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BMW 335i Luxury review (2012 onwards)
Model - BMW 335i Luxury
Bodystyle - four-door saloon
Engine - 3.0 straight six turbo petrol, 306hp @ 5800-6000rpm, 295lb ft @ 1200-5000rpm
Transmission - eight-speed automatic
Date of test - April 2012
What is it?
The BMW F30 3 Series is the all-new version of BMW's best selling car: one in three new BMWs sold is a 3 Series. MSN Cars drove it at launch and awarded it five stars thanks to a near-faultless performance on the roads of Barcelona. Swift, sporty and green, but better-looking, roomier, more upmarket and more comfortable than before, it proved a formidable all-rounder.
Now it's arrived in the UK, we're seeing how it fares on Britain's unique tarmac. We're also driving a variant new to us, the six-cylinder 306hp 335i turbo petrol. This has as much power as Mitsubishi Evo X and is, on paper, the thinking man's BMW M3. Can this also impress like the four-cylinder cars did, and justify this Luxury-spec models' heady £37k list price?
Where does it fit?
Think BMW 3 Series, think Audi A4, think Mercedes C-Class. The German trio dominate this sector of car. Indeed, the BMW in particular dominates in the UK too: it's a top 10 best seller and, last year, more than 42,000 were sold here - not far shy of VW's Polo which starts at more than half the price.
The new 3 Series is bigger than the old one, particularly in the rear, but remains firmly a compact junior executive saloon. Right now, it's the only new-shape 3 Series on sale: the Touring estate model follows later, and the 3 Series Coupe and Convertible will, in time, be replaced by a new BMW 4 Series range derived from this car.
an impressive blend of fuel economy and performance
Is it for you?
Most BMW 3 Series sold in the UK are diesel-engined models, which buyers choose because of their image, great driving abilities and superb fuel efficiency. Thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics programme, the brand's cars are among the most economical and lowest-polluting you can buy, which pays dividends in the UK as car tax is based on CO2 emissions.
This 335i (which you can distinguish from its twin exhausts) will be a rarity: the days of the mass-market petrol-engined BMW are gone. Crucially though, it can still justify the small following it does have - because, thanks again to fuel efficiency, few cars can offer such an impressive blend of fuel economy and performance.
What does it do well?
Performance is exceptional. It reaches 60mph from rest in just 5.5 seconds and, with 295lb ft of pulling power combined with minimal turbo lag (and spread through a staggeringly broad rev range), responds to the accelerator with immense vigour. With a distinctly 'BMW' six-cylinder burble-throb to match, it celebrates petrol power in its finest form.
Handling proves just as adept on UK roads too. The latest 3 Series is accurate, dynamic, quick-witted and beautifully balanced. There's a sporting purity to it that you sense from the off, making it a rewarding and particularly 'natural' car to drive. Everyone appreciates this, not just enthusiasts.
What doesn't it do well?
We were surprised at first to discover rather a stiff ride. This car has big 18-inch wheels which did react with an eye-opening bang to some larger potholes. Importantly, it's better than before, and the combination of body control with extra absorbency generally pleases, but it's still probably worth avoiding big bumps if you can.
The eight-speed gearbox is excellent, with incredibly fast and smooth shifts. However, in regular mode, it does chance up early - it can be in seventh gear at 30mph - which can give a slight pause in response if you floor it. You therefore need to select 'sport' to get the immediacy expected of a 306hp car.
The interior is a triumph
What's it like to live with?
A longer wheelbase and bodyshell means an age-old 3 Series gripe has been solved: rear legroom is now acceptable for adults. It's class competitive and the rear cabin is comfortable too: however, although the boot is 20 litres bigger at 480 litres, it remains restricted (like all saloons) by its shallow opening.
The interior is a triumph. The design is appealing, detailing exquisite and quality is brilliant. It doesn't quite have the intricate luxury detail of an Audi but it counters with some advanced high-tech features: the sat nav system, controlled via iDrive, is faultless and even its on-board internet functionality works well.
How green is it?
A car this fast shouldn't also be this green. Officially, the 306hp 335i averages 35.7mpg, which is pretty impressive. We drove it on a relaxed motorway run though - and, at the end, the trip computer read a barely believable 48mpg.
Like all turbo engines, it can drink fuel at a rapid rate if you drive quickly. But this model also seems unusually receptive to relaxed driving and rewards with some very impressive economy figures. It all depends on how restrained you can be.
the ride can feel firm
Would we buy it?
The F30 3 Series is as impressive here as it was on the European launch. It is bigger, more practical, the interior is a vast improvement and the handling is as delightful as ever. Yes, the ride can feel firm but the pay off is worth it in our eyes, so engaging is this car to drive.
The one big hurdle is price. Our test 335i Luxury cost £37,000, which is a huge amount more than the 328i Luxury that's almost as fast and even more fuel efficient. It all depends on how important a creamy six-cylinder soundtrack is: having experienced it, if we could find the extra, we would buy it in a flash...
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