A new engine for the ubiquitous 3-series?
A new body too. This is the coupe version of the 3-series saloon that hit showrooms in 2005. But BMW wanted to create a big bang for the launch of the two-door, so it decided to unveil its new twin-turbo straight six at the same time.
Wasn't BMW a pioneer of turbocharging road cars?
Buick and Chevrolet got there first in the 1960s but the 2002 Turbo was the first of its kind in Europe and BMW used knowledge gained on that project to take Nelson Piquet to the 1983 F1 championship. His Brabham used a blown 1.5-litre BMW engine that would go on to kick out a monstrous 1500bhp in its ultimate form. The company's last dalliance with petrol turbo road cars was the Europe-only 745i, which used a turbocharged six to provide the performance of a much bigger engine after BMW decided to shelve its V12 project in the 1970s. The new 335i follows a similar thought path.
Why haven't they just stuffed a V8 in there? I hear the next M3 will have one.
Because dropping a V8 from the 5-series into the Three would have added an unacceptable 70kg to the kerbweight - almost all of it over the front wheels - and developing a special lightweight engine like the next M3's would have cost big Euros.
So what's this big six like?
The first thing you notice is how un-turbocharged it feels. Things start happening the moment the clutch engages and the 295lb ft maximum is on hand by 1300rpm and remains available all the way to 5000rpm. So there's no tantalising wait for the boost to cut in and the 335i feels savagely fast everywhere as you'd expect of a relatively small 300bhp car and even does 30mpg on the combined cycle. But while the performance is far more usable than an M3's, the flat torque curve, the direct-injection clatter and the lack of athleticism over the last 1000rpm mean it's nowhere near as exciting.
So it's not the cut-price M3 some were hoping for?
No, it's more of a refined GT, and being a proper four-seat coupe, it's more practical than rivals such as the new Audi TT. The chassis is great but it's not M3 hardcore and the lack of a limited slip diff means the 335i is no drift machine. But in its defence the 335i was never meant to be an M3: that's what the M3 is for. Instead this car bridges the gap between the M3 and the rest of the coupe range which will eventually include a 2.0 fourpot as well as the 2.5 and 3.0 petrol sixes and 3.0 single- and twin-turbo diesels.
And what's the rest of the car like?
Better in the metal than the pictures suggest but, as with most modern BMWs, it needs bigger wheels than the standard, weedy 17-inchers to really show off those muscular arches. The small wheels help retain some civility over bumps though. We've yet to try an 18-inch-shod car but we've heard bad things about the ride quality. And we're inclined to believe them given our experiences with a long-term 330i Touring on the big wheels. We'd avoid the optional active steering (the standard setup offers far more feel) but probably go for the brilliant six-speed auto box, as will most buyers.
Not the cut-price M3 some were hoping for, but a great four-seat GT coupe and the best-looking of the current 3-series range we've seen so far. Only problem is the 335d won't be far behind on the production line. It should be just as fun but a whole heap more cost effective to run.