Steve Schaefer, Thu, 2 Oct 2008 08:00:00 PDT
BMW sedans may be the company's best-known models, from the popular 3 Series to the expansive and controversially styled 7 Series. But the 3 Series Coupe is something a little different, it's not simply a two-door version of the sedan.
The coupe is lower, smoother, and despite its unmistakable family resemblance, sports a differently styled nose and tail. Long doors, stretched to permit rear seat access, simplify the side panels by removing a cut line.
As with the sedan, you can order up your 3 Series Coupe's straight six engine with or without turbocharging. BMW has not offered turbocharging for decades, citing issues of turbo lag and complexity, but now they do, in the 335i. My Monaco Blue test car, however, was a 328i, with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter, dual-overhead-cam six producing 230 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque through its standard six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed STEPTRONIC automatic is available.
The EPA awards the 328i Coupe mileage ratings of 18 City, 28 Highway. I earned a respectable 23 mpg during my test week. The EPA's Green Vehicle numbers are either 9.5 or 7 for the Air Pollution score and 6 for Greenhouse Gas. Either way, the cars make the cut for a Smartway rating. If you're shopping, be sure your car has the cleaner engine in California, that will be likely.
Moving the car's 3,371 pounds down the line with the manual six and normally aspirated six was enjoyable, and showed why folks love BMWs. I sampled the turbocharged engine recently in the 135i, and felt the difference in acceleration the twin turbos add 70 horsepower, but 230 is plenty really, unless you plan on racing to work every day. There's pleasure in the precision of the controls, the balance of the 50/50 front/rear weight distribution and rear-wheel-drive, and the happy sounds the six makes.
The sport tuned suspension makes a difference. The double-pivot front and five link rear suspension keep the car planted and help inform the driver of what's going on. BMW's engineers carefully calibrated the springs, shock absorbers, anti-roll bars and bushings for a ride that you don't get in an ordinary car. The rack and pinion steering offers feedback through your hands of road surface and grip.
Stopping chores are especially well handled. Seventeen inch wheels are the minimum size available, making room for larger diameter brake discs for extra stopping power. As part of BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, pressure is automatically increased if the brakes start to fade from high temperatures (likely from some serious backroad driving). Brake Drying uses the brake pads intermittently in the wet to keep the disks at their peak in case of sudden need. Dynamic brake control adds braking force automatically during emergency stops. A feature called Start off Assistant holds the car in place momentarily when starting on a hill, a San Francisco treat.
BMW interiors tend towards the Spartan, but this one, in Cream Beige, felt more luxurious. The Dakota leather on the seats felt and smelled good. The wood trim was a gray stained poplar, which lacked the warmth of a more traditional veneer.
Reaching back to grab your seatbelt can be a pain in a coupe, thanks to the long doors. Luckily, in the 3 Series Coupes, a belt feeder arm pops out when you turn the key and offers the belt to you. If the passenger seat is unoccupied, that arm doesnt operate.
Most of the features you'd want are already standard on a BMW. Mine had Xenon Adaptive Headlamps, which are bright and turn with the car as you drive around corners. The windshield wipers are rain-sensitive. The standard audio system offers ten speakers. Even the brake lamps are set up to glow more brightly if you really mash on the pedal hopefully conveying a panic stop the drivers behind.
However, you can always add more, and my tester's sticker included $475 for the Monaco Blue paint, $750 for the Cold Weather Package (heated seats, retractable headlight washers, and so on), and $3,250 for a many-faceted Premium Package. The Sport Package ($1,000) bumped the handsome alloy wheels up to 18 inchers and plumped the chairs up to "sport seats.&uot; The Comfort Access system ($500) allowed me to keep the key fob in my pocked and simply walk up to the car, open the door, sit down, and push the start button. An iPod/USB adapter, HD radio and Sirius Satellite Radio added more cost and entertainment. From a base price of $35,300 the final bill grew to $43,395.
BMWs are far above basic transportation and are built for exciting driving. Despite attempts to equal them, no company has done it so far.