After a slightly disappointing showing with the previous model, the newest BMW 3 series, the F30, proves an impressive return to form. By Renaldi Hutasoit.
The BMW 3 series is the longest running and most successful premium car model ever. The 3 started life in 1975 with the 320 E21 chassis and BMW continued to produce and improve its very popular and bestselling model over 5 generations before finally arriving at the latest version, the new 2012 F30 BMW 3 series. This latest generation was launched last month in June for the Indonesian market, with the powerful 335i heading the range. Every generations of 3 series have been designed to be compact premium executive cars. What makes the 3 series different compared to similar offerings from other premium brands, such as the Mercedes C class or the Audi A4, is the sporty character BMW injected into the 3 series right from the start. No surprise then that the 3 series has always been a benchmark in its segment.
While it continues to serve as a benchmark in other areas, after the turn of the millennium, the fifth iteration of the 3-series had an interior that was lacking for a BMW. For a product from a leading premium brand, the E90’s interior was bland and lacking character – BMW’s or otherwise. So this is the first thing that I wanted to find out with the F30. I am happy to report that the F30’s interior is a marked improvement over the E90. Highquality material combinations and unbeatable build quality underline the premium ambiance. The dashboard now has more design details that you won’t get bored looking at. It still does without the characteristically BMW driver-centric dashboard, but everything else is perfect.
The interior is also more spacious, especially in terms of leg room for the rear occupants. This is mostly because the new BMW 3 Series is quite a bit bigger than its predecessor, with a significantly wider track (front +37mm, rear +48mm), and the car’s increased length (+93mm) and longer wheelbase (+50mm) also accentuate its sporting silhouette. Despite the increase in size, due to clever use of materials and production techniques, the new F30 is actually lighter than previous entries in the 3 series. Behind the steering wheel sits the familiar BMW 4-dials instrument pod. Sitting in the middle of the pod is the mini information display that serves primarily as a clock and odometer. Of course it could display other things, but when there is an 8.8” display at the middle of the dashboard I never really pay attention to the mini display.
The F30 3-series is the first BMW that comes from the factory with a built-in navigation system, called the BMW Navigation System Professional. There are sensors that monitor the wheels and the steering angle and can localise the vehicles at all time, even when the roof-mounted GPS receiver only had a weak signal to work with. BMW also claims the data processing as well as the re-routing of directions is faster than aftermarket navigation systems. I tried it with a drive to Bandung and it was faultless. It always gave me good directions and whenever I deviated from the route, it quickly mapped out new ones for me.
I only have one major complaint about the interior. The 335i had very flat bottomed front seats with almost no thigh support. The seat back also has very minimal lateral support. This I could understand in a chauffeur-driven Japanese exec car, but never in a BMW. Hopefully there is a more sporting option to tick when you purchase one. If there is, then tick that option.
Just like the previous top of the line non-M model BMW 3 series, the 335i is game for some hard cornering. BMW has equipped this car with adjustable Adaptive Suspension: Comfort or Sport. My advice – always choose Sport. Sport mode gives you a well-controlled suspension movement and it is not any harsher than previous sporting 3 series. Actually, it gives you the normal BMW ride. When in Comfort mode, the shock absorbers become slightly too weak to control the springs. Hence you will experience more bobbing motions over undulating roads.
The suspension is not the only thing that you can adjust. In fact, BMW equipped the F30 with Driving Experience Control with 4 different driving modes: EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Selecting one of the first three will simultaneously alter the stiffness suspension, shifting time of the 8-speed automatic transmission and engine response. Sport+ is Sport but with higher limits for the traction and stability controls to allow you more ‘freedom’, supposedly for when you are driving on a racetrack. Wisely, BMW also allows for independent adjustments for the suspension, transmission and engine. My favorite setting is suspension and transmission in Sport, but engine response in Comfort. Leaving the engine in Sport mode makes the throttle response too responsive for my tastes, at least for everyday use.
The EcoPro mode guides drivers to use the car as efficiently as possible. The Start Stop engine function is active by default in the F30 335i. When you stop briefly at a traffic light, the engine automatically shuts down and immediately starts up when you let go of the brake. However, I almost always turn this function off (yes, you can turn it off with a push of a button) because I don’t think it suits Jakarta or Bandung traffic. Apparently, the car also concurs, because after a few too many start-stops in heavy Dago traffic, the engine decided not to shut down anymore. With the Start Stop function turned off, and with my admittedly heavier than most right foot, the 335i managed to return to a fuel consumption of 5.6km/liter for in-town driving and 7.2km/ liter of combined in-town and freeway driving. It is also quite environmentally friendly with, CO2 emissions of only 169 gr per km. These figures are exceptional, considering you have more than 300 horses to play with.
The BMW brochure claims 306hp are produced by the 3 liter 6 cylinder engine, plus there’s the direct fuel injection twin-scroll turbo for 335i. Please note that this only a guideline, because you could end up with less, but also maybe with more, depending on what you feed the car. Give the car the basic 95 RON octane fuel and you would lose about 20hp, netting about 285hp. Add a dose of quality octane booster to the tank and not only will you find those missing 20 horses, but you will have more than 310hp on tap. This is easy to find out, because the iDrive has a Sport Display feature that can show you the horsepower and torque being produced by the engine at that instant. Just keep in mind that, although the engine will happily cope with 95 RON octane fuel throughout its life, the BMW N55 engine in the 335i was designed to drink 98 RON octane premium fuel.
Coupled with the smart 8 speed automatic transmission, the 335i can produce 0 – 100kmh in a time of 5.5 seconds, which is quicker than you will ever need on the road. Its top speed of 250kmh is also faster than you will ever need. When you are in the mood to manual shift, you could use the paddles behind the steering wheel. Every flick of the paddle will produce almost instantaneous gear shift making for seamless acceleration. The gargantuan 400nm torque that arrives as early as 1200 rpm also boosts the sensation of being warped across space. There simply is no turbo lag in this car, period. Very satisfying.
The 3-series is BMW’s bestselling model, so changes to the exterior are minimal. Too minimal for a complete model change, I think. Of course, you can immediately recognize it as a BMW. The problem is, many people I met have mistaken the F30 335i, which costs Rp. 849 million in Indonesia, for either the new 5 series or the E90 3 series. I wish BMW made more distinctive design differentiations, the way it did for the E36 to E46 model change, or E60 to F10 5 series for that matter. With those models, you could immediately recognize the new car as a new BMW model. Don’t get me wrong, I like the new body style. I just wished that more people would notice a brand new BMW model. So do I like the new BMW F30 3 series? Yes. Do I think it will continue its reign as the king of the compact premium executive saloon segment? Judging by the 2012 335i, very likely.
Specs: BMW 335i SEDAN
Engine: 3.0 liter twin turbo inline 6-cylinder
Power: 300 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed Steptronic with Adaptive Transmission Control
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