BMW, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2008 BMW 335 xi (All Wheel Drive) – Road Test

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Irregular heartbeat. Eyes as wide as saucers. And sweaty palms. That was the first five minutes behind the wheel of the BMW 335xi.

To many the 3 series BMW is the epitome of what a car should be. With a new 300 horsepower twin-turbo engine under the hood the stakes have been raised even higher. Add a slick 6-speed manual transmission and all-wheel-drive to the mix and it can’t possibly get better than this – can it? Uh, well, ummm, to be honest there is one that is better. Trade the manual for BMW’s awesome automatic and you’ll have perfection. More on that later.

First Impressions
Designer, Chris Bangle has been castigated relentlessly for a few years now. He first came to the attention to auto lovers when the 7 series BMW came out a few years ago and it kinda looked like a dogs breakfast. Not too many people liked it, and let’s be honest he deserved a kicking for messing up a perfectly good looking car. Everyone held their breath when word came out that he also got to re-design the 3 and 5 series cars for BMW. Fortunately for him and everyone else that loves cars, he did a much better job with this assignment. If he was the one responsible for the interior design however, then he deserves another kick.

I’ve always loved the look of the BMW 3 Series, and the newest iteration of it is just gorgeous. There are still some “Bangle angles”, but overall it’s very much an evolutionary change for BMW. He got to put his stamp on the look without doing too much that it would damage the sales targets of BMW’s best-selling vehicle.

Before I go on to the details and how the car drives, let’s get the most important information out there about the 300 horsepower in-line 6-cylinder engine mated to xDrive (all-wheel drive) – Here’s what the BMW press kit says about it:
“Turbo lag is a thing of the past, thanks to our inspired use of two turbochargers, each supplying three cylinders with compressed air. This advanced six accelerates with a force that throws you back in your seat and doesn’t stop until redline. xDrive, all-wheel-drive system adds revolutionary intelligence to the BMW performance arsenal. Under the most challenging conditions, xDrive, all-wheel-drive system delivers variable power to individual wheels, providing tenacious grip and optimum traction. In all conditions, xDrive, all-wheel-drive system enhances driving dynamics to extract maximum exhilaration from tight curves and winding roads. The result is remarkably agile handling on any road, in any weather.”

The big question now: is all of that true – or just a load of crap? Oh yes – it’s true! Every last word is true. The expressions that stand out the most are: “accelerates with a force that throws you back in your sea”,  “tenacious grip” and “extract maximum exhilaration”. That pretty much sums up every aspect of the BMW 335 xi. And nothing else matters!

So now that you’ve decided to sell the house and a kidney and you’ve found a pawn shop that’ll take the wife and kids, what’s it like to live with the 335 xi on a daily basis?

Well my wife was more than vocal in telling me how much she hated it – that’s why I encourage you to drop yours off at a pawn shop (the wife that is). I have to give the car back after a week, so she’ll stop nipping my ears soon enough. You might not be so lucky.

So what was the problem? The cup holders. The heating and air conditioning. Blah instrument cluster. The bum warmers. Poor air circulation. Noisy moonroof when open. Useless vents. The cup holders (yes I know I said that before). Storage compartments. Glovebox. Water bottle holders. Gearbox. The climate control, and finally the cup holders.

Blah, blah, blah. To me it was all white-noise. I was having so much fun I didn’t care! I just cranked up the awesome stereo system and held on for dear life as the surrounding countryside blurred past. Unfortunately when I wasn’t blasting around, some of my wife’s complaints about the 335ix became quite evident – much to her pleasure and my displeasure.

The cup holders are indeed a joke. They are obviously “designed” and installed as an afterthought or an appeasement to North Americans’ love of transporting refreshments wherever they go. They spring out of the dashboard and are so flimsy and cheap they can’t hold anything of any substance. BMW are obviously intent of proving their point that people should not drink liquids while travelling in their car, and as such, using these cup holders will result in a costly clean-up bill when the liquid spills all over the interior. Point taken.

