The BMW 335i, 328iX, 328i vs The JCW GP

A few weeks ago the stars aligned and I was able to get behind the wheel of several cars that may be of interest to a few MF readers. Not only did I finally get my long term GP dropped off (apparently press cars don’t drive through 14″ of snow) but I also had an opportunity to drive several new BMWs: the 328i Coupe, the 328ix Wagon, and the all-conquering 335i twin-turbo sedan. While none of them are typically cross-shopped with MINIs, they are part of the same family and all offer an interesting counter-point to a frantic car such as the GP. Here’s a quick look at each.

The BMW 335i Sedan

Base price: $38,700

The 335i has incredible power and, more importantly, endless torque. In any gear and in any situation, the 335i buries your head in the seat. The power, coupled with an excellent sport suspension (optional, yet mandatory) and the meaty standard brakes, makes this a sports sedan of the highest order.

The star of the show with the 335i is BMW’s new sequential dual turbo-charged inline six. BMW quotes the power at 300 hp but recent dyno testing by Automobile Magazine seems to indicate that BMW may intentionally be downplaying the true output by around 50hp. They also found that the 335i sprinted to 60 in around 5.1 seconds. While I didn’t have any stop watches out during my drive, I can tell you that around 5 seconds sounds about right.

But the 335i is not like any turbo I’ve ever felt. There is no power lag and no audible signs of forced induction. To put it another way, there is almost no way that you could tell this car is a turbo from behind the wheel unless you have a deep knowledge of BMW’s inline six engines. In fact, the only downside to this engine is that it lacks the wonderful BMW inline six soundtrack that I’ve come to love over the years.

Still, the 335i is an incredibly capable vehicle, especially with the must have sport package and manual transmission combo that this car had. Stable at highway speeds and playful in the twisties, if I could only own one car, I’d have a hard time not seriously looking at the 335i. It’s like the Swiss army knife of automobiles. Fast, efficient, excellent feel yet full capable of accommodating five full-size adults. Here’s hoping this technology trickles down to a 1.6L four cylinder in the years ahead.

The BMW 328i Coupe

Base price: $35,300

I’ve owned one example of every BMW coupe since the 1980’s E30. Each generation have been such complete cars that it’s hard to imagine BMW topping themselves. Yet, they continue this trend with the E92 coupe. Some would argue it’s size and weight make it less of a drivers car than the E30 from the 1980’s. I would simply say that this is a different car for a different time. It’s more comfortable, yet is faster, quicker and generally handles better than the beloved little coupe from the ’80’s.

A few have also criticized it’s design calling it the most restrained of all BMWs sold today. I’m not sure if I’d use that term, but I would not hesitate to call it beautiful. From the nose to the graceful roof-line, this car is undeniably seductive in the flesh and, in my mind, is the most beautiful 3er coupe ever.

While it has regrettably grown in all dimensions (including being up slightly in weight) the 328i remains very toss-able. Steering is well weighted and offers a good combination of quick turn-in and good on-center feel while cruising. The net result is a car that isn’t quite as lively as the E30 or E36, but more eager than my old 2001 325ci.

It’s also surprisingly quick. With all the high-horsepower cars out there these days, sometimes you forget how quick 230hp with a manual transmission can be. It’s rapid in the best sense and, in no way, feels like a low-end 3 series.

Unfortunately, BMW has priced this car ahead of previous 3 series coupes in the US market. Now starting at 34k rather than the 30k it was at in previous years, the 3 Coupe is meant to be a bit more exclusive than it once was. Luckily the car is good enough to justify that change.

The BMW 328iX Wagon

Base price: $38,700

Like the 328i Coupe, the 328iX wagon has the new “low-end” 3.0L engine for the US market. Also like the Coupe, this “low-end” now pumps out 230 hp and is very eager to rev. The only problem: this particular example was saddled with two performance sapping options; the six speed automatic and BMW’s all-wheel drive system. xDrive (as it’s called) is a great system if you (A) don’t mind the added weight (B) live in a snowy environment and (C) generally treat your car as an appliance. In you fall into all of those categories, it’s probably a good option to check. However, if you enjoy driving I’d recommend staying far away from either option. The automatic, while miles ahead of the MINI’s, is not an optimal choice to get the most out of the car. Likewise, the AWD system takes much of the fun out of the already perfectly balanced RWD 3 series since there’s no drama to be had around corners. They both combine to make the car much more sterile than the wagon is in 2WD/manual form. How do I know? That’s the version (albeit a few years old) I own.

The MINI JCW GP

Base price: $31,150

There’s little I can say that hasn’t been said (or that I haven’t said in the MF review) about the JCW GP. It’s probably the most immediately fun car I’ve ever driven outside of a Lotus Europa. Yet for all its, power and handling, it can’t hold a candle to any car here in terms of everyday livability. While it might be more fun in short doses, there’s little question that the 328i Coupe (for instance) would provide a far superior highway and long-distance experience while giving you a healthy dose of great handling. It would also swallow four adults and their weekend luggage where the GP would struggle with half that.

Yet, it would be incredibly hard for me to pass up a chance to own a GP. Priced at a little over 31k, the GP is also the performance bargain of the group. In a perfect world where price was nota factor, the 335i would probably be the best choice. However if you don’t need four seats all the trapping that come with a modern 3 Series, the GP is an amazing bargain when it comes to sheer fun.