BF First Drive: 2011 BMW 335is

Yes this isn ‘t our first experience behind the wheel of the 335is. However it is our most thorough to date. Look for a full review soon. And photos? BMW asked us to not take any photos of the car driven since it was pre-production and wasn ‘t correct in final specification.

Here ‘s a thought; the 335is is more of a replacement for et E46 M3 than the current M3. It ‘s got similar power (320 hp) with decidedly more torque (332 ft-lbs) for performance that is equal if not better than the previous M3. It ‘s powered by a six cylinder powerplant like the M3 (albeit turbocharged) and weighs about the same (i.e. about 200 lb. less than the current M3).

We got a chance to spend an afternoon with the 335is recently and walked away thoroughly impressed. While we plan on having a much more thorough test later in the year, we can conclude a few things right away. For starters, this thing sounds nasty. When I first cranked the cold engine I literally had to ask a BMW representative if that was the final exhaust note. I simply couldn ‘t believe BMW could and would be that aggressive. But they are and it is.

Then there ‘s the sound it makes under power. Simply put this is the best sounding non-M car I can ever remember from BMW. I ‘d even rank it a notch above the Z4 35is in tone and volume. But what really made the hair on my neck stand up was the pops on overrun as you lifted off the throttle. For the first time ever I feel like I hear the true character of the N54 without the shackles of mass market. If BMW didn ‘t have to worry about sales, you get the feeling that every car with this engine would sound like this. It ‘s made for the enthusiast and it sounds nothing short of perfect.

With sport button engaged I set out to explore the hills around BMW ‘s home office in Woodcliff New Jersey. The 335is tested had the base 18 ” “is ” wheels but little else in the way of options. In fact the only options of note were the exceptional DCT transmission and latest generation iDrive. The raw quality of the engine note was surprisingly well mated with the DCT. Rev matching resulted in glorious engine notes and the seamless performance felt inline with what you ‘d expect from the sound. It all adds up to what could perhaps be one of BMW ‘s best performance sedans without the M badge.

Inside there ‘s an uncomfortable amount of special badging. However, if you look back at some previous low volume BMW models, it ‘s not entirely without precedent. Do we like it? No. Could we live with it knowing how the great the car is as a whole? Absolutely.

It ‘s a great car that rather surprisingly holds its own against not only competing products but the mighty M3. We ‘ll leave the pricing debate for our full review later this year. But we ‘ll leave you with this. The 335is is priced well equipped for less than the E46 M3 was just a few years ago. Yet it ‘s arguably faster, more comfortable, loaded with modern technology and much easier to live with. After driving it I have to admit it ‘s a proposition that would be hard to ignore.

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  • Spring 2011 it will come down to a fully loaded 335is or a base M3 for me. I am torn! What would you pick? Looking forward to this review and the podcast!

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  • chas58

    Sounds amazingly similar to the BMW performance exhaust, doesn’t it?

    I chuckle when people mention how good the 1 series prototype ( ///M1? ) sounds. The current videos are of a TUV compliant car. That means quiet. One good thing about living in North America is that we can have a nice exhaust sound without any German noise restrictions. The 335is just wouldn’t sound the same in Germany. For once we get something better!

  • Micah

    @Damien — depends on you intended use. If primarily a DD with occasional back road blast the 335is may best suit your needs. However, if ever intend to take it to the track or hit some technical twisty roads particularly hard, definitely go for the M3. My guess is that the 335is brakes will not hold up to such use, and will fade rather quickly. With the amount of extra engine bay heat produced by the turbos, engine cooling could also be an issue as it has been with 135 and 335.

  • Sounds amazingly similar to the BMW performance exhaust, doesn’t it?

    Similar but it’s much nastier given the revamped engine electronics. The performance exhaust just enhances the N54 sound. The “is”gives the car an entire new “vocabulary”.

  • txdesign

    Oh yes, the first gen Mini used to make that popping sound on overrun, but then customers complained about the “noise” and BMW killed it. Shame.

  • Claud

    My 08 335i E92 has an exhaust burble and sounds nice under power. I expect the 335is is a bit louder and has a raspy note. Micah, you must not own a 335i. Mine has never had engine temp issues, neither in traffic nor during the two HPDE weekends I did at VIR in the Summer.

  • Micah- as we have said here in the past, BMW tested the “is” cars at the track and there is substantially improved cooling, in a larger fan, extra radiator and ducting. The early versions of the 335i without ZSP or automatic did NOT have an additional oil cooler and they were the one’s that had over heating issues in limited cases.

  • Micah

    Regarding engine cooling — I certainly hope that has been addressed, but the proof will come when owners run their 335is’s at a track like Thunderhill or High Plains Raceway in the mid-summer when ambient temps are in the 90s or higher without having their cars go into limp mode at some point during the day.

    My main point in responding to Damien’s question was that while the 335is might be nearly as competent a tool as an M3 for street use, an M3 is still the best tool for combined street/track use IMO. For me this opinion is reinforced by the fact that the brake spec was not upgraded on the 335.

  • I agree the ///M3 is better for the track but for occasional use the “is” is not slouch.

    I detailed the testing and other info in the prior first drive review :

    http://www.bimmerfile.com/2010/04/12/injects-sport/

  • Micah

    @Michael — Word, and the 335is for around-town use and commuting (how most of us use our cars 90% of the time) will realize significantly better fuel economy than the M3.

  • Shawn

    I believe the 335is is great, I’d rather have that than the M3 and throw after market turbo on it to teach M3 guys a lesson, working with BMW I see everyone sporting a M3 with maybe a chip or exhaust or other mods. Would pleasure me to wake up every morning to be like………” whats your M3 got on me” (any gen.) Also liking the diesel these days something diff. I could name a ton of ppl sporting a m3 like its something but really…….just throw a turbo on the 335is

  • Chadwick

    Great little article, I look forward to every tidbit of info on the 335is and to the full review.

    Shawn I agree with you. The M3 is hyped up, and as a Bimmer fan I love all the cars past and present, but I want to see what I can do with a 335is.

    I have seen more M3 coupes than 328’s or 335’s, which tells me its about image, most of the owners don’t know jack shit about BMW or their car. The 335is has this allure of the E30 and because of that decided to buy a 335is fully loaded white exterior with red interior.

  • One huge glaring whoops IMO that BMW has done with the 335is is NO LSD! This fact makes the M3 that much better!

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