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      02-02-2012, 06:17 PM   #1
Jason
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Exclamation BIMMERPOST First Drive of 2012 335i (and 328i Review) From F30 US Press Launch

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BIMMERPOST First Drive of 2012 335i (and 328i Review) From F30 US Press Launch
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THE SETUP

Where: Monterey, California - January 30-31, 2012

What: F30 US Press Launch. First Test Drives of 2012 335i and F30 6 speed

How: 2 days with F30 3 Series, including a half day on the Laguna Seca track.

Background: I owned an E90 325i (auto) and current car is E90 M3 (6-speed MT).



THE DRIVE

335i (With 6 Speed Manual):

The all new 2012 335i sedan is powered by the N55 single turbo twin-scroll turbo inline-6 cylinder engine (with direct injection and valvetronic), in the same form as the outgoing 2011 335i E90 sedan and current 335i E92 coupe. The U.S. 335i is quoted as producing 300hp / 300 lb-ft torque and achieves 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds for both auto and manual. Maximum horsepowers is achieved at 5800 RPM and max torque at just 1300 RPM (until 5000 RPM). Official US 335i MPG ratings are 23 city / 33 highway for auto transmission and 20 city / 30 highway for manual transmission.

How does the N55 feel and perform in the 335i? In a word, familiar. It feels like it does in the E90/E92 335i - flexible and torquey. Throttle response is pretty immediate and if there's any complaint at all, it's only that the engine begins to run out of breath at the very upper RPM limits. The N55 showed its flexibility in our split track-and-road driving agenda. Its wide max torque band provided ample acceleration always on tap for spirited driving around town or overtaking on the highway. This flexibility was also evident on the track, where, for someone's first time on Laguna Seca (myself), being in an suboptimal gear coming out of a turn still meant that there was ample power on hand.

How does the 335i sound? The engine sound from the outside left us wanting for more, but it sounds great in the interior. The exhaust sound is overall a throaty growl with some nice burbling on deceleration. Hearing the 335i fly by on the track's back straight at wide open throttle we heard mostly exhaust noise, but it was some beautiful noise! Have a listen at the 335i for yourself in the videos below.






The 335i models we drove each had the 6 speed manual transmission, which again, felt familiar. Although the shifter mechanism is a new one compared to the E90, BMW didn't reinvent the wheel here. Shifts are accurate and provide good feedback without being too notchy, and the throw distances are typical of those in late model non-M cars.


328i (With 8 Speed Automatic):

I'll admit that I too was a skeptic of this 4-cylinder engine when it was announced to be replacing the N52 6-cylinder inline engine across the BMW lineup. As for pairing a 4 cylinder engine with an automatic transmission? Pfft, we might as well just drive an econobox! I'll have my crow prepared medium-well please. Of all things we experienced at the F30 drives, the 328i with its twinpower turbo N20 engine paired to the new automatic 8 speed transmission (with Sport Auto Paddle Shifter (2TB) option) was the most impressive. By most impressive, we mean to say that it left the biggest impression, not that it was necessarily the best overall car. You can attribute it to my low expectations, but my impressions were shared by many of the other attendees after testing the automatic 328i.

The N20 in the 328i makes 240hp / 255lb-ft torque. This is 60 lb-ft more torque than the E90 328i and propels the F30 with plenty of grunt. The new 328i hits 0-60mph in a factory quoted 5.9 seconds (manual) and 5.7 seconds (manual), 0.6 seconds faster than the E90. It felt faster than that at times and BMW tends to be conservative with their official performance figures, so don't be surprised to see even faster tested times. Peak torque comes in at just 1250 RPM and is available until 4800 RPM. Like the 335i, the 328i is responsive off the line. Once the turbos really get going, the tachometer needle moves up and down easily in the above 3000 RPM range. It was some mad fun to keep it in this range as the engine was more rev happy than we anticipated. Like the 335i, the 328i's engine proved its flexibility in all situations. The wide and strong torque band was useful for town, highway, and track.

