OLA, Ark. -- The 34-mile stretch of Highway 7 from Jessieville to Ola, a corkscrew course running over rumpled furrows of the Ouachita Mountains in western Arkansas, rates a 10 in our count of great roads to elicit the exciting spirit of a sporty car.
This route has steep mountain grades, endless hairpin corners and swoopy dips through deep valleys -- with a dearth of traffic or patrols to challenge a swift pace. It's just the ticket we seek to flex the turbo-charged muscle in a new 335i sports coupe from Germany's renowned Bayerische Motoren Werke -- that's BMW to you and me.
BMW builds incomparable performance machines in an extensive line, and the 2007 collection includes superb new designs for the 3-Series two-door sports coupes. Constructed on an expanded rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform with a longer wheelbase, a wide track and low stance to enhance chassis dynamics and hone the handling traits, 3-Series coupes roll on 17-inch wheels with run-flat tires and a pliable independent suspension system using components in lightweight aluminum to pare the overall unsprung mass.
Weight of the body is distributed over front and rear wheels almost equally, meaning the 3-coupes become quite predicable when engaged in aggressive maneuvers such as charging through a set of curves.
The poised posture is also aided by big disc brakes linked to electronic vehicle controls -- such as electronic brake proportioning (EBP) and BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) mechanism which can correct potentially dangerous car movements when wheels slip laterally.
These electronic devices check lateral wiggle and keep the coupes moving in a smooth linear progression without undue nose dive as sharp rack and pinion steering gears kick in to point the nose around the next hard bend.
The tail, motivated by rear drive wheels, follows the lead of the front wheels by etching a precise line to the apex of a curve before settling into the next straight.
f course, there's so much peddle power to play. Big torque, pumped from beefed-up new engines, puts adhesive force on the back wheels as one driver wields a short manual shift lever to work through gears in a run up to speed. Our romp across the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas plainly shows that BMW's latest 3-Series coupe can confront the challenges of a tortuous road and still deliver uncanny control for a driver for the tasks of steering, accelerating, braking and other linear actions of the automotive kind.
Actually, BMW builds three different 3-Series models. The coupes carry tags of 328i, 328xi and 335i -- and they differ by engine, transmission, drivetrain and on-board equipment content. 328i and 335i are RWD editions, and 328xi stocks BMW's all-wheel-drive (AWD) system dubbed xDrive.
Adjustable and infinitely variable, the xDrive device can direct the engine's power to whichever axle, front or rear, has the best traction bite. Revamped six-cylinder engines apply to 3-Series coupes and six-speed transmissions rule -- either a six-speed manual by Getrag or a ZF electronic automatic with Steptronic mode for clutch-less shifts.
It's a 3.0-liter six-in-line constructed with magnesium/aluminum composites and rigged with BMW's Valvetronic variable intake-valve lift and Double Vanos variable valve timing. The six-pack produce 230 hp at 6500 rpm plus 200 lb-ft of torque at 2750 rpm. 335i earns the first in-line-six toting twin turbo-chargers, direct fuel injection and an aluminum crankcase.
It also displaces 3.0 liters but the twin-turbo six charges with 300 hp at 5800 rpm and torque ripping to 300 lb-ft between 1400-5000 rpm. Absent from this engine is the hesitation or lag in power development of a typical turbo because BMW's engineers devised a way to nix that annoying turbo lag by using two relatively small turbochargers -- rather than a single large one -- to feed super-compressed air to the two cylinder banks and build the pressure much faster.
A bonus option for 335i equipped with the Steptronic automatic tranny is the addition of shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel for finger-tapping shift controls -- pull paddles rearward to upshift or push them forward to downshift.
The distinctive signature of BMW's twin-kidney grille mounts on the prow in a crisp interpretation ringed in chrome with smooth body-colored bumpers below holding a long horizontal air intake port and flanking foglamps. Multi-lens headlamp clusters wrap around front corners and contain xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps which operate with BMW's Adaptive Light Control (ALC) system where a pair of unique swivel lamps -- keyed to the angle of the steering wheel -- rotate during turning maneuvers to keep a light shining on the vehicle's forward path.
A long front hood shows a powerdome bulge that hints at the powerhouse lurking below. From side view, 3-Series coupes feature a gracefully arching silhouette with overhangs fore and aft quite brief for a sporty pose. The passenger compartment, arranged with front bucket seats and individual rear seats separated by a center console, seems spacious and elegant with standard leatherette upholstery or optional full leather treatment.
There are many different color choices for the cockpit with decorative trimwork in wood (burl walnut or poplar), or brushed aluminum. On-board passive safety gear includes BMW's Head Protection System (HPS) air bags. And there are many options like active steering, park distance control and active cruise control, plus a Sport Package with seats featuring adjustable bolsters and 18-inch alloy wheels capped by performance tires. Prices for 3-Series coupes start at $35,300 for 328i.