By adding a pair of turbos to its legendary inline-six, BMW turned the ever-popular 3-Series into a tuner's dream. With 300hp and 300 lb-ft in factory spec, the 335i was the perfect basis for a balls-out project - something numerous aftermarket tuners have already proven.
While the tuning potential of the 335i seemed limitless, not every owner was comfortable invalidating a perfectly good factory warranty in the name of power. Luckily, those customers have a new option in the 335is.
Just announced, the 2011 335is will be available in coupe and convertible form starting this spring. A model exclusive to the North American market - where almost 35% of 3-Series sales are the 335i - the new variant was developed with performance enthusiasts in mind. Upgrades include more power, an optional DCT gearbox, a distinctive body and wheel package plus unique interior trim, slotting it perfectly between a regular 335i and the M3.
Power for the 335is comes from a factory-tweaked version of BMW's 3.0-liter twin-turbo six-pot N54 engine. Horsepower is bumped to 320, while torque jumps to 332 lb-ft. An overboost feature permits up to seven seconds of additional manifold pressure under certain conditions, allowing a temporary spike in torque up to 370 lb-ft.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with an optional seven-speed dual-clutch DCT gearbox similar to the M3, complete with launch-control to make you look like a hero at stoplights. And if you exploit the extra performance, you'll be glad of the larger cooling system and external oil cooler.
While purists may prefer the six-speed fitted with the factory short-shift, there are performance gains with the DCT. The manual 335is coupe gets to 60mph in 5.1sec, while the sequential does it in five-flat. Manually shifting the DCT can be done either by bumping the shift knob or pulling on the shift paddles, which now feature dedicated upshift (right) and downshift (left) levers.
Besides shifting faster, the DCT also rev-matches on downshifts, once again making the driver sound like a racing veteran. Upshifts are just as entertaining, especially under full throttle when the exhaust emits a racecar-like burble-fart as the engine speed changes through the gears.
The tuned exhaust system deserves partial credit, delivering a guttural rumble at idle that turns into a melodious rasp as revs build.
The front bumper has not only been reshaped for greater airflow, but also wears black kidney grilles. Shadowline window trim is part of the package, and the exterior mirrors are painted black. The rear bumper gets a diffuser in body color with a black accent that reduces lift at speed.
The standard 18'' wheels are finished in Ferric grey and are fitted with staggered 225/40 and 235/35 summer tires.
The interior gets an anthracite headliner plus textured aluminum "glacier" trim in dark silver that is matched to dark grey dials, which bear the 335is logo. The thick M-Sport steering wheel offers excellent feel and adds to the sincerity of the 335is as a driver's car. Sport seats, naturally, are standard.
The chassis has the M-Sport suspension, lowering the chassis 10mm. Brakes are four-piston calipers squeezing 13.7'' vented discs front with single-piston grippers acting on 13.2'' rear rotors.
On the Estoril race circuit in Portugal where we drove it, the 335is was the ideal enthusiast's companion. The additional horsepower is modest, but the extra torque makes its presence known; exiting virtually any corner required considered application of the throttle to keep the traction control indicator (or the "happy light" as one colleague called it) from blinking incessantly.
Killing the traction control allowed faster laps, but required a greater degree of smoothness. Defeating the stability control altogether (which BMW forbade us from doing in the eight hand-built prototypes we sampled) would have certainly resulted in massive powerslides.
For this brief introduction, the obvious entertainment value of the turbocharged-six and its sports exhaust meant nobody was disappointed by the experience.
The 335is DCT lacks the M3's M mode, allowing it to occasionally upshift before redline. It also ignored some downshift requests, waiting until it fell into the optimum RPM before making the shift (and not just to protect against over-revving). While it's a fast shifter, it seems to do some of the thinking for the driver, something that might disappoint enthusiasts, who should consider the manual.
The 335is will be unveiled at the New York Auto Show. Convertible models should be in dealers now, with the 335is Coupe arriving in June. Colors are limited to Alpine white, red, blue, silver, Space grey and black metallic. Pricing starts at $50525 for the coupe and $59075 for the convertible.