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2011 BMW 335is review: 2011 BMW 335is

2011 BMW 335is

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
7 min read

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2011 BMW 335is


2011 BMW 335is

The Good

A wide-screen LCD for the navigation system and Harman Kardon audio are highlights of the 2011 BMW 335is' cabin tech. The six-speed manual transmission has an excellent feel, and a dual-clutch transmission is available.

The Bad

With no comfort setting, the ride quality is always sports car stiff. The navigation system is too talkative, and the filter-based iPod interface makes more sense in a computer than a car.

The Bottom Line

The 2011 BMW 335is embodies BMW's unique handling character, making it an excellent sports car, but less comfortable for everyday use.

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 M3, 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.

Optional DCT
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 six-speed manual comes standard with the 335is, and the seven-speed DCT is optional.

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.

The 335is gave us a lot of joy driving over California's rolling hills.

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.

Wide-screen nav
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.

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

Model2011 BMW 335is Coupe
Power trainTurbocharged direct injection 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy16 mpg
NavigationHard-drive-based, with traffic
Bluetooth phone supportOptional
Disc playerMP3-compatible single CD
MP3 player supportiPod integration
Other digital audioOnboard hard drive, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio systemHarman Kardon 420-watt, 11-speaker surround-sound system
Driver aidsPark distance control
Base price$49,550
Price as tested$58,000

2011 BMW 335is

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 8Performance tech 8Design 7


See full specs Available Engine GasBody style Coupe