With BMW's monolithic engineering focus, I've found it easy to be impressed with the company's cars. Each model exhibits a hands-on driving appeal, a level of performance that cooperates with and rewards the driver. Even in the age of road-holding electronics, BMW implemented them so as to still let the driver throw the rear end out to a degree.
That was my mindset as I eagerly got behind the wheel of the 2012 BMW 335i, but even before starting up the engine I noticed something was wrong. Walking up to the car, I appreciated the low position of the kidney grille, and how each side was connected to the headlights, which had a devilish expression of their own.
However, opening the door I was greeted by an ocean of beige in the same shade as old computers, a color that was meant to be inoffensive in offices of the 1980s and '90s. From leather to plastic surfaces, all was tinted in this excruciatingly oppressive beige. Looking to the instrument cluster for some relief, I was horrified to discover that even the gauge faces were beige, or Oyster in BMW terminology. Give me gauges in black or white, grey or yellow, but beige?
Adding insult to injury, BMW also attached a few heavily textured pieces, ostensibly real wood but with a very plastic feel, around the cabin as trim pieces. This trim looked and felt frighteningly bad, but it gets worse yet. When putting the car through the kinds of paces that exercised its torsional rigidity, that plastic groaned and creaked, making the whole car feel a bit cheap.
The positive footnote to this rant is that the 335i reviewed by CNET is not the only style available. BMW recently trifurcated its 3 Series into Sport, Modern, and Luxury trim lines. The interior-design horror movie represented by this car was the result of a few injudicious choices in the Modern line, such as the Fineline Pure trim pieces. Although it seems that the Oyster gauge backings come standard in the Modern line, so best to steer clear of that one completely.
Another strike against the Modern line comes from the suspension, which felt tuned for comfort. BMW made its reputation on cars that could be driven hard on the weekends, but would also serve the daily commuter. This 335i only met half of that equation. Going into a tight mountain turn at speed, the suspension felt loose, letting the body of the car float dreamily while the tires tried to bite into the pavement.
In this type of intensive driving, the 335i tended to understeer, something I never would have expected in a BMW. The steering wheel seemed lifeless, merely serving as a control mechanism rather than offering the tied-to-the-road feeling found in other BMW models.
Dynamic handling comes extra
Just as different color choices could have saved the cabin, an optional package choice would have made this 335i more enjoyable to drive. The $1,000 Dynamic Handling package brings in adaptive-suspension technology and variable steering, which does not seem like much money to rescue a car from mediocrity. As it was, I would have been just as happy driving a .
In normal driving situations, on city streets and on the freeway, the driving character of the 335i felt like nothing special. The steering lacked the heavy, engaged feel of previous generations and the ride quality didn't justify the price of this small sedan. Again, these faults can most likely be fixed through different option choices.
If the BMW 3 Series is going to be equipped as CNET's was, then there seems little point in getting the powerful 335i, rather than the. The 335i comes with one of the best engines on the market, a 3-liter inline six-cylinder benefiting from direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger, with output figures of 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
Along with substantial power, BMW gives this engine excellent efficiency with tech borrowed from hybrid cars. The 335i uses regenerative braking, as do all recent BMW models, which takes generator load off the engine. Likewise, BMW went to electric power steering from a hydraulic system, also freeing up more power from the engine for actually driving the wheels.
For this generation of 335i, BMW earned EPA fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. In my mix of city and freeway driving, the car turned in a very respectable 28 mpg.
Some of that very good fuel economy is due to the eight-speed automatic transmission, a no-cost option over the six-speed manual. Also contributing to higher efficiency is an idle-stop system, which shuts down the engine at stoplights. In the automatic, this system restarted the engine as soon as I lifted my foot from the brake, as opposed to the manual version, which kicked in the engine when I took my foot off the clutch.
I did not find this system terribly intrusive, as long as I was not looking to beat the car next to me off the line. However, with the engine cold it was a failure, as the car was prone to stalling right after a restart. If drivers find the idle-stop feature too intrusive, it can be defeated with the push of a button.
Also common to new BMWs are the Sport and Comfort buttons on the console, which took the car through three different modes: Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro. These modes change the throttle mapping, while the eight-speed automatic also offers a Sport mode. In addition, pushing the traction control button engages BMW's Dynamic Traction Control.
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.
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.
The iDrive controller, a dial set on the console, worked reasonably well, but entering alphanumeric characters was tedious. BMW recently announced athat 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 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.
|Model||2012 BMW 335i|
|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|
|Price as tested||$54,070|