I'm on the freeway, headed to Arizona at a clip. In my hands, a drum-tight steering wheel that I could let go of for miles before deviating a hair off-course. Under my right foot, a silky-smooth, twin-turbocharged rebuttal to left-lane cloggers and 70-foot country-crossers alike. They'll all face prompt dismissal minus downshift, the weight of my big toe sufficient to tap into the impossibly deep well of torque that sixth gear has to offer.
Yet you could hear a pin drop in here. I'm carrying casual conversation at little more than a whisper. Despite the large 255/35R18 Bridgestone run-flat tires and `sport tuned' suspension, I'm in a padded cocoon at 68 degrees F.
If there's an argument for the ongoing horsepower wars, it's got to be the BMW 335i. For the first time in history, BMW seems to have made a 3 Series that makes you wonder what the point of the M3 will be. It claims the car produces 300bhp at 5800rpm and 300lb-ft of torque at just 1400rpm. Right. Seems a more accurate rating would be 330 to 340bhp. After all, the Skyline GT-R `only' had 276.
Two tiny turbochargers and a 10.2:1 compression ratio (made possible largely by direct injection) ensure zero perceptible turbo lag. With a relatively low boost pressure (about 8.5psi) produced by the new N54 engine, it's easy to wonder if the car is being all it can be. The Porsche 944 Turbo comes to mind: a car that was deliberately detuned for fear of its effect on sales of the (much more expensive) 911. Companies like Vishnu Tuning are already claiming massive jumps in power and torque with simple calibration changes.
The front brake rotors are 13.7 inches in diameter. During an extended canyon drive, they feel excellent, with no fade and a firm pedal--despite the car's 156-pound weight gain over the E46 M3. The suspension seems to be perfectly sorted, with minimal body roll and no fuss over road imperfections. It's possible to engage the car in a slight oversteer angle, which feels perfectly controllable with the throttle. These are the front-engine, rear-wheel drive dynamics that BMW has used to build a legend.
To be blunt, this car highlights the uselessness of modifying modern street cars. Unless you're going racing, there's just no point. The 335i is quiet, luxurious, rocket-fast and it's not going to fall apart or overheat with each run to the supermarket. It doesn't have as much grip as your STI with 255/40 R-compound rubber, but who cares? It's already more than capable of breaking every law there is, and it will go around a corner faster than you have the guts to anyway.
It costs almost $46,000 as tested, which ain't cheap. But when you consider that it satisfies every aspect you could ask of a driving experience, is it really that much? BMW's only hurdle now will be selling an M3; it doesn't even look that different.