2011 BMW 335is review: 2011 BMW 335is

The navigation system's maps are among the richest in the industry.

BMW takes advantage of the navigation system's hard drive to include some of the best-looking maps we've seen in a car. Textured topographical details let us see whether we were approaching a mountain or canyon around the next blind corner. In downtown San Francisco, the map rendered a few landmark buildings in 3D, although it didn't show the full downtown landscape, as we saw in the 550i Gran Turismo. Zooming out to a 1-mile scale in plain view, the maps become satellite imagery.

The maps also incorporate traffic data, dynamically figuring it into route calculation. But we had a few issues with route guidance in the car. It is one of the most loquacious systems we've used, continually advising us not to take each freeway exit that came up, for example, until we finally got to the one we wanted. And even though it talks so much, it does not do text to speech, only enunciating highway and freeway numbers.

The route guidance graphics, indicating each upcoming maneuver, are schematics, which only an engineer could love. And the maps are a little short of street names in 3D mode, making it difficult to navigate dense urban areas.

Our car came equipped with the optional Harman Kardon audio system, a tech feature we highly recommend. With 11 speakers and a 420-watt amp, this system delivers thoroughly satisfying sound. Bass was beautifully strong, bursting through the car like cannon fire, yet perfectly controlled. And the bass did not crowd out the delicate highs, letting the strum of a guitar or the clash of a cymbal come through clearly. This system amplified the midrange as well, creating vocals that put the singer in the car with us. This audio system competes well with Lincoln's THX or Lexus' Mark Levinson.

Along with standard HD radio, our car included satellite radio, an iPod port, and space on the hard drive for music, a fairly typical array of audio sources these days. It only lacks Bluetooth streaming audio.

Selecting an album effectively sets a filter. Go into the artist category and the screen only shows artists from the previously selected album.

Although we like the Full Speed iPod connector, the onscreen interface needs work. The music library screen shows fields for artist, genre, and album, all of which are actually filters. Choose an artist, then go into the album category, and you will only see albums by that previously chosen artist. An interface like that might work fine on a home computer, but we don't want to set and unset filters while we drive.

BMW's Bluetooth phone system is also as modern as they come. Not only does it show a phone's contact list on the screen, it includes voice command to dial numbers by saying the associated contact's name. Our only complaint about this system is that BMW makes it an option, this in an era when an $18,000 Kia includes a system with the same capabilities standard.

The major thing missing from the 335is' arsenal of cabin tech is anything in the way of driver-aid technologies. There is park distance control, but that pales in comparison to features like blind-spot detection and adaptive cruise control, which are options in other BMW models.

In sum
When considering the 2011 BMW 335is' various attributes, we were torn between our "Very good" and "Excellent" ratings. BMW's cabin tech suite is first rate, but the lack of driver-aid features or Bluetooth audio sets the car back versus some of the competition. However, the Harman Kardon audio system sounded so good we went for the higher rating. We also like the wide-screen LCD.

Similarly, we like BMW's high-tech engine, but the suspension is fixed, not using any of the adaptive technologies BMW uses on other cars. However, the car's Dynamic Traction Control added to the driving fun, and the availability of the dual-clutch transmission helped push it to the higher rating.

Its design rating turned into a tussle between its very fine exterior, and the usability of its onscreen menus. The latter suffer from some nonintuitive choices on BMW's part, dragging down its overall score.

Spec box
Model 2011 BMW 335is Coupe
Trim n/a
Power train Turbocharged direct injection 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 16 mpg
Navigation Hard-drive-based, with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Disc player MP3-compatible single CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system Harman Kardon 420-watt, 11-speaker surround-sound system
Driver aids Park distance control
Base price $49,550
Price as tested $58,000

What you'll pay

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