2009 BMW 335i xDrive Coupe

My ultimate BMW driving machine

2009 BMW 335i xDrive Coupe

The Ultimate Driving Machine. That’s the slogan BMW uses for its advertising and as a tag line for the company. I really dislike that line for many reasons. First, what is ultimate for me may not be ultimate for you. My ultimate driving machine would be the Bentley GTC Speed. Yours might be a Lamborghini Gallardo. Somebody else’s would be a Porsche 911 Turbo or Ferrari. And even if BMW was the ultimate driving machine, which one are they talking about? Would it be their 3-Series or 7-Series? Or something from their M class, perhaps? I don’t know. But after spending a week with the 335i xDrive Coupe, this could be the one to lay claim to BMW’s ultimate driving machine. I’d have to make my final decision after I spent a week with the M3, which has a V8 and produces better than 100 more horses under the hood to make a final decision. But for now, I’ll say that the 335i xDrive is the best BMW “drivers” car that I’ve driven.

FAST FACTS

1. The AWD 335i Coupe starts at $44,100, with a rear drive version costing $42,200. The lest-expensive Coupe is a 328i for $36,500

2. All 335 models come with a twin-turbocharged inline-six with 300hp and 300 ft-lbs of torque.

3. The xDrive system has a rear-bias, giving cars equipped with it a typically-BMW feel. It will, however, send power to the front wheels when needed.

300 TWIN-TURBO HORSES

Power comes from BMW’s 3.0-liter DOHC, 24-valve inline twin-turbocharged 300-horsepower and 300 ft-lbs of torque, 6-cylinder engine. From a standing start, you’ll hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, with terminal velocity of 130 mph, but that number is electronically limited, so a trip to a computer program could get the car to go faster.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story, as there are many cars that can match acceleration with this BMW. Few, however, can match the smooth, seamless power delivery. There are no violent shakes or explosive noises, and there isn’t a hint of turbo lag as the 335i pulls hard from idle to redline. This is a little gem of a powerplant and is still manages a decent fuel economy rating of 16 city and 25 highway.

All that power is put to the pavement via a 6-speed manual transmission (an automatic, with paddle shifters is available) that shifts as finely as a Swiss watch. And the clutch action is fairly light so that even if you get caught in bumper to bumper expressway traffic, you’re left leg won’t get numb before you reach your destination.

THE CONFIDENCE OF ALL-WHEEL DRIVE

I got to drive the 335i on the rural roads outside of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on some of the same roads that the racers used in the early 50’s to run the Road America race, before they built the current track.

As I was putting this car through its paces, I realized that I was driving a street car that would be the envy of any of those race car drivers from the past, and the performance of the 335i would have been more than enough to win those early races. John Fitch, driving a Cunningham, won the 1951 and 1952 200-mile race, and Phil Hill won the 100-mile race in ’52 in a C-Type Jaguar. And while those early drivers were expert enough to power-drift their rear wheel drive racecars through the curves, this new BMW, with all-wheel drive, would just stick to the pavement like glue and rail around the turns with only a bit of tire squeal.

The BMW xDrive system has a rear wheel bias so you don’t lose the character of rear wheel drive, but as soon as it senses excessive wheel slip, it will automatically send the torque to the wheel or wheels with the most grip within milliseconds. That keeps the BMW on course, on target, and on the power no matter how dicey traction conditions get. And it handles all this almost imperceptibly from the driver’s seat.

I was most able to feel the system work on the autocross track, with the tarmac wet from a light rain. Suffice it to say, the system works as advertised, and you can tell that it will save your bacon in the real world if you get too aggressive when the weather is less than ideal.

