Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reborn again. Driving the new F30 335i.

Now into it's sixth generation, it's interesting when you realize the BMW 3 Series has been with us for over 30 years (37 years to be exact, not counting the 2002 cars that preceded it) already. In that timeline, BMW carved out some of the most influential driving machines to roam the streets and stamped it's dominance by creating what is now known as the (Luxury) Sport Compact Sedan category of cars. Although the first ever 3 Series badge was christened on the E21s, it was not until the E30s where multiple body styles and iterations of the car materialized. From frugal diesels all the way to the legendary M3, it enforced BMW's tagline back then as The Ultimate Driving Machine. Today, the E30 has attained cult status amongst automotive enthusiast the World over and remain one of the most popular BMWs around. Even surpassing the E21s. The E30 looked good, handled brilliantly (although some might say, a little "interesting" in the wet), and most importantly was a hoot to drive. I used to have an E30. It might have only been a 316i, but it was light and it was good fun to throw into the corners, the car turning decisively and easily pivoting around you. With the new sixth generation 3, you sort of wonder if BMW intentionally kept the chassis designation of F30 for a reason. Perhaps a reboot or sorts? With Hollywood churning out reboots and prequels of past successes, maybe it is time car manufacturers do the same. We are seeing that with Toyota's release of the 86, back to the good old glory days of the tofu delivering coupes with a habit of going sideways. Could BMW be also taking a cue and hinting to us with the chassis code that the new F30 is the new E30? In essence, no. Of course not. There is nothing decidedly retro about the new car. New BMWs are all about brand new technologies and high-tech materials, construction and design. This translates to the new car being slightly wider, slightly taller and slightly longer but also, lighter than the outgoing models. This 335i for instance, tips the scales with 40 kilos to spare when you put it next to the previous 335i. In spirit though, I'm not convinced there isn't a connection with the cult car. Let's start with appearances. Critics might point out the similarities between the new car and it's predecessor, but when you look back at BMW's of yesteryear, that has always been the evolution of the design language. Look at the E21s and E30s, the E36s and E46s, now we have the E90s and the F30s. While the E90 introduced "Flame Surfacing" to the World of small sporty cars, it is the F30 which completes this design ethos with the re-introduction of the shark-nose and sharper cut lines along the flanks. Could the bold modern take on the classic shark-nose be another hint at bringing back the spirit of earlier Ultimate Driving Machines? I could do without that "Sport" badge along the sides though. I find those to look somewhat, chintzy. If you really want to bring out the best in the F30 aesthetics department, order yours with the M-Sport kit. Go Google "F30 M-Sport Estoril Blue", and you'll see what i mean. Inside, it's perhaps another hark back to the pre-E90 days, with the classic presentation of the center console buttons and switches angled towards the driver, you know who's in charge here. Jokes aside, this new interior is a lovely place to be. Everything from the design to the layout of the instruments, everything is spot on and feels good. Controls fall into place readily and the fit and finish is a notch or two above the E90s. Sorry to owners of the E90s, but it really does feel a few steps ahead here. With our car now being the top of the range 335i, we have all the toys to play with, and awesome heads up display, premium Harman Kardon sound system and even little gauges in the iDrive for some FnF-esque action. The 335i also comes equipped with what BMW calls, "Driving Experience Control". Which allows you to adjust chassis, steering, engine and transmission behaviors to your needs with just a touch of a button. With the touch of a button (Eco-Pro), the car goes into petrol sipping mode, even to the extent of guiding you along on how much gasoline your present driving style will save you. Impressive. So, a couple of points to the F30 for both outer and inner beauty. Looking good for my pseudo-hypothesis. Now, for the most important bit of any BMW writeup. How does it drive? Well, to find out, thumb the starter button and punch that twin-powered turbo engine up! That's how I'd love to have done this part of the review, but in reality, driving around on local roads, it isn't a very good idea to punch the throttle too much. Not because it isn't any good, but because the engine is so strong and willing to spin up to the redline, license busting speeds are attained before you can even finish reading this sentence. We are talking 0-60 times of 5.4 seconds with 407Nm of torque served up with just a simple flex of the right foot. Just a few years ago, those numbers were M-car territory. The new 8 speed automatic is also a joy to use. In full auto mode it manages to select the appropriate gears when on the move. Flick the selector to the side and the gearbox responds with much more vigor to your throttle position and holds onto gears a tad longer. Upshifts in non-sport modes are seamless in operation and with such versatility on hand, coupled with everyday traffic, perhaps even the stick-shift purists in us can be swayed. Being a BMW, this is no straight line hero, the beauty of the lightened chassis means this new F30 comes alive in the corners. Through long winding curves, the car remains composed and flat even at speed, you will feel any mid corner bumps and dips thought the steering wheel and through your bottom, but the car remains neutral and very stable and composed throughout. Even in comfort mode, you can take on most of what the public roads can throw at you. It might have electric steering, but feedback from the road remains communicative and it provides a good idea of what is going on under the front tires. For the record, i would like to admit i did not push the car to it's utmost limits or even got close, I'd reckon with the sort of engineering BMW has done on this car, getting to it's limits on a public road would require either a huge does of talent, bravado, or just plain recklessness. With a safe and neutral handling characteristic, is it still fun to drive? I think my major reluctance to give the car back says it all. It is terrific, it goes, turns, dives and squirts out of corners so willingly and easily you tend to forget you are in a sensible 4-door sedan. It might sound strange to say this but it really does feel light on it's feet, and the Straight-6 engine is as always, a gem. Always willing to deliver a wallop when called upon, making you just feel guilty when you have to haul it in every time common sense takes over. Take a drive up your favorite twisty road in the new F30 back to back with the outgoing E90 and i assure you, you will feel a difference. So do i really think the new F30 is a throwback to the great BMW E30? I would like to think so. It might have a lot of high-tech weaponry to attack the roads, but it also is a hoot to drive. To conclude, the new F30 is just great, i love it. I love how it drives, how it handles and with the M-Sport kit, how it looks. Problem now is, the competition. Traditionally, competition comes in either the form of a 3 pointed star or some Olympic rings, but now, there is some competition in house in the form of the 328i, which undercuts the 335i in price and doesn't seem to lack too much in terms of performance. The 328i might have less power, but it also comes in with less weight. So once we have the chance, we shall see how the flagship 4-cylinder model stacks up against it's bigger brother.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Celebrating 40 Years of ///M: Behind the Scenes

