- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The all-new BMW 3 Series Coupe models offer elegant sportiness in a classic coupe design with a long hood featuring a muscular power dome, short overhangs front and rear, a sweeping roof line on a set-back greenhouse and large, prominent wheel arches.

Newly developed headlamps incorporate “Corona rings” that also serve as daytime running lamps. The lower front fascia provides three functional openings, covered by wire mesh grille work. The overall impression is that of power, muscle and speed in what many are sure to describe as one extremely sexy package.

This latest iteration 3-Series Coupe shuns recent radical design cues found on several recent BMW models — it is, in effect, quite racy, and to some, will be considered even downright sexy with its svelte form.

The new subcompact (though it seems considerably larger than its EPA rating) 3 Series Coupe lineup consists of: the 328i, the all-wheel drive 328xi; and the 335i. The first two are powered by a 3.0-liter, normally aspirated, inline six-cylinder engine that develops 230 horsepower and 200 foot-pounds of torque.

The top-of-the-line 335i draws its motive force from a 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers and high precision, direct fuel injection with piezo injectors — it generates 300 horsepower and a matching 300 foot-pounds of torque.

Transmissions available include three progressive versions of a six-speed manual gearbox — respectively, a Getrag I, Getrag H and a ZF Type G, or two automatic transmission versions: a GM6 six-speed for both the 328i and 328xi; and a ZF 6 HP 19 TU unit for the 335i with available wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which, by the way, makes gear changes 50 percent faster than before, once the shift is initiated.

All 3 Series models are of a longitudinal-mount front engine/rear-wheel-drive configuration, with a near 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution ratio.

Essentially, this latest 3 Series has advanced to a level that surpasses the much-revered earlier 5 Series Bimmers.

It is technologically superior, is more comfortable and outperforms the 5 Series of yore to boot.

The technology focuses primarily on driving dynamics such as ride, handling and performance, without ignoring either active or passive safety issues.

Dynamic stability control, dynamic traction control and dynamic brake control, combined with available speed variable active steering contribute immensely to boosting one’s confidence level when behind the wheel, which is infinitely adjustable, by the way.

And — lest one forget to buckle up — there is a unique automatic seat-belt presenter that makes doing so easy and convenient, without twisting and contorting.

There are no parts shared between the 3 Series Coupe and Sedan, except for the door handles.

It is a distinctively different vehicle despite close technical ties.

Prices, which include a $695 destination charge, are indeed substantial, but unquestionably worth every penny for the driving enthusiast.

The 328i price begins at $35,995, the 328xi starts at $37,795, and the 335i base price is set at $41,295.

Options include: 18-inch wheels shod with performance tires and a 150 mph speed limiter for an additional $1,000.; a Cold Weather Package for $750.; a Sports Package priced at $1,000.; and a Premium Package will run you an extra $3,150 on 328 models or $2,450 on the 335i.

A paddle shifter setup on the 335i equipped with the Sport Package costs $1,000.

Active steering is priced at $1,250 while radar-based active cruise control will set one back an extra $2,200.

Comfort access with push-button start and unlock costs $500.

A navigation system with I-Drive and voice recognition runs another $2,100 and finally, Sirius satellite radio costs $595 more.

Bottom line, a consumer can spend in the $50,000 range for a fully loaded 335i — but that now comes with a four-year/50,000 mile warranty rather than the old one-year coverage.

In addition, there is no charge for roadside assistance, and there is a no-cost maintenance program.

The test BMW 3 Series Coupe was a 335i with a few of the available goodies and a sticker price of $44,270.

The BMW 335i Coupe is exciting to look at, stirring one’s emotions and satisfying a sensitivity for style with its low, lean and sleek stance.

It is, however, much more exciting to slide behind the wheel and to pilot it over a challenging, twisty course.

For many, the ride quality will be a bit too firm, which also describes the comfort level of the highly supportive seats.

Acceleration is not only exhilarating, but blistering, and nimble does little to describe the handling characteristics, particularly with the reduced effort of input required with active steering.

Shifting is exceptionally quick via the six-speed Steptronic gearbox, once one becomes acclimated to the directional orientation of the console shifter — forward executes downshifts, and back initiates upshifts.

The paddle shifters allow for shifting either up or down on both sides.

Smiling is unavoidable when driving the 335i.

It may truly be referred to as the “ultimate driving machine.”

Its performance seems every bit as good as last year’s M3 — perhaps even better on some levels — and there is no sequential manual gearbox to deal with.

Can it get any better?

Probably, but for now, it will more than do.

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