NUMEROUS ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS WORK SEEMLESSLY, HELPING YOU CONNECT TO THE ROAD

For the all-wheel drive system to work properly, it must still have a chassis tuned to take proper advantage of it. The front to back weight distribution is nearly 50/50 and the driver can feel that balance when negotiating a set of twisties, or quick chicane-like maneuvers. BMW’s Active Steering also plays a role in the crisp handling. The technology allows for variable steering ratio based upon speed. At low speeds, steering is nimble (10:1) for parking lot maneuvers and tight spaces, but at speed, greater movement of the wheel is required to turn the front wheels the same amount. That makes for better stability and better feel. More on-board computer chips are layered over the other systems mentioned with Dynamic Stability Control, which monitors speed, steering angle, yaw, and brake pressure, to keep the car and driver in the comfort zone.

The ABS, Dynamically Controlled brakes with Brake Fade Compensation, are excellent, and will haul the 335i down from speed quickly, and with good feel. When you read about all the electronic systems in this car, you begin to get the impression that you no longer drive the car, but just become a passenger that works the pedals and turns the wheel. But in reality, all these systems make you feel more a part of the driving equation, as they allow you to explore the limits of the car’s capabilities with more confidence.

I noticed a lot of trees just a few feet off the road in many of the turns on those rural roads, and trust me, I wouldn’t have been cornering at the same pace in most other cars which aren’t equipped with these features. So instead of taking the fun out of driving, all the technology added to my enjoyment. When you’re not pretending that you’re Phil Hill, the ride quality is on the firm side, and it will let you know when the pavement is pock-marked, but it isn’t overly harsh.

EXPECTEDLY LUXURIOUS CABIN

The 335i comes equipped with a host of luxury amenities, which naturally include all the power stuff you’d expect. Some of the more unusual ones include Xenon adaptive, auto leveling headlights, which will swivel to follow the curves of the road at night, heated power mirrors and windshield with heated water jets, rain sensing wipers, and adaptive brake lights, and run flat tires, which give you maximum space in the trunk because no spare is required.

The cabin on the test car was drop dead beautiful, and thank goodness this car had proper heating, AC, and stereo controls on the center stack instead of the tortuous iDrive system. Everything was easy to operate, without needing an advanced electronics degree to just to get the floor and defroster vents to blow air at the same time.

MINIMAL STORAGE SPACE AND “SPORT PACKAGE” SEATS TOO TIGHT

Storage is at a premium, as the console and glove box are very small, and the door pockets, with a fold out feature, don’t hold much either. The test car came with the Sport Package which includes 18-inch wheels and performance tires, which are fine, but the Sports seats are overly bolstered and quite uncomfortable because they’re made for very small behinds and narrow shoulders. I really could have done without those. Rear seat passengers will protest on rides for any more than an hour, as those seats are cramped with tight head and leg room.

I liked the right side mirror that tilts down when you place the car in reverse. It makes it easier to see curbs when backing up. And there is a great feature that slides the seatbelt forward after you close the door, making it easy to grab it and buckle up, instead of having to contort yourself to reach back to the mounting point.

One curiously annoying feature is that there is a push button start, but you need to insert the keyless fob into the dash. Why not just allow you to keep the fob in your pocket and push the start button, like on so many other cars?

PERFECTLY OUTFITTED FROM $44,100,

The car starts at $44,100. BMW is well known for reasonable sticker prices and then really jacking up the final price with popular features imbedded in option packages and individual options. For example, my test car had a Premium Package that added a Universal Garage Door Opener, Digital compass and Auto Dimming rearview mirror, Auto dimming side mirrors, lumbar support and BMW Assist for a whopping $2,650. An iPod and UBS adaptor was another $400, Satellite radio with a 1-year subscription was $595, so before you’re all done, the price topped out at $50,520.

I could have done without any of the options, and been happy with the car at $44,100. But good luck finding one like that at the dealer. You’ll have more luck finding Jimmy Hoffa’s body or the treasure of King Solomon’s mines.

THE VERDICT

But, you pay for your pleasures in life, and I have to say that this BMW is a true pleasure to drive. And until I get my hands on an M3 Coupe, this one will be my Ultimate BMW Driving Machine.

PLUS

Outstanding balance and handling All-wheel drive and related technology adds to driving experience Luxury appointments are useful

MINUS

Cramped rear seating Sportseats too narrow Lack of cabin storage space

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