On the tail end of our weeklong fling “Günther” and I are sweeping towards the 1244m summit of B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway. An arterial highway that inexplicably charts its way through high-mountains, this is BC’s first choice in hazardous driving conditions and our last hope for winter testing. The “x” in 335xi signifies this car has BMW’s “intelligent all-wheel drive” or xDrive. With such an option comes expectations of dashing through the snow, reinforced by the ski-bag, which condoms your skis as you slide them into the cabin from the trunk.No need to get melt and mud over the upholstery, if you can find snow that is.
We’ve been to three ski areas without a flake.
Luckily, today, the forecast looks miserable.
Boil down the techno-babble and xDrive is about transferring power between the front and rear axels, and pushing it to the wheel with the best traction. The system can, in conjunction with Dynamic Stability Control, force power (via braking) from a slipping set of wheels on one side of the car to the other, if traction can be found there. This reaction to road conditions happens within 100 milliseconds. Günther has a fierce cornering intellect, be the conditions good or bad.
Yesterday, coming back from Manning Park on the sparsely trafficked Crow’s Nest Highway, Günther made his sporting aspirations evident.
Think the brakes are abrupt in traffic’s stop-start? Burning off speed heading hot into a 30kph marked twist they’re near perfect in feel and power. Find the steering heavy prowling around town? Rocketing along the Skagit Bluffs, sheer cliff on one side and sheer drop on other, and the 335xi slaloms with utter predictability and composure in stable, planted, highspeed brilliance.
Shooting though a decreasing radius, the Dynamic Stability Control touching the brakes light as cat’s footfalls and the 335xi never loses its sure-footed feel. That makes the sport-seats’ lateral bolsters mandatory equipment; just remember to have pity for backseat passengers clinging instead in silent terror to the “holy-shit-handle”.
The best talents are hidden and the 335xi’s looks never give away his sporting nature. The front is blunt and the headlights are outlined by signals that in the day look angrily feminine and at night edge towards downright menacing.
In profile Günther is low-key four-doored athleticism, the front’s short overhang suggesting dynamism and the snubbed rear invoking power despite a slightly Japanese look. BMW has turned the design volume down to a subtle murmuring threat, one that is growled the moment you press the start button.
German passion, stereotyped as being all pent up and hidden, has to go somewhere – leather sex, torque and horsepower seem the outlets.
The 335xi doesn’t “drive” through town, it prowls, hiding a dark secret under the hood – BMW’s first turbo engine since the 74’era 2002. The one that had a cameo in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo – enough said.A press of the throttle and Günther reveals this wicked inner self. Shrugging off inertia, the world goes into fast-forward, and the heavy-handed German shoves you into your seat. It’s the kind of torque that leaves a very special feeling in the pit of your stomach… and your trousers.
Can acceleration be sexual? If so, then, “Yes, Sir. Please, Sir. I want some more.”
Again and again, the twin turbos shove air down the gullets of three cylinders apiece with imperceptible lag. By a basement 1400rpm the 335xi torques out a maximum 300 ft-lbs. That can make for press and go driving ease in the city, until you realize the joy of snarling off the line and reveling in the RPM gluttony.
Number fetishists will groan with excess as the tach sweeps fluidly to 5000rpm. Then power fading only slightly, the engine pours towards the 7000rpm-plus rev limiter in a refined rush of scenery. Not enough? Three hundred horsepower, restrained electronically to a top speed of 210kph (130mph), is on tap to atomize any “sensible four-door” image… and your license. One last stat, 0-100kph in 5.6 a claimed seconds, a conservative claim.
On a damp test area, xDrive digging into asphalt, the sedan swifts to 100kph in a hair under 6 seconds by the second hand’s sweep. But who cares? You’ll do this just for the engine’s addictively rich basso growl – a sound that weaponized could transform entire cities into throttle tromping maniacs looking for their next performance fix. Finally BMW drivers explained.
Back on the Coquihalla, Günther’s flanks are sprayed with slush. Rounding a corner the transition is abrupt, the trees are mantled in white and the ground covered in 3 or 4 cm of fresh snow. The heated seats are no longer decadence.
Pulling off onto Falls Lake Road, we follow a lone set of tire treads up the mountainside. The xDrive continues to find loads of grip, inspiring confidence… or perhaps “Overconfidence”.
What goes up must come down, and on the descent the first touch of the 335xi’s aggressive brakes sends the ABS into a shuddering chugging seizure. Suddenly the car does not have tires so much as four 18-inch “performance run-flat” toboggans.
With winter tires the 335xi would climb trees, but right now $59,450.00 of loaner is gracelessly slithering sideways downhill… a steep hill… A good northern boy, I elect to finish the job with the hand brake, sliding the 335xi’s tail around neatly and bringing it to a stop facing uphill. Given more space this would be good fun.
The saving the day is the Hill Descent Control. It’s not exactly dashing through the snow, but on HDC Günther crawls along at double walking pace leaving me to the business of steering – delicately. One of the best features of a truly quick car turns out to be its ability to go slow.
Passion and power are nothing without control, and that drives home an important point about the xDrive option. Some purists may scream that xDrive is sacrilegious, and the path to performance is rear-wheel drive.
For them, in good conditions, the xDrive preserves the BMW’s traditional rear-wheel drive bias splitting the power 60-40. What’s more important for non-members of club performance and fury, most of the driving populace, is that the xDrive and DSC succeeds in making the experience and thrill of a car this powerful accessible, practical and safe.
Touring back to Vancouver, I’ve time to contemplate the 335xi. Even now contentedly purring along at 2400-2500rpm in 6th at a quiet 120kph/70mph, the engine will handily overtake. Hitting autobahn speeds, Günther floats just a little, but not enough to interrupt your latte or cell conversation.
It’s so easy to gradually add speed with the 335xi, the only clue being the rush of wind cutting clean across the body, that you’d best set the cruise control for highway driving. Provided you can find it – hint it’s the second stalk hidden by the lower-left quarter of the steering wheel. It’s just back from the dash-mounted knob for the lights, which you also can’t see. More than once this arrangement seen us has cancel the cruise control when we meant to signal. German autos quirky? Never.
Your passenger likely won’t alert you to the pace either. The cabin is like a favorite well-fit leather jacket, snug and comfy, while the suspension strikes a fine balance between sport and luxury. Riding in the passenger seat, the clean lifelike sound of the Logic-7 stereo mellowing the cabin, freeways become relaxing to the point of narcolepsy. The only wakeful moments brought to you by the run-flat tires which fill the cabin with road noise crossing rough pavement.
I’ve always held that if your relationship can survive a road-trip, it’s solid, and I’d have no hesitations traveling with Günther.
The 2007 BMW 335xi is a wolf in sedan’s clothing. The engine never lets you forget the power on tap, and the handling’s only moments away from being focused, knife sharp and raging. Sure, you could sedately wind your way to the hills with your partner dozing in the passenger’s seat…
Or, you could let your inner demons take the wheel for an adrenaline filled carve up a mountainside, xDrive fighting for traction and the Dynamic Stability Control blinking angrily. Maybe your partner should stay home. I’ve never dated a Günther, but let me tell you about an affair I had…
Fuel EconomyHighway: 8.1 L/100km (29mpg)
City: 11.7 L/100km (20mpg)
Performance: 12.5 L/100km (18.8mpg)
Base MSRP: $52,500.00 CDN
As Tested: $59,450.00 CDN
Premium Package – $4,200.00
Sport Package – $2000.00
Comfort Access – $750.00