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First drive: BMW 335i coupe heaven sent

Picture perfect: The coupe is the perfect high alpine companion.

BMW's new twin-turbo six is another "engine Oscars" contender

4 Jul 2006

BMW has returned to turbocharging for the first time in its own production cars since the 1980s.

Launching its new E92 3 Series coupe in Austria last week ahead of an Australian debut in October, the German manufacturer claims to have eliminated turbo lag by using twin turbos on its range-topping 225kW 335i model.

It will sold alongside a 323i variant and, from around November, a 325i – both of which use BMW’s natural-breathing, lightweight (magnesium/aluminium) Valvetronic 2.5-litre inline-six in different states of tune. The 323i develops 130kW/230Nm while the 325i ups the ante to 160kW/250Nm.

Essentially replacing the 330i coupe – and odds-on to appear on the 3 Series sedan – the 335i uses BMW’s 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine, with twin Mitsubishi turbos combining with direct-injection, lean burn technology to boost both power and economy.

The engine develops 225kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm from 1300rpm up to 5000rpm, providing the same power but more torque than the V8 740i. It endows the coupe with a top speed of 250km/h and will reach 100km/h in a claimed 5.5 seconds.

BMW quotes fuel economy at 9.5L/100km combined, due in part to the extensive use of lightweight materials for the engine and elsewhere. According to BMW engineers, the twin-turbo six offers between an eight per cent and 10 per cent improvement in fuel economy over the 3.0-litre Valvetronic six.

Built to BMW specifications, the two small low-inertia Mitsubishi turbochargers provide air to three cylinders and operate together rather than sequentially.

BMW specified that it wanted its turbines to tolerate high-heat operating conditions of up to 1050 degrees, more than 100 degrees higher than other turbos with durability equivalent to the life of the car. It claims the special heat-resistant steel used in their construction is better than a ceramic turbine.

BMW drivetrain engineer Udo Lindner said the company did not want to buy an off-the-shelf design that could not cope with BMW demands. He said the aim was also to eliminate turbo lag and offer spirited low-speed and high-speed response in the manner of a large-capacity V8.

Why has BMW returned to turbocharging? "Direct injection has helped us return to turbos," he said. "We can increase the compression ratio and also help reduce fuel consumption and increase engine efficiency.

"The 335i has the fuel economy of a six and performance of a V8." Although sharing much hardware with the 3-Series sedan, the latest coupe moves further away from just being a two-door version of the four-door like the previous generation. It is longer and lower than the sedan, offering a more muscular look with a wider kidney grille, redesigned headlights that cut into the bonnet, short overhangs and low-slung A-pillars that reinforce the car’s silhouette.

The low roofline tapers to the rear and BMW claims the car’s long-wheelbase affords good rear seat legroom, claiming it is a full four-seater. Both rear seats are individual, separated by a storage compartment in the middle.

Compared to the previous coupe, the newcomer is 92mm longer at 4580mm, 25mm wider at 1782mm and 26mm higher at 1395mm. The bigger car has also gained weight, depending on the model.

At 2760mm, the new coupe sits on a 35mm longer wheelbase and has wider front and rear tracks of 1500mm and 1513mm respectively. Boot capacity is up 30 litres to 440L, with an optional load-through hatch facility offered.

14 center imageThe 335i is the first production turbo in a BMW for many years – previously offered in the 1973 2002 and a 745i 3.2-litre turbo six from 1980 to 1986 (which was not sold in right-hand drive) – and is the first-ever twin-turbo BMW.

BMW has expanded its lightweight technology in the coupe, adopting plastic mudguard panels that save 3kg in weight each over a conventional steel panel.

BMW claims the twin-turbo six is about 70kg lighter than a V8 with comparable power and the 50/50 weight balance is maintained in the coupe.

The coupes will be offered in Australia mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed Steptronic auto but BMW expects most buyers to opt for the auto. Prices are tipped to start around $70,000 for the 323i with the 335i expected to be more than $100,000.

WE have just driven to heaven and back – and part of that involved BMW’s first twin-turbo road car, the 335i coupe.

The other part involved driving the famed Timmelsjoch mountain road that rockets up to more than 2500m on the Austrian-Italian border south-west of Innsbruck.

The match of an outstanding car and awe-inspiring mountain roads provided a perfect location to experience the new range-topping 335i.

When it goes on sale in October it will head a three-model lineup that will include the 323i and 325i with prices starting around $70,000. The 335i is tipped to be more than $100,000.

All offer superb in-line six-cylinder engines but BMW has thrown a curve ball into the mix with the twin-turbo 3.0-litre direct injection, lean burn six.

In true BMW fashion, it offers the type of technological leadership that stands the Bavarian car-maker apart from many of its rivals.

The 335i develops 225kW at 5800rpm and 400Nm from just 1300, offering solid low-speed response with a free-revving nature right up to and beyond 7000rpm. This engine, quite simply, is superb and is sure to add to BMWs long list of "engine Oscars".

The 335i will be offered locally mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed Steptronic auto and after driving both, we’d opt for the auto, with its meaty steering, chrome steering wheel paddle shifts and thumb-print down-change pads.

The auto matches the mood and alacrity of the twin-turbo perfectly.

Although sharing much with the 3-Series sedan, the latest coupe moves further away from just being a two-door version of the four-door.

It offers a more muscular look, with a wider kidney grille, short overhangs and sweeping A-pillars that reinforce the car’s low-slung silhouette.

Inside, the cabin is well equipped and quality levels are high. Access to the rear seats however requires some agility despite the fact that both front seats fold well forward.

For the two pampered front seat passengers there are supportive sports seats and seat-belt extenders.

On the road, the 335i lives up to its BMW rondel with communicative, precise steering – even in the non-dynamic steering model – and suspension that reacts to the road in a manner that will appeal to enthusiastic drivers.

Small issues remain – the cabin continues to lack reasonable storage space despite the inclusion of two big hinged door bins and the seatbelt arm extenders, like the plastic cupholders, look a bit flimsy.

However, these minor niggles evaporate after a drive because the 335i makes the average driver above average.

Over the spectacular Timmelsjoch B186 road through southern Austria and Italy, the twin-turbo’s V8-like response and linear power delivery were matched by the gutteral roar from the twin-exhausts.

Rising to more than 2500m, the zig-zag road is unrelenting between Solden in Austria and Vipiteno in Italy as it snakes its way over the highest point at Timmelsjoch, past high peaks and glaciers through the small villages of Moso and St Leonhard.

For those planning a road tour of Europe, the Timmelsjoch, also known as the Passo del Rombo, is one of the most enjoyable alpine roads in Europe.

For car and motorcycle enthusiasts as it has more than 60 hairpin turns – so many in fact red warning signs count them down.

Once over the pass there is a 17km 1260m decent into Italy with road barely wide enough to two passing cars and few barriers to stop vehicle spearing off the high passes.

The 335i took it all in its stride, with power when you needed it for snappy overtaking and strong brakes to slow into the hairpins. It was the perfect car to drive through the heavens.

The second-generation grippy Bridgestone Potenzas also go a long way to reducing the low-speed harshness encountered with some other BMW models. The ride, handling and overall dynamics are pure BMW.

There is no escaping that BMW has put heart – and soul – into its latest coupe.

And the Oscar goes too... the 3.0-litre twin-turbo six for outstanding application of turbo-technology in a six-cylinder road-car.

There are other contenders, but none come as close to offering linear V8-style power with the sophistication expected of a BMW six.

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