To follow up on the previoius post. When we were at the M-showroom, we were given a short tour of the operations behind the scenes. Here's some pictures. So clean. Good stuff! A clean and proper looking E30 Cabriolet getting baked in the oven. I really like Singapore Grey. It looks different in real life though. And over in the showroom, the M3 Sedan "Expensive" Edition. (CRT to those interested)

Random Shot: Reads from Thailand

Managed to grab hold of another copy of Modified Retro Cars whilst i was in Thailand. You can'f find this one locally. And surprise surprise! A Thai-version of Garage Life!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Celebrating 40 Years of ///M: Classic Showcase

Munich Automobiles, the World’s first dedicated BMW M dealership is celebrating BMW M Division's 40th Anniversary, and will be showcasing a small but select choice of classic autos to the public over the weekend. Although the Motorsport division were involved in earlier BMWs, the first true Genesis of the M-car was the uniquely exotic M1. Probably the only BMW ever that has two roundel badges on the rear end. Developed in conjunction with Lamborghini and penned by Giugiaro, the M1 was initially built to satisfy racing homologation rules, but these ever changing rules meant that when the M1 was ready to race, it was outlawed. So instead, they went racing by themselves, creating the M1 Procar series. The series ran for two years, with Niki Lauda winning the 1979 season, and Nelson Piquet the 1980 season. After BMW met the standards for Group 4, the Procars were used by various teams in the World Championship as well as other national series. One of the rarest cars ever made, only 456 production M1s were built, making it one of BMW's rarest models. With 1 making it to Singapore sitting proudly inside the M-car showroom after a painstaking restoration process which began a year ago. They love these car so much, we were given gloves when looking at the cars. I would do the same too if these were my babies. I of course couldn't resist sliding behind the driver's seat. What joy it was just sitting inside. You just know it's a special car when you are seated inside. Getting to hear one startup though, is pure icing on the cake. Needing no introduction at all, the legendary E30 M3. THE M3. One of the most successful racing cars of all time, the E30 M3's unmistakably boxy silhouette still looks stunning even today. Compact, lightweight and fast. In the hands of skilled drivers, this car ran circles around bigger and more powerful machinery on and off the tracks. In full bore race trim, the 2.5-litre 4-cylinder S14 engine was pushing out over 250 horses without the need for forced induction. Getting behind the wheel just feels like home again. Everything just feels right and natural. Fantastic. Countless race wins and multiple accolades and awards from various magazines, this Sport Evolution version of the original M3 signalled the last few chapters of production for the race-car-for-the-road E30 M3. It was the most powerful of all the E30 M3s, with 235 horses on tap from it's zingy high-revving engine. Production of the original E30 M3 ended in early 1992 and even though the youngest ones are already over 20 years old, the E30 M3 remains a favourite amongst many car enthusiast, both young and old alike. What's this sitting next to the Sport EVO? No prizes for guessing. With it's distinctive front bumper, this could only be the E46 M3 CSL. Or "CoupĂ© Sport Leichtbau" if you prefer. Lighter, more powerful, a tweaked suspension setup and numerous lightweight panels used all round, this was another M-special limited edition car with only 1400 units produced and only 3 remaining in Singapore. None will be up for sale anytime soon i reckon. Sitting right at the end, was a non-M car, but to it's credit, there were no M-cars back in the day when the 2002tii was running about. The closest we got to an M-car back then was probably the iconic 2002 Turbo. This car though is a very important part of BMW's history, it brought the company out of near bankruptcy in the 1960s and being the 3-Series' great-great-grand-daddy, it also gave birth to the segment we now know as the sport compact sedan. The tii variant was the most powerful of the NA 2002 cars and this prime example belongs to a local owner who has graciously allowed the car to be part of a beautiful lineup of some very lovely BMWs. The classic showcase will be available for public viewing only over this weekend (2nd-3rd June 2012), so do drop by Munich Automobiles for a visit. You won't regret it. Munich Automobiles is also holding a photography contest together with this small showcase. For more details visit Munich Automobile's facebook page.