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2012 BMW 335i review:

2012 BMW 335i

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Due to the lack of a dynamic suspension, this car was missing Sport Plus and Comfort Plus modes, which I've seen in other BMW models. Given the basic suspension tuning of the Modern line of 335i, the Sport settings seemed pointless, the aggressive action of the engine defeated by sloppy cornering. Eco Pro, however, helped the car achieve its high-20s average fuel economy by reducing power loads in the climate control and other vehicle systems.

2012 BMW 335i
This split front-view camera comes in handy for nosing out of blind alleys. Josh Miller/CNET

Given the car's unsuitability for enthusiastic driving, its various electronics systems became my primary focus. Those included an around-view camera system, very convenient for maneuvering in tight spaces. Not only does it show a top-down view on the car's LCD, but also has a rearview camera with active trajectory lines and a front split view, useful for nosing around blind corners.

Also available on the 335i is BMW's automatic parallel parking system, which worked very well when I tested it in other cars. BMW also offers a blind-spot detection system and adaptive cruise control, both excellent safety and convenience technologies.

Nav in 2D or 3D
The navigation system, optional in the 335i, used a hard drive for map storage. Viewed on the car's LCD, the maps offered excellent 3D views, including rendered buildings and topographical features, as well as 2D views. BMW lets the driver choose a single or split screen, with the right side showing anything from current music playback to trip information.

I was very happy with the car's route guidance, especially in conjunction with the optional head-up display. The LCD and HUD showed very clear graphics for upcoming turns, and were good about dynamically changing the route whenever the integrated traffic reporting found a jam up ahead.

The navigation system included finding destinations through Google search, an excellent connected feature. BMW enables Google search through its subscription-based telematics service. Separate from that is the ConnectedDrive app, which let me call up my Facebook, Twitter, and news feeds on the car's LCD. The ConnectedDrive app, along with Pandora and Mog Internet radio playback, only works with iPhones.

2012 BMW 335i
BMW ConnectedDrive adds social networks, news, and music, but only for iPhones. Josh Miller/CNET

The iDrive controller, a dial set on the console, worked reasonably well, but entering alphanumeric characters was tedious. BMW recently announced a new generation of its iDrive system that will include a touch pad for alphanumeric entry, which should be much more convenient, and a potential reason to hold off on buying a BMW 335i.

The voice command proved an excellent substitute for the iDrive controller. When entering a destination, it let me say the entire address string, and usually understood what I wanted. As I expected, it let me initiate calls through my paired Bluetooth phone by saying the name of someone in my contact list. What impressed me most was how I could request music from a connected device by album or artist name.

BWM offers excellent audio sources in its cars. The 335i included a USB port for my iPhone or a USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, and internal hard drive space for music storage. The interface for browsing a music library from a device is not well-suited to driving, but that is where voice command comes in.

CNET's 335i came equipped with upgraded audio, a Harman Kardon system. With 13 speakers, it produced very good sound. There was no hum during quiet parts of a track, while highs and bass were very well balanced. I liked the sound better with the treble and bass up a couple of notches, but that comes down to personal taste. The system only showed distortion at a ridiculously high volume.

In sum
In some ways, this 2012 BMW 335i was a disappointment. A big part of BMW's reputation has to do with its cars' sport handling capabilities, something this car lacked. However, changes in trim and options would have most likely restored the car to what it should be. Likewise, the cabin design was atrocious, yet more tasteful options are available. I think this particular 335i represents generally poor choices, not only in options but in what BMW is willing to let its cars become.

That said, even in this configuration the 335i showed impressive technology. The 3-liter engine manages an excellent amount of power and fuel economy, showing new levels of efficiency. Available options would have added more tech to the suspension and steering, making them more what I would expect from a BMW.

For cabin tech, the 335i still had an excellent navigation system, providing very useful and aesthetically pleasing maps. Connected features are also excellent, with Facebook and Twitter feeds, and Google search integrated with navigation. The stereo is very satisfying, and BMW offers advanced driver assistance features.

Tech specs
Model 2012 BMW 335i
Trim Modern Line
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 3-liter inline 6-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 28.0 mpg
Navigation Optional hard drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Pandora, Mog, Web radio, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Harman Kardon 420-watt 13-speaker system
Driver aids Lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, HUD, automatic parallel parking, surround-view camera
Base price $42,400
Price as tested $54,070

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