Review of the 2013 BMW 335i M Sport
Over the past several months, I’ve documented both the ordering of and the delivery of my new 2013 BMW 335i M-Sport. Now, I’m going to document my review of the car. I’m going to offer my impressions of the vehicle both objectively, and relative to the past BMW 3 Series models I’ve owned.
In 2012, BMW updated the BMW 3 Series and made changes in the wildly successful E90 platform and released the successor to the E90 – the new F30 platform. Comparing the differences between the E90 and F30 platforms, most agree that they are evolutionary in nature (particularly when compared to the more radical, revolutionary changes between the E46 and E90. Cosmetically, the differences are minor – some differences in the front end, different wheel choices, and some significant interior differences which I’ll elaborate on below. The new car is 1.9 inches longer in wheelbase and 3.7 inches longer overall – which gives is sleeker, more aggressive appearance to my eye. For the F30 335i, the engine remains virtually the same as the E90 335i – the N55 single-turbo 3.0-liter with direct fuel injection, a twin-scroll turbocharger, and BMW’s Valvetronic variable-valve-lift system.
Power remains the same in the F30 335i – 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The new BMW “8AT” 8 speed automatic transmission however makes things interesting. In 2012 (first year for the F30), CAR & DRIVER magazine tested an F30 335i Sport with the 6MT 6 speed manual transmission , and reported a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds (considerably slower than the 2011 E90 335i 6MT they tested the year prior, reporting a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds). In 2013, CAR & DRIVER again tested an F30 BMW 335i – this time an M Sport model with the new 8AT automatic transmission (comparing it to both a Lexus and a Cadillac). In this test, the 2013 BMW 335i M Sport managed an impressive 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds.. I’ve never known an automatic transmission to perform faster than it’s manual transmission counterpart (driven by someone with the expertise to maximize the performance) but BMW’s new 8-Speed automatic does indeed perform better than their 6-Speed manual transmission. Truly impressive.
In terms of driving experience, my 2013 BMW 335i M Sport does drive quite differently in many respects than the 2011 E90 335i which it replaced. Without a doubt, the biggest difference for me in the driving experience comes from the new 8AT 8-speed automatic transmission. My 2011 335i had the 6AT 6-speed automatic transmission – I liked it a lot. I frequently used the “manual option” – move the gear selector to the left, and you can manually shift through the forward gears much like the car had a clutchless manual transmission. The new 8AT has the following modes of operation:
Normal mode: when the lever is to the right.
Sport mode: when the lever is to the left but no manual gear changes have been made using the lever or the paddles (you will see the various gears show up on the dash board indicator as S1, S3, S3, etc. with S standing for Sport mode).
Manual mode: when gears are being shifted via lever or paddles manually by the driver.
In my new M Sport, I still have the option to move the gear selector to the left, and shift manually like I was used to, as well as having the paddle shifters available – an option I’ve not had before. The paddle shifters are, in my opinion, an interesting concept and attractive aesthetic feature, but not particularly useful in practice. To reach them, I have to place my hands in an awkward position on the steering wheel. In reality, if I want to extract maximum performance out of my car, I’m better off slapping the stick to the left, stomping on the accelerator, and letting the car do all the shifting. But I still think it’s fun to shift manually from time to time which I do from the stick. I first used the new 8AT last year in a BMW loaner vehicle I drove while my car was in for service…and I didn’t like it all. Gone are notches or slots that you move the gear selector to for the desired gear. To park, you press a “P” button located on top of the gear selector. From there, neutral is a push forward, and reverse is another push forward. Moving into “D” or drive is a push back on the stick. Coming from about any other automatic transmission, the 8AT will seem fairly unintuitive to use and will take getting used to. The other thing I don’t like about the 8AT (which was a problem for me on my 6AT equipped 2011 335i as well) is that BMW wants you to click the stick backward to move progress through gears, and press the stick forward to reduce your gear selection – which is completely backwards to my way of thinking. But it’s not a big deal once you get used to it. Visually, the 8AT looks very sophisticated and “high tech.” I remember seeing it on 7 Series BMW’s sitting on the showroom of my local BMW dealership before the transmission made it to the 3 Series and thinking “wow…that looks cool!” So I was all the more let down when my initial experience with it was frustrating. But again, once you get used to it, it’s no big deal. At this stage (less than 2,000 miles on the odometer) I see the 8AT as an aesthetic win, but functionally a bit of a step backward from what came before it.