The front seats are extremely comfortable and I have to say just about the best seats I’ve ever sat in (the Sport seats in the 5 series are THE best ever). Seats are easy to adjust and get comfortable while adding a two-person memory to make sure no one undoes your perfect seat position. The test vehicle had the Sports Package which includes larger 18” wheels and tires along with the aforementioned Sport seats. These particular seats include electric multi-way bolstering in the thigh and kidney areas and under the knees to keep the driver well-planted while pushing the 335xi to its upper limits. The knee bolster was much appreciated on longer journeys and is especially beneficial for shorter people. The 3-stage bum warmers were OK, but not as good as the MINI from the previous week.

The instrument cluster and dashboard layout are – how can I say this nicely – bland. While BMW’s in the past tended to have the centre console angled more to the driver than the passenger, they’ve now gone in the opposite direction and they look more like a dash you’d expect to see from a 1980’s Buick. It’s very flat and uninspiring. My wife made no bones about it (over and over again) that she hated it and thought it looked like an old man’s car (“Gimme the Lexus any day” were her exact words).

There is no ‘key’ as-such to start the car, but you do have to put the fob into a slot in the dash and press a button to start/stop the engine. To lock/unlock the car you just touch the top of the door handle lightly with your finger. It worked a treat and was never an issue.

The automatic climate control is a bone of contention for me in almost any car. Very few manufacturers actually get it right, and BMW sadly continues in that vein. There is no way to get fresh air into the cabin unless you open a window or the moonroof. Why does this seem to be such a problem for manufacturers to accomplish? On bare-boned cheap cars with manual adjustments I can have fresh air on my face or upper body by just turning a dial or sliding a lever. The circulation within the 335 was quite poor, but I didn’t want to have to open a window or turn on the A/C yet – which was my only option. Opening the moonroof made the cabin too noisy. Cranking up the fan speed without turning on the A/C was next to useless and it just wouldn’t blow where I wanted it. Although the 335 comes with dual-zone climate control, any time I was overheating and adjusted my side of the car, my wife got cold because it affected her side too – so much for dual controls! On a mild fall day, I was overheating while the cars fan was set at maximum. Switching to maximum A/C was not that good either.

The audio system in the BMW 335 xi is fantastic and certainly worthy of a vehicle in this price bracket. However, a single-disc in-dash CD player is unacceptable at this price-point. One thing I have to point out is that the display for the audio information completely disappears if you’re wearing Polaroid sunglasses. It’s fine on the climate control screen, just on the audio screen it’s a problem – weird.

The armrest/console between the front occupants has a built-in cooling feature (for chocolate bars perhaps?) and – gasp – a cup holder! This one actually can be used if the cup is small, but sits under the lid, making it somewhat redundant. There is a powerpoint and auxiliary input for connecting an MP3 player to the sound system. It looks like it is a double-layer storage compartment, but not so. It can’t be used for storing CD’s so it’s not much use. The glove box was entirely filled with the owner’s manual, so the only place left to store CD’s is in the generous sized door pockets. The trunk is very good, in that it’s very square and a decent size at12 cu.ft. If you opt for the 6-disc CD changer it is located in the trunk and would take up a good bit of space on the left-hand side of the trunk. The rear seats don’t fold, but there’s a ski pass-through for the more “adventurous” owner.

Driving the BMW 335 xi is fun and exhilarating, but something the passengers really can’t relate to. Passengers are coddled in a cocoon of silence and leather as the driver grins from ear to ear at the fun he or she is having behind the wheel. The steering is perfectly weighted and balanced and just twitching the right toes will result in speed increases well beyond the limits of econo-boxes. The engine is silent but incredibly responsive to the driver’s minute desires. The clutch is light and perfectly balanced, but the gearbox was a little disappointing. It’s nothing that would be of concern, but definitely expected something better from BMW. There is a tiny crunch whenever a forward gear is selected. You feel it, but don’t hear it. Many people wouldn’t even feel it, but both my wife and I felt it when changing gears at any speed. I didn’t like the placement of the reverse gear – to the left and forward. It’s just too close to first gear and a couple of times I was caught out when turning around in traffic only to find I was in the wrong gear. One case in point – I was stuck in traffic and wanted to jump into a space in the next lane. I put it into what I thought was first gear, but in fact was reverse. Good thing I didn’t dump the clutch!

