I recently had the 2012 F30 BMW 335i in Luxury Line trim, and it got me wondering: What happens when the 3-Series becomes the size of an old E39 5-Series and looks more like its bigger brothers; is it still The Ultimate Driving Machine?

The BMW 3-Series has always been the proverbial cream of the crop, especially when the 335i came out with the twin-turbo inline-6 (the N54 twin-turbo was replaced by the single twin-scroll turbo of the N55 motor code). Producing nearly 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels has been something we’ve all reveled in, as BMWs have never been about 0-to-60 power; more about the power through the corners ahead. When we first tested the new F30 BMW 335i back in February, “Snap” found it to be downright perfect for the street, highway or track. This time, as a week long test, we were given the Luxury trim, versus the Sport trim of our first drive.

With the E9x-series 3s the suspension had been upgraded, strengthened, and felt as sharp as ever. Heavier than ever, but still sharp.

But before we get into the motor and how it’s transferred to the chassis, let’s talk about the looks. Personally, I love this new 335i. It brings back, for me, the way the ’80s BMW’s looked with the shark nose front-ends, being more pronounced and very powerful. However, to many of the enthusiasts I’ve talked to, they’re not big fans of where the hood line ends just above the BMW roundel. Most of us are still stuck on the perfection of the E36 and E46 3s with their long opening hoods. Although, I must say, even though I hate change in my life, I don’t typically mind change that does me no harm on a car. So the hood, at least for me, is just fine the way it is. But I can see where they don’t like that line cutting into the styling of the otherwise flawless and muscular front. The way the LED angel eyes and the sculpted headlights look, it’s almost as if you’re about to be attacked. Think Christine… except in BMW form.

This brings me to the rest of the car. When you leave the front end and move down the side of the BMW 335i, I think it’s lost something, as it’s just not very striking or attractive to me. Then again, the E9x 3 wasn’t good looking on the sides, either. Yet when you get around to the back of the car, it’s sexy again. Down right 5er-ish, which is just right in my eyes.

As soon as I opened the driver’s door and looked in, I felt as though this was the smartest interior BMW have ever put into a 3-Series. I absolutely love the Dakota Saddle Brown leather interior with the walnut trim. Even though wood usually isn’t my style for interior trim, I think it looks appropriate with the interior colors of this car. It flows nicely, and everything is soft to the touch and comfortable for your arms to rest on. The slightly revised iDrive in its new position off to the passenger side feels much more natural than when it sat behind the shifter, such as in my E90 M3. Invariably I’ll always hit the end call button from accidentally tapping the controller when moving my right arm while driving. With the controller to the right of the gearshifter there’s less potential for that to happen.

Using iDrive is very simple. I know, I know, you all like to beat up on iDrive. Why, because the first iteration was slightly crappy? This one is fantastic, and without doubt the easiest most user friendly navigation and infotainment system on the market today. Go ahead and argue, but until you spend a few days with BMW’s iDrive, especially in the 335i, you’re missing out. Since my car had the head-up display box ticked, everything I needed to see while driving was right up on my windscreen, as well as navigation arrows when driving to a destination, which I love.

Now, with BMW Apps you can keep a watch on your friends on Facebook and Twitter by using the BMW Connected app on your iPhone, which is a free download. Plug your phone into the car and you’re tapped in to be able to update your Facebook or Twitter statuses, check out BMW news, listen to web radio, and see some local Wikipedia information, as well as check any scheduled items you have on your phone’s calender. I didn’t use the applications to update anything, but I did check things out, as you can see in the picture below with my friend Jessica’s status about her modeling company.

Toggling through your music is made easy while driving with the little scroll button on the right side of the steering wheel. However, all of this is great, except when you’re looking at the HUD while wearing polarized lenses, you can’t really see the list of songs very well. It took me almost a whole day to figure out that the scroll button was toggling through my list of iPod songs because the lenses on my Ray Bans made this difficult. C’mon, BMW. Although I doubt BMW are the only offenders in this category with HUD.

Sitting in the BMW 335i’s seats you’re very comfortable, more so than ever I’d say. The one problem I had with the full leather chairs was the lack of side bolstering. Even though this is the luxury line trim level, it’s still a BMW first, and it should always come with a little extra hug, or at least inflatable bolsters. With that said, the seats allow you to sit high or very low, and low is just how I like to sit in a sportier car. Starting up the 335 I noticed an ugly sounding engine idle from the N55 twin-scroll turbo I6 that I’d never heard before. But I’ve not been around a lot of N55 equipped BMWs to have really taken notice. Once you get the motor going it starts to resonate nicely and has that good ol’ sexy inline-6  tone, something I’ll never tire of.

Pumping those near-300 rear-wheel horses and torques to the ground is a new ZF 8-speed automatic that… ugh, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but, it’s just perfect. It’s the closest thing to a dual-clutch gearbox I’ve ever tested, and it made me wonder, is the manual necessary? Shut up, I’m just kidding. Of course a manual transmission is worth it, what are ya, stupid? So if you’re an enthusiast, and don’t live in a major city, I’ll still judge and think less of you for not getting the 6-speed manual. But, if you can’t drive a manual, are missing a left leg, or just need a luxury cruiser, the autobox shifts with either luxury or track driving in mind. It’s smooth, quick, and always has the right gear. This is especially true when the car’s in the sport mode. The 8-speed ‘box is very helpful for the F30 335’s efficiency, which is estimated at 23 mpg city and 33 highway. With most of my driving in Eco Pro mode, I averaged about 30 mpg, but would back down to about 28 when driving in Sport mode. And that’s another thing, I’ve never tested a car like this that could be totally changed just by the push of a button. Eco Pro, which I was in for all but highway and back road driving, is ideal when trying to lessen the load on your wallet and is always comfortable, but very lazy and relaxed; Comfort mode is a little less lazy, being just as even paced as Eco Pro but meant more for the highway; Sport, though, is incredibly inspiring. I just need wider rear tires. But more about that in a bit.