The M Sport steering wheel is a nice step-up from the standard steering wheel – thicker and nicer leather wrap, and a shape that maximizes dashboard visibility. BMW has wisely moved the cruise control controls from a rather unintuitive stalk/lever the protruded from the left side of the steering column to a left-hand front of the steering wheel design which is more in keeping with how most other major auto manufacturers do it. Controls on the right-hand side of the steering wheel front control the activation of system voice commands, Bluetooth phone dialing/answering, and audio system controls. The F30 has a new power assist steering which BMW purists have not been entirely thrilled with. I too have to admit in my first few days I found that it was more difficult for me to determine where the speed vs. control envelope was as compared to past 3 Series vehicles that I’ve owned. However, putting the car into “Sport” mode largely addresses my concerns – doing so makes the steering discernibly tighter, and the suspension corresponding stiffens and imparts more information to the driver.
The seating in my 335i M Sport is fantastic. I’ve not had a 3 Series with the Sport or M Sport package before, so they’re new to me. The bolstering completely envelopes and supports the driver without being obtrusive. The extendable portion of the seats which can provide added support beneath your legs is particularly nice on a long trip.
Another innovation on the F30 3 Series (though hardly new to the automotive industry) is the heads up display – it’s fantastic. Your current speed is, by default, displayed via the heads up display. But depending on what other functions in the car are active, other items of information will appear in the heads up display such as impending course changes associated with the navigation systems directions, radio station options, and iPod/MP3 song selections among others. About the only information which the heads up display doesn’t show which I believe it should is the current gear you’re in when using the AT8 in manual mode. Apparently if you spring for an M3, you do see the gear selection in the heads up display. That’s it’s not a default display for all BMW’s is a crime.
In terms of other electronic systems on the car, what you get will largely be a matter of what you select. This time around I didn’t spring for the Harmon Kardon premium sound system option (which I’ve had on my previous two 3 Series BMW cars) and I don’t miss it. I’m not an audiophile by any stretch, but I do enjoy listening to music – FM, HD FM, Satellite radio, and music from my iPhone. All sound sources sound reasonably good and the listening experience seems very comparable to what I enjoyed in my previous 2011 335i with the premium sound system option, so I’m glad I saved the $800.00 option price. Another new-to-me system on my 335i M Sport is Comfort Access. Essentially this allows for easier locking and unlocking of your vehicle (as if a push button remote we’re easy enough….). As you approach the car with the key fob on your person, the car detects it. Just grab hold of the door handle (drivers or passengers front) and the car will unlock. Touch you index finger to the same door handle sensor pads, and the car will lock. A new addition to the Comfort Access system is the “kick to open the trunk” feature – handy in theory if your arms are full and you can’t easily get to the key fob to open the trunk. Again, with the key fob on your person, stand behind the trunk and kick your fit straight forward under the car (do not sweep from side to side) and the trunk will open…or it should. In my experience this feature is a bit finicky. You can’t be standing to close to the rear bumper for example or it won’t work.
The tires, wheels, and brakes are all steps up for me from my E90 335i. Aesthetically, the M-Sport wheels are a huge improvement for me. Ideally, I’d like to have a simple five spoke wheel. However, the 10-spoke M-Sport wheel still have an aesthetically pleasing star shape – it’s just a little more time consuming to clean.
I opted for the all-weather Pirelli Cinturato run-flat tires when I ordered my car. Note that Pirelli also makes a Summer tire in the Pirelli Cinturato tire family line which reportedly does not have very good cold weather performance (as would be expected from a Summer tire). As of this writing, I’ve not driven the car on snow and ice, but I am satisfied with both the dry and wet pavement performance. I haven’t have Pirelli tires on my car since the 1987 Porsche 944 I owned back in college, so their inclusion here adds to the cool factor for me with this car.
