Price: £33,420 (325i is £28,090). On sale September
Engine: 2,979cc, six cylinders, 24 valves, two turbochargers, 306bhp at 5,800rpm, 295lb ft at 1,300-5,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0 to 60mph in 5.4 seconds, 29.7mpg official average
A couple of weeks ago we tested a car with a petrol engine that is set to open a new chapter in the history of petrol engines. The Golf TSI's little 1.4-litre motor delivers 170bhp and the sort of low-speed pull you'd normally expect to find only in a diesel, and a big one at that. Having both a turbocharger and a supercharger is the key.
Now I'm powering up an Austrian mountain road to the familiarly silken hum of a BMW straight-six engine, but I'm feeling the thrust as though I've just landed in another dimension. The engine is running at a low speed but the acceleration is monstrous, as if from a powerful turbodiesel. But this is a petrol-fuelled engine, running at a speed at which a six-cylinder BMW petrol engine is usually sleepy. It's that Golf TSI thing again, but on a larger scale: diesel pulling ability at the lower end of the speed range combined with the eager high-speed power of a petrol engine.
This time there's no supercharger. Instead there are two turbochargers, both small, each powered by and feeding three cylinders. And there's direct injection, by injectors placed centrally in the cylinders and micro-accurately actuated by piezoelectric crystals: apply a current and they change shape enough to open the injector nozzles.
Direct injection allows a very high compression ratio, which is good for efficiency. And as this engine has a hefty 3.0-litre capacity and the two turbos are small, enough air passes through the exhaust at low speeds to get the turbos spinning quickly. A small engine needs a supercharger to produce that low-speed pull; in a bigger one, two turbos work just fine.
This engine produces 306bhp and 295lb ft of torque, figures comparable with BMW's 4.0-litre, naturally-aspirated V8, which weighs about 70kg more and is a lot thirstier. It's a miracle, especially as that maximum torque is available, unbelievably, from just 1,300rpm right up to 5,000rpm. That's the second time I've called a new petrol engine miraculous in as many weeks.
However, as you'll have seen from the pictures, the engine is not the only thing that's new about this BMW. It is, in fact, a new BMW, the coupé version of the latest 3-series. And this coupé is more different from its saloon relative than either of the two previous 3-series coupés were from theirs. That's a good thing, because the saloon is a strange interpretation of the current BMW design language, which manages to look both bland and odd.
In the coupé, every panel is different from those of the saloon (as before), to the point where it looks almost as if it's an entirely separate model range (not as before).
The Coupé's styling is very handsome, apart from the amorphous rear lights. I particularly like the convex curve of the ridge that runs from behind the front wheel to the rear lights, mirrored by the upswept sill line. Other design niceties include the illuminated circles that form daytime running lights around the inner headlights' edges for those countries forced to have them, the LEDs in the tail lights seemingly set in the ends of fibre-optic rods (the brake lights illuminate in two stages according to braking effort), and the fact that the front wings are made from ultra-light carbonfibre.
Inside, the dashboard is typically 3-series but the centre console extends further back. There's proper space for two adults in the back, a rare thing in a coupé and reason alone for some buyers to choose this.
And the 3-series coupé revives a feature made famous by rival Mercedes-Benz, which called it the "belt butler". You sit inside, place the modern "key" in the facia slot and the seat belt is automatically handed to you by an electric arm, which then retracts again. If sensors detect a front passenger, s/he is offered a belt too.
We were driving through some Austrian mountains, if you remember, and enjoying petrol-engine sonority, diesel-engine muscularity and acceleration not far off an M3's. That enjoyment is made all the better by the usual, and fabulous, BMW 3-series handling balance and precision feel, helped by a very good traction and stability system, which intervenes so subtly that you usually don't notice it's there. Switching it out reveals the extent of its efforts, however, because all that torque and balance makes for a car born to execute the decorous tailslide. If that sounds an oxymoron, the BMW proves otherwise.
My first 335i test car had BMW's Active Steering, a piece of technology over which the world remains ambivalent. It exaggerates the steering's response at low speeds (smaller movements have a bigger effect) but progressively calms them back to normality as the pace rises. This version felt the most natural yet, but I then drove another car with normal steering and it was immediately rendered pointless. The car feels more pleasing without it.
This second car also had the optional six-speed automatic transmission with up/down paddles on the steering wheel for its manual mode. The shift time is said to be half as fast again as before, and it is indeed an excellent auto that's smooth and responsive enough to keep a keen driver interested. You sense that each gear is properly connected to the engine and the driving wheels, with none of the slushiness found in older automatics, but the shifts are still very smooth. It's one of those cars in which everything gels together, a car you can't help but love when you see it, feel it and drive it. That will be a thumbs-up, then.
Alfa Brera 3.2 JTS V6 Q4 SV£29,850
The most expensive version of the striking Brera has 260bhp and rear-biased four-wheel drive. It's cramped in the back, but is a lovely object and satisfying to drive.
Audi TT 3.2 V6 Quattro £29,285
New TT is wider, roomier, sleeker and massively better to drive than the old one, if obviously an evolution rather than an original. It's a four-wheel drive, and produces 250bhp.
Mercedes-Benz CLK 350 £37,570
The V6 engine's 272bhp can't match the turbo BMW's 305, its auto gearbox is less satisfying and the CLK seems overpriced. You do get a 'belt butler', though.Reuse content