#02#France was an apt location in which to launch the new BMW 3 Series Coupé. In French, 'coupé' loosely means 'cut-off', originally referring to horse-drawn carriages that had distinct passenger and driver compartments. These days we generally use the word to describe a two-door car that is stylish and sporty. In the case of the 3 Series, this model represents the third generation of the Coupé derivative. We were keen to find out whether BMW had created a driver's car, or one that trades more on its style and that prestigious BMW badge.
Where the previous generations of 3 Series Coupé looked all but identical to the saloon, BMW's designers have created a different look for the new car and when you see the new Coupé alongside a 3 Series saloon you'll be surprised at just how different they are. The side profile is distinctly stylish, with a tiny front overhang contrasted by the long rear bumper, allied to a longish bonnet and wheelbase and the glasshouse set well back. There is an elegant new swage line from front to rear and overall it is a pretty shape without reverting to radical sculpting. It was pointed out to us that only three external components are shared with the saloon: the badge, the door handles and the indicators in the wings.
At the front, a much sportier appearance comes from a lower front end and muscular shaping. Apparently this is partly due to the fitment of Xenon lights as standard across the range, as they take up less room than standard halogen units. The biggest change at the rear is new lights and they are much nicer than the saloon's too, featuring a row of LEDs to give a more distinctive look at night.
If the cars at the launch are anything to go by, your choice of alloy wheel has a large effect on the car's sporty appearance. We drove both 325i and 335i models in SE trim, the latter in manual and automatic versions, and each of the three cars driven looked quite different to the others. The only component difference between the 335i models was choice of wheel, with the five-spoke 18-inch wheel pictured being my favourite. Minimum size of wheel fitted across the range is 17-inch. The 325i SE was portrayed as being a lot less masculine-looking, but the differences are remarkably few. According to BMW, the 335i sits lower on sports suspension and has silver-painted wire mesh in the lower half of the front bumper. The 335i also has beefier, twin exhaust pipes.
The 3 Series Coupé official on sale date in Britain is September 23rd and five models are available from the off, all with straight-six cylinder engines. The three petrol options include the 325i and 335i we drove, as well as the 330i fitted with the lightweight unit we've tested in several other BMWs
. Diesel options are the new high-performance 335d and the well-proven 330d. Four-cylinder petrol and diesel models will follow early next year and we expect to see the all-new M3 later in 2007.
Launch cars are usually well specified inside so it pays to look closely at the list of standard equipment and the cost of options before jumping in. The first car we tried, the 325i SE, was trimmed in supple red leather, which contrasted with the 'Piano Black' plastic trim. Colours aside, I liked the look of the shiny black trim, though it loses out in tactility terms. The rest of the interior is treated to the standard BMW level of detail, style and execution. There are a few new touches that you won't yet find on the saloon, such as soft lighting within the door panels, along with hidden storage compartments in the doors themselves. New to the 3 Series Coupé is the seatbelt handover, which eases reaching back for the seatbelt. Despite the sloping roof, the rear has plenty of space for two passengers, with only those much over six-foot tall feeling a little stuck for headroom. No surprise then to see that all dimensions have increased.
Drivers familiar with the rest of the 3 Series range will instantly feel at home behind the chunky three-spoke steering wheel. Ergonomics are top rate as per usual. Prod the starter button in the 325i and the engine smoothly settles into a refined idle; as we discovered in the 3 Series Touring
, this engine comes alive when on the move, though if anything its installation in the Coupé is quieter.
I was particularly keen to get behind the wheel of the 335i, as this was our first opportunity to try out BMW's newest engine. Ignore the naming convention BMW usually uses here, as the 335i engine is actually a 3-litre straight-six, but that's where its similarity with the engine in the 330i stops. This new unit features twin-turbocharging and direct injection to produce what BMW hopes is the best possible combination of high performance, low fuel consumption and low weight. BMW looked at installing a high-capacity naturally aspirated V8 instead, but the turbocharged six is lighter, bringing about benefits in road handling, as well as fuel economy.
So what's it like? In short; stunningly impressive. The fun starts as soon as you slot the key in the dash and press the start button; you are greeted with an aggressive grunt from the engine before it settles into a brooding rumble, tuned no doubt by those twin exhausts. Before we even reach the main road it is clear that this engine is tractable from very low revs. Once clear of village restrictions I take my first opportunity to try out this car's performance for size. Let's just say that expletives were uttered, my passenger held onto his seat a little tighter and we were soon on the piece of road where the horizon previously was...
Now, outright go was never in doubt. The specifications will tell you that this engine produces 306bhp at 5800rpm and its peak torque of 295lb.ft is reached at just 1300rpm. Dig a little deeper and you'll discover that that maximum torque is then available all the way to 5000rpm. You can thank the twin turbos for that. BMW employs two small turbochargers here, one for each group of three cylinders and I swear I would not have guessed there was anything other than a high capacity, naturally aspirated engine under the bonnet if I hadn't already been told. There is zero lag, just effortless, relentless acceleration in almost any gear at any engine speed. It is mightily impressive in a way that the 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds doesn't come close to portraying.
Of course, all that performance would be wasted if the car turned out to be a shed in the corners, but you should have guessed that it isn't, based as it is on the five-star handling 3 Series. The 325i Coupé is competent and deliciously balanced, while maintaining a good degree of comfort and absorption. The 335i SE takes that balance and most of the ride comfort and adds a lot more adjustability and the option to be a hooligan if desired. There is easily enough power to overcome the high grip levels afforded by rear tyres, but that doesn't make the car a handful. Most drivers will find that they can comfortably drive this car fast on a twisty road, so competent is the chassis. Keener drivers will revel in the rear-led attitude and the communication through the seat and steering. Our only minor criticism is that the steering is a little too heavy and inert feeling at lower speeds.
Preliminary thoughts on the car's brakes are good; thanks to the minimum 17-inch wheel size, even the 325i is fitted with large disc brakes all round. Brake pedal feel is perfect and retardation was not a problem on our test route; though a British B-road would be a very different challenge. The six-speed manual gearbox is quick and the ratios well-spaced, while the new automatic gearbox deserves a mention for its smoothness and rapid changes. BMW has carried out a lot of work on this new 'box to reduce torque converter slip to an absolute minimum, so much so that cars with the auto 'box are said to have the same fuel consumption figures as the manual cars. Keen drivers that prefer an automatic are catered for as well by the fitment of tactile new paddles on the steering wheel to allow manual gear selection.
We look forward to spending more time with the new 3 Series Coupé back on home soil, but our first impressions are that BMW is onto another winner here with a stylish, covetable, fast and competent new replacement for a car that was already a massive success. The launch of the Coupé also heralds a new era in BMW engine philosophy and the 335i version deserves comparison with the current BMW M3
in terms of performance and enjoyment. With the next M3 likely to move further up the ladder in price and performance, this car could well be a worthy successor, especially in M Sport guise.#p##04#
BMW 3 Series Coupé UK range overview
- BMW 325i Coupé SE: £28,090
- BMW 330i Coupé SE: £31,290
- BMW 330d Coupé SE: £31,840
- BMW 335i Coupé SE: £33,420
- BMW 335d Coupé SE: £35,475