BMW's 335i model is no slouch when it comes to performance, but the company decided to step it up for the 2011 model year, offering a 335is model. The last model bearing the "is" appendage in the U.S. was the 325is, discontinued in 1995. The "s" in the model name stands for sport, something that seems oxymoronic when added to a BMW.
You might think of the 2011 BMW 335is as an intermediate step between the 335i and the, but you would be wrong. Although an excellent sports car, the 335is falls far short of the standard set by the M3. The 335is is more of a slightly tuned-up version of the standard 335i.
But a slightly hotter 335i is just fine with us.
Although the 335i got an engine update for 2011, going to a single twin scroll turbocharger from the previous dual turbos, the 335is keeps the engine from the 2010 3-series. BMW tuned the 335is' engine to output 320 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque, an increase over the 335i's 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.
To us, the 335is did not feel much more powerful than the 335i, and BMW's own numbers bear this out. BMW's testing puts the 335i Coupe with a manual transmission at 5.3 seconds to 60 mph. The 335is makes the same run in 5.1 seconds, only a 0.2 second gain, crucial in drag racing but difficult to notice on public roads.
This engine is also supposed to have an overboost feature, bumping the torque up to 370 for a few seconds when the accelerator is floored. We have to apply a "MythBusters"-type rating of "Plausible" to overboost. We found many occasions to put the pedal to the metal, but never felt this extra boost. If it's there, it is either too subtle to notice, or takes something extra to engage it.
But the above numbers hardly tell the tale of this car. First of all, the 335is is gorgeous. Using the same body and dimensions as the 335i Coupe, the 335is looks sleek, with a low hood and trunk lid. The roofline doesn't bubble up too high, and it flows quickly and neatly into the rear of the car. The only exterior differences for the 335is model are black painted grille inserts and mirror caps.
The 335is also uses different gear ratios than the 335i on its six-speed manual transmission, letting the engine speed run higher in the low and midrange gears. We had a lot of love for this gearbox, the shifter dropping into each slot in the gate with liquid smoothness. The transmission also seems aware of engine speed, the shifter naturally moving toward higher gears when the RPMs are up.
One thing that makes the 335is particularly attractive is that BMW offers its DCT, or seven-speed dual clutch transmission, as an option. That transmission works exceptionally well, yet is not available on the standard 335i, only on the M3. The DCT actually shaves another tenth of a second off the zero to 60 mph time.
Another difference between 335i and 335is is that the suspension feels more tightly tuned in the latter. This tuning means a harsher ride over rough pavement, with jolts felt more strongly in the cabin, but it also means better handling.
Racing along a twisty back-country road, the stiff suspension kept all wheels pushed hard down on the pavement, like a centipede as it went over hillocks at speed. It also kept body roll to a minimum, letting us apply rotation in the corners.
In fact, it handled so well that we would truly need to drive at reckless speeds to approach its limits. The only way to really hit the 335is' maximum cornering speeds would be on the track. BMWs have a unique attribute of not understeering when powered through a turn, something the 335is embodies.
Where the M3 has a bunch of different modes, giving it a dual personality, the 335is is pure sports car, always on. But there is one driver-controllable tweak, Dynamic Traction Control. After hitting the DTC button, we had even more fun with the car, getting it to rotate a few degrees more in the corners without it ever feeling out of control.
What the 335is shares with its tamer brother is a full suite of cabin tech. We were pleased to see the very wide LCD gracing the dashboard; it shows navigation system maps, audio, and Bluetooth phone information. It also has a split-screen mode, letting you view the map on the left side, larger screen, and audio information on the right side, smaller screen, as one example. The driver can set what information is shown on the secondary screen, or hide it completely to maximize the main-screen view.