take a look at the Benz. (see C-Class reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We’re glad that BMW has resisted the urge to fit every model in the 3 Series range with a more eco-friendly four-pot, and we’re also glad that the one six-cylinder motor they decided to carry over is the superb N55 single-turbo 3.0 litre.
It’s the perfect engine for the 3 Series - it’s got plenty of power and packs huge torque, yet is smooth, refined, quiet and not heavy enough to upset the 335i’s near-perfect weight balance.
We like the 2012 BMW 335i a lot, it’s a terrific sporting drive, but we do have one reservation: the front seats are under par for a performance car.
We’d recommend bypassing the Modern or Luxury model lines, and opting for the Sport model instead.
Besides some different trim, you get a set of thicker-bolstered front seats that will actually hold you in place and allow you to fully enjoy the dynamic abilities of the 335i.
- BMW 318d - $56,400
- BMW 320i - $57,600
- BMW 320d - $60,900
- BMW 328i - $66,900
- BMW 335i - $91,900 ($101,760 as-tested)
Note: Manufacturer’s Recommended List Price is shown and includes GST and Luxury Car Tax (LCT) but excludes dealer charges, stamp duty, statutory charges and on-road charges.
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