Rear seat accommodation is very good for two, a bit of a squeeze for three. The tunnel dividing the interior is tallish and therefore very intrusive in the rear seating compartment. The seat angle is perfect for long and short journeys. For the size of car it’s a very good place to be.

Safety
For years Volvo has been the epitome of safe reliable cars, but for some unknown reason, BMW has been left in the shadows when it comes to safety and the public’s perception. For years BMW’s have been at the forefront of safety and in many cases exceed Volvo for safety features. As an example here are just a few of the safety features on the 3 series BMW: Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), including Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, and Brake Stand-by features, with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC); xDrive all-wheel-drive system; 4-wheel ventilated anti-lock disc brakes with Dynamic Brake Control (DBC); Engine-speed-sensitive, variable-assist power steering; Tire Pressure Monitor; Xenon Adaptive Headlights with auto-leveling; Heated dual power mirrors and heated windshield washer jets; Dynamic Cruise Control; Rain-sensing windshield wipers and Automatic headlight control; Fully electronic “drive-by-wire” throttle system.

For more details and options go to: www.bmwusa.com or www.BMW.ca

The Conclusion
You would think that I hated the BMW 335 xi with all of my complaining, but you’d be wrong. I LOVED the car and would be thrilled to actually have the money to own one. The problem is it’s a fabulous car that can’t get the little details right. At $60,000+ to me that’s inexcusable – it should be perfect at that price. As a driver’s car you can’t ask for much better than what the 335ix offers. It’s a blast to drive and every car on the road is impeding the progress to your forward momentum. It’s blindingly fast yet you never feel that you’re going over the speed limit – even at twice the limit! It is without a doubt “The Ultimate Driving Machine” with the emphasis on driving. The price discrepancy between the Canadian/U.S. makes it a much better value-for-the-money in the U.S. than in Canada. BMW claim it’s not based on the rate of exchange but rather the volume of sales. You can decide if you believe that or not.

Warranty:
BMW Ultimate Service is included at no charge with all new BMWs. BMW Ultimate Service includes: A New Car Limited Warranty for 4 years or 50,000 miles [80,000 kms]; Roadside Assistance Service for 4 years /Unlimited miles/kms and No-charge Scheduled Maintenance 4 years or 50,000 miles [80,000 kms].

Pricing for the 2008 BMW 335 xi (All Wheel Drive)
As tested: $46,675 [$60,250 Cdn]
Base price: $40,800 [$52,500 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $775 U.S. / $1,995 Canada

Fuel Consumption: [Fuel: Premium 91 Octane]
The twin turbocharged 3.0 Litre I-6 is rated at 19 mpg [12.5 L/100 kms] City and 30 mpg [7.9 L/100 kms] Highway
I averaged a very respectable and surprising 22.2 mpg [10.6 L/100km] in very aggressive driving.

+ PLUSES: 
Absolutely incredible surge of power from the twin-turbo engine
Extremely quiet at all speeds
Awesome audio system
The Ultimate Driving Machine

– MINUSES:
Crunchy gearbox
Somewhat bland centre console
Laughable cup holders

Back Seat Driver Test: 9 out of 10
“This is very comfortable, surprisingly roomy.”

Immediate Competition:
Acura TL, Audi A4, Lexus IS 350/450, Mercedes-Benz C350, Saab 9-3, Volvo S60 T5

By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 3.0 Litre DOHC 24-valve I-6, Twin turbo engine; 6-speed manual transmission; x-Drive -AWD
Horsepower: 300 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 300 @ 1,400 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph / 210 km/h

Interior
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

Ergonomics
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
9 – Driving Position/Controls

Exterior
10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

Performance
10 – Engine
9 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
9 – Bang for the $$ (in USA, 6 in Canada)
10 – Fuel Economy

146 Total / 150


Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
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