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The new 8 speed automatic transmission (ZF 8HP) was equally impressive, especially the Sport Auto Option with paddle shifters, which is available as an option for Sport Line and M Sport models. The Sport Auto Option shares the same mechanicals as the standard automatic, but speeds up shift times. For comparison, this new 8 speed transmission shifts in 200ms while BMW's DCT transmission shifts in 30-200ms, so this new ZF 8HP transmission is pretty darn fast. Kicking the gears down via paddle shifter while above 3000 RPM was one of the highlights of the entire two day driving experience. The tach needle immediately sweeps right and you feel a surge of power right away. The Sport Auto option with paddle shifters does shift noticeably faster (not to mention more fun) than the regular auto transmission in manual mode, so it's something we recommend for those auto owners who will frequently shift manually. For some visuals to go along with this description, see below for some driving footage we recorded in a 328i Sport Line with the 8 speed auto transmission and Sport Auto option with paddle shifters.

We didn't drive the 328i manual on the track, but got some time in it on the road and the acceleration is even more impressive than the already impressive automatic transmission. It's officially quoted as being 0.2 seconds faster to 60mph than the automatic and that's due to its short rear end gearing (F30 technical and gear ratio data). As you can see in these specs, it has even shorter gearing than the 335i's manual transmission.

Are there any drawbacks to the 328i? I suppose that would be its sound in some situations. At idle and low RPMs, the the N20 sounds rough - like a turbo diesel. But, once it hits the higher RPMs under load, it does sound wonderful in-cabin (see driving videos below). The 328i's exterior exhaust note is not bad and not great, but does sound good for a 4 cylinder.





328i and 335i Sound Comparison Video



Given its impressive performance and excellent fuel economy, the 328i is the better value of the two models. Official US 328i MPG ratings are 24 city / 36 highway for auto transmission and 23 city / 34 highway for manual transmission. Hypermilling in ECO Pro mode should allow 40+ MPG. With the introduction of this new 328i, we can easily see the sales ratio of 328i-to-335i moving towards the 328i side, especially when/if gasoline prices rise. But, for buyers looking for the best performance from their 3 series without cost or fuel mileage concerns, the 335i clearly provides better performance and sound.


THE RIDE

The one attribute on which BMWs have always been able to separate itself from competitors is handling. That continues with this sixth generation 3 series. Back in our first test drive of the F30 328i in Barcelona, we called the handling as good as it gets for this segment. After the US launch drives, we stick by that assessment. The F30's suspension somehow provides a more comfortable ride than the E90, while retaining its glued-to-the-road feeling and handling prowess. Kudos to the BMW suspension magicians (engineers)!

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Throughout the two days, we threw many conditions at the F30 - from the ruts and bumps of neighborhood streets, to the challenging Laguna Seca track's corners and corkscrew, to the twisties of the Pacific Coast Highway winding through Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur. The F30 was a champ in handling through the different conditions, both with and without sport suspension (standard on the Sport Line models). The sport suspension lowers the car by 10mm and provides for an even sportier handling experience, particularly with Sport or Sport+ mode turned on (more on the driving modes below), but the regular suspension is no slouch. If handling is of high importance to you, you should really consider the sport suspension or adaptive M Sport suspension as they do have an appreciable benefit. Although the F30 feels well planted at all times, it somehow feels lighter on its feet with more nimbleness than the E90. I suspect some of that feel comes from the lighter steering (more on that below).

The F30's latest generation runflat tires (RFT) have come a long way since the first generation ones on my 2006 325i. They are less noisy, more compliant, and grippier than ever. They're so good that I did not even think about them until late into my first day of driving, as they never made a fuss.

Around town and highway, the F30 is more mature. The cabin is quieter and the suspension soaks up bumps better than before (also owing to improved RFTs). But, BMW has made sure that the engine and exhaust noises can still be experienced in the car once you engage in more spirited driving.

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As expected, the track session proved to be the most eye opening experience when assessing the F30's handling ability. BMW had two of their professional racing drivers, Joey Hand (DTM/ALMS) and Bill Auberlen (ALMS), on hand to help. The laps by myself and a few more as a passenger next to Joey and Bill (in-car videos below) revealed a new 3 series that handles better than ever and with a few new tricks. Switching into Sport Mode sharpens the throttle response and tightens up the steering, while also firming up the suspension on adaptive sport suspension equipped Sport Line and M Sport models. Feeling more adventurous? Switch into Sport+ mode which turns off DSC for some more slippage. The F30 exhibits some understeer at corners to help deal with excess speed but is fairly neutral overall. As before, this new 3 series remains an extremely capable, yet forgiving machine on the track and twisties.