BMW has a number of brakes options for their cars, so things can get a bit confusing, but here’s what I’ve been able to glean: There is a basic/standard brake which comes on all 335i models, including the M Sport. Also available is the $650 upgrade, that can only be added to an M-Sport trim version for 2014 cars and newer which features a blue painted caliper. This option wasn’t available for my 2013 car unfortunately. Finally, there’s the $3090 upgrade that is installed at the port of entry or by your dealer. That version comes in red, yellow, and orange and is I believe made by Brembo. The standard 335i brake is a fairly large brake – larger than what is equipped on the other models in the 3 Series line (328i, 320i, etc.) – and has excellent performance. On the downside, it does generate a tremendous amount of brake dust – be prepared to clean the wheels not less than once a week. Having read about this issue, once I got my new car home I cleaned the wheels and applied Poorboy’s Wheel Sealant to the wheels. I’ve used this particular wheel wax for years and it makes brake dust removal MUCH easier. As I mentioned before, I’m at about the 2000 mile mark, and the level of break dust accumulation seems to be somewhat diminishing from what I initially experienced.
There are some big changes to the key fob, and since that’s a part of the car owners tend to interact with the most, I think it’s important to about. First the bad news – the key fob is bigger than it’s been on previous BMW’s (E90) that I’ve owned – I’m guessing about 20% bigger. That may not seem like a lot – particularly for women who can put a key fob in their purse. But for a guy who has to put a key fob in their pants or shorts pocket, it feels larger than it needs to be. “Is that a key fob in your pocket or are you just happy to see me??” On the plus side, BMW has added a splash of color to the key fobs which makes a HUGE difference for me. The 3 Series Sport Package key fob now has a red border, and the M Sport key fob receives a special Estoril Blue key fob. My wife has a red 2013 328i Sport, so she has a matching red bordered key fob (she just happens to like a red car). And since I have an Estoril Blue 335i M Sport, I also have a matching key fob.
You’d think for the increase in key fob size, you’d get a corresponding increase in capability/function – alas, nay not so. It seems to function identically to previous BMW key fobs. The key fob is so spiffy looking that BMW actually makes little covers for them now so they don’t get scratched up. Sucker that I am, I bought one…which makes the key fob even bulkier in my pocket. But I do like the protection it affords.
Perhaps the thing that has attracted me to past BMW 3 Series models I’ve owned, and continues to attract me to the line is the blend of practicality and sport performance. I’m not looking for a car that I garage during the Winter months, or even a car I have to change the Summer tires out to Winter tires and back again. Neither do I want a utilitarian vehicle bereft of soul and passion. So far, my 2013 335i M-Sport provides everything I’m looking for in a daily driver, with the M Sport accoutrements taking the “soul and passion” which this car possesses to a higher level than I’ve ever enjoyed. This car truly feels like ultra-high performance sports car, yet with a few setting changes can be made to feel like comfortable long-haul sedan. Likewise, the aesthetic qualities of this vehicle have never been been better. The Estoril Blue color is breath taking – I’ve never received so many unsolicited questions and comments about a four-door car from strangers.
Thus far, my 2013 BMW M Sport is my favorite of all the 3 Series models I’ve owned to date. In short, I can’t recommend it enough. I’m particularly pleased to have gone with the M Sport option. With previous BMW’s I’ve owned, I quite often “passed myself” or saw cars very similar in color and options to my own. I VERY rarely see an M Sport on the road…pretty neat.
Check back as I plan to add video footage (GoPro) to this review as well as compare and contrast my 2013 335i M Sport to my wife’s BMW 328i Sport.
Incidentally, all photos in this review were taken by me with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III, my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, and processed using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5, Adobe Photoshop CS6, and OnOne Software Perfect Photo Suite.
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.