This brings me to the luxury line of the BMW 335i, which is a proper luxury car. The non-sport 3-Series’ have never ridden well, let’s be honest. No matter how luxurious it was on the inside, the car still rode a little rough by comparison. But the F30 3-Series rides like a 5-Series, with smooth driving in mind. And this had me a little worried, I must say, because it’s the first 3-Series I’ve ever driven and ridden in that’s well suited for every kind of road style… but what about in the sport department? Well, it’s still very good, even without a sport package, and handles corners like a solid sports sedan should. However, I found two problems.

The run flat Continentals used on this 335i were the most comfortable and forgiving run flats I’ve tested. Unfortunately they get overpowered very easily from a standstill when pushing the fun pedal all the way down. This also hurts your chances of cornering and braking. At one point coming from a fast left upward corner and needing to brake late going into the following corner, the back end got loose at a decent slip angle that I had to recover from. I was able to replicate it two more times under the exact same conditions, which led me to believe that the standard 225-width tires didn’t have enough contact patch in the rear to sustain fast cornering speeds with hard braking. Also, while these Continentals are the best run flats I’ve ridden on, they were a bit harder with less give in harder corners. None of this is something that should worry the standard enthusiast, but again, this is a BMW, and it should always be the best, even in standard trim through the twisty stuff. So, while I’m sure the 225 millimeter tires all around are probably the best for gas mileage and ride comfort, I’d recommend 235s at all four corners.

When you’re ready to just cruise in style and turn up the tunes, the upgraded Harmon Kardon Logic 7 sound system is absolutely sublime; one of the best in the business. I’ve tested the L7 in other premium cars, and it definitely didn’t sound nearly as good. My ’09 M3 has never sounded this good, which I’m starting to fear I have an inferior model these days. Sad face…

Listening to Howard Stern, like I do every day, it was as if Howard, Robin, Fred, and the gang, were all in the car with me, which I’m not sure I could have enjoyed it any more than that.

The new L7 surround sound features a 600W amplifier featuring 16 speakers, including six tweeters, six mid-range speakers, two bass speakers located under the front seats, one mid-range speaker and one tweeter in the instrument panel. I think this system could stand up next to a Bang & Olufsen equipped car in the range of the F30 335i.

There’s one more part of the interior that, believe it or not, me and other writers have talked about to extent: the new cupholders fore of the shifter, versus the E9x units that came out of the center console just under the passenger side airbag. Sure, maybe they weren’t the best or biggest, but I’ve yet to have something spill or pop out of my cupholders during any type of hard driving. So to say we were all scared that BMW had put cups in danger of being knocked into is an understatement. But they worked great, holding any cup I put in there (mostly water bottles) very well without any issues. Although I’m not if you’ll hit a cup or bottle when shifting into third gear when your 3-Series is equipped with a manual gearbox.

In the header I mentioned that the new F30 3 is the size of the old E39 5-Series, which bothered people that cars are getting larger and heavier these days. It should be said that the F30 335i weighs roughly 100 lbs less than a similarly optioned E90 335i. Even with a bigger and more luxurious interior, a much larger trunk, and a longer and wider car, this 3-Series is far superior to the previous generation in pretty much every way. It could even be said that, when comparing the 3-Series to its bigger siblings, it’s quite a bargain for the size and sportiness.

Is the new BMW 335i still part of The Ultimate Driving Machine? To put it politely, I’ll say that I’ve never tested a car that had so much going for it in the departments of performance, luxury, amenities, and lacking a proper sport package. Sure, an Infiniti may be similar for less money, it’ll only be this good when the 3-Series has already moved on to the next iteration. This car is so good that my buddy even turned to me at one point and said, “This 335, with a manual and sport package, is the car I’d have over your M3. The way the engine’s power and torque are so seamlessly wired to the chassis is just perfect.” Oh noes, BMW, you’ve created another future fight: The next F80 M3 versus the F30 335i. We’ve already seen it with the E9x 335i against the E9x M3, but it’s just getting a bit warmer.

[Photos by Corey Privette]

BMW 335i MSRP:$42,400

Price with options: $53,645

Options list:

Luxury Line ($1,400)

Cold Weather Package ($1,350): Heated front/rear seats, steering wheel, retractable headlight washers, split fold-down-rear seats

Premium Package ($1,900): Comfort access key, auto-dimming mirrors, universal garage door opener

Premium Sound ($950): SiriusXM satellite radio, Harmon Kardon Logic 7 surround sound

Technology Package ($2,550): iDrive navigation, head-up display

Steptronic ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox (included)

Park Distance Control ($750)

BMW Assist with enhanced Bluetooth and USB ($650)

BMW Apps ($250)

Destination ($895)

The Good: Seamless power to chassis transfer; Transmission’s perfection; Sound when getting on it; Interior and iDrive; True luxury.
The Bad: Motor sound at idle; Tire size and ability; Lack of HUD visibility with polarized sunglasses; small sunvisors.
The Ugly: At just shy of $54,000 you’d expect a back-up camera; A sportier tire size, even for the Luxury Line, is needed.
The Truth: I’m truly not sure you can get any better than the F30 BMW 335i, but everyone will surely try, and most likely fail.