How does the 328i and 335i compare in handling? While both are excellent, the 328i edges out the 335i. The 328i has slightly sharper front end turn-in than the 335i (as Joey Hand also comments on in the track video). This can be attributed to the 328's smaller and lighter N20 engine (by about 60-70kg over the N55 if I have my numbers correct). The N20's smaller physical size also allows for more of its weight to be placed further back in the engine bay, resulting in less weight over the front suspension.






Any discussion of handling involves the steering as well. The F30's utilizes electric power steering (EPS), as in the F10 5 series and E89 Z4. Many a BMW fan, myself included, cringe at the thought of EPS, but I was pleased with it in the F30. Those used to the E90 will notice immediately that the steering is much lighter, particularly in Comfort mode, which is nice for casual driving around town but too light for spirited driving. The Sport and Sport+ modes tighten up the steering nicely however, with good feedback and sharp/precise steering. But, for comparison, even in the Sport and Sport+ modes, the steering is lighter than in my E90 325i (which was actually too heavy at low speeds). I came away with the impression that lighter steering does not necessarily mean worse, so long as it retains good feedback and sharp steering, which the F30 EPS does. For those seeking even sportier steering and handling, the F30 is offered with optional Adaptive M Sport Steering and Adaptive M Sport Suspension (electronically controlled dampening).


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THE MODES

Standard on all models is a toggle next to the shift lever which toggles four driving modes - ECO Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+*. The ECO Pro is really only useful for hypermilling because it remaps the throttle and kills engine responsiveness. It also reduces other energy drags by running systems such as seat warmers and the air unit at reduced capacities. We were told it can achieve 40+ MPG with the 328i. As we've mentioned throughout, going from Comfort mode to Sport mode results in more aggressive throttle mapping and transmission shifts, firms up the suspension, and tightens the steering, all without making the ride harsh. Sport+ goes further and switches DSC off to allow for more drift, while maintaining DTC to prevent the driver from completely losing control.

*Sport+ is included with any of these options: Sport Line, M Sport Line, Sport Auto Transmission, Adaptive Suspension, Variable Sports Steering

THE INTERIOR

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I've personally experienced the E90 interior in one form or another as an owner since 2005 and the F30's interior is bar none a step up in quality. The fit and finish is an improvement and most everything in the cabin has a solid feel and look to it. The dash design is more driver oriented than the E90 and the gauges and other digital readouts glow in classic BMW amber. All controls have a familiar tactile feedback and fall easily at hand. Any previous BMW owner will feel at home in the F30. We recommend the sport seats as they really do provide a significant improvement over the regular seats in the amount of support they provide. P.S., as for the cupholder position (directly in front of shifter) that many gripe about, there's a tray that comes with the car that fits directly over the holders.


PRICING AND AVAILABILITY

The cost for the sixth generation 3 Series starts at $34,900 for the base 328i and $42,400 for the base 335i (pricing details / options details). The worldwide market launch into dealers comes in just days - on Saturday, February 11th. The F30 M Sport model begins production this July, for delivery beginning September. The AWD xDrive and Activehybrid models will also be released in approximately the same time frame.


FINAL WORD

So, is the F30 a revolutionary or evolutionary new model? With the exception of the new turbo 4-cylinder N20 engine of the 328i, there's little doubt that this is a evolutionary new 3 series model. BMW was smart to restrain itself from overtinkering with a formula which worked so well for the E90, while at the same time improving on some necessary areas - fuel economy, ride comfort, and interior quality. There's no bad choices to be made when choosing which F30 model. both the 328i and 335i are highly capable, fun, and offer more as a 3 series than ever before.

For on location images of the F30 328i and 335i from the US Press Launch, see our photo threads:

F30 US Press Launch: Sport Lines in Alpine White, Glacier Silver and Melbourne Red
F30 US Press Launch: Luxury Lines in Black, Mineral Grey, Havana and Imperial Blue
F30 US Press Launch: Sport Lines in Alpine White, Glacier Silver and Melbourne Red
Our First Photos From BMW F30 3 Series US Press Drives