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2011 BMW 335is: M3 fun for less

Posted by Gerry Miles  September 2, 2011 05:10 PM

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(All photos: Gerry Miles for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

Many folks expect cars of a certain ilk — most of them foreign —to be superb. The reasons among them: price, performance and heritage.

Some meet that mythical standard. Some don't. Some shatter it.

Into the last column, I place the BMW 335is convertible. The 3-Series is a wonderful car with many shapes and sizes, all offering snappy and responsive motoring. I was not prepared for the surprise that the "s" provides on the 335is. It's more of an altered way of life than a letter.

The 335is is a sports car. It's a convertible. It's a relentless pursuer of pavement and a refined road car. Whatever effect you desire, it's dialed in and ready.

This special edition is much more than new fabric seat colors, an alternate set of wheels, a decklid spoiler, or a sport-tuned exhaust. BMW went back to its roots (Bimmer's "s" lineage traces back to the original 3, first imported from 1977-1983) to create the 335is (in either the coupe or tested convertible). With a mix of features from the top-dog M3 — along with the mechanically retractable hardtop — the 335is offers everything you'd want in a stylish machine that can do autocross on Saturday and pull up to Symphony Hall on Sunday.

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When what matters is the motor. BMW stuck with its tried and true twin-turbocharged inline-six, which produces 320 horsepower (20 more than the regular 335i). Using an overboost, the motor's torque will jump from its normal 332 lb.-ft. up to 370 lb.-ft. for sinisterly good fun on the open roads. For seven seconds, the overboost is enthralling, exhilarating, and lacks any lag before shuttling you along at speeds you didn't expect to reach this quickly and smoothly.

To accommodate this juice, BMW added another radiator behind the left front intake, a stronger electric cooling fan, an oil cooler and added wider openings on the front fascia to increase air flow to the coolers. This is more noticeable on the coupe, which has large air intakes instead of fog lights on the convertible. The engine mounts were also stiffened for anticipated G-loads.

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With the tester mated to the optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, you'll be hard pressed to feel the car shift at any speed. A six-speed manual is standard.

The best clue for amassed speed may come from the deep exhaust growl and wind noise with the top down. If the top's up, wind and engine noise are nonexistent. The quick-rising metal roof can shutter you from a spot shower in seconds.

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The ride is what purists that would hope for and expect in a German rear-driver with a near optimal 50-50 weight balance on its two-ton frame. Steering input is direct and linear but without feeling overly compensated at highway speeds or too heavy on local streets. A cruise along the New Hampshire coast, up Route 1 from Hampton into Rye, displayed the BMW's abilities to hug without overcompensating on the coastal switchbacks.

Benefits are also derived from its M suspension components (lowered ride height, stiffer springs and shocks) that soak up bumps and deliver slot car-like tracking. The "M" theme carries to the inside with a steering wheel and other trim pieces as well. BMW's latest iDrive infotainment system lets you control what you want cleanly and plainly.

All this power is impressive, and the drop top can run 0-to-60 in 5.1 seconds. Speed is electronically limited to 150 mph — and even with a stretch of black ribbon along I-89 and across New Hampshire's Route 101 to the coast — there's scant few places to let it run legally. Still, the 335is is so refined, under normal cruising runs, that it's easy to slip pass legal limits without noticing.

The 335is requires premium gas, yet owns credible EPA numbers of 18 city, 24 highway. In mixed driving I squeaked out 21 mpg with the top down and the A/C blasting through a triple-digit summer's week.

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The interior is a typical 2+2 setup with two real seats up front that deliver class-leading comfort and two rear seats best suited for groceries or punishment. The roof, which does a great job of taking up as little space as possible, leaves little room under its storage shelf for perhaps a few small backpacks under the crush zone. There's even a T-handle for emergency escapes, though I don't know who'd fit inside a 9-cubic-foot trunk.

At $59,650, the 335is convertible gets you more getup and go without the larger price tag of the V-8 M3 convertible ($67,440). Note, however, that an M3 coupe begins at $58,900.

Do you need this car? It depends on if you consider the 335is a heavy 3-Series or an M-Series "lite". Given the choice, I'd take the 335is convertible. You get near-M3 performance, pampering, and skip the gas guzzler tax without paying full freight.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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