I was presented with a difficult choice the other day. I was asked which car I would like to drive in BMW's new 3-series range, petrol or the diesel.
I knew that all engines in the range would be rather remarkable and as much as I like diesel power, I just couldn't resist the power and sound of that six-cylinder petrol engine, it didn't disappoint.
Yes, the 3-series has entered a new iteration, the concept hasn't changed, and the shape isn't that much of a departure from previously but it is sleeker, more refined and further advanced.
There are four models in the 3-series line-up here, two with four-cylinder petrol engines, one with a four-cylinder diesel and the 335i tops out the range with its six-cylinder petrol engine.
The range lists from $74,300 to $107,000 for the 335i, although such was the comprehensive level of specification the test car sat at $119,300. Some of the major items include variable drive modes for power or economy, satellite navigation, heads-up display, i-Drive and comprehensive vehicle status displays.
Elements fitted for safety are also extensive, both passive and active, BMW have given the new '3' as much as it needs to protect and stay out of trouble in the first instance.
A lot of the latter can be put down to the design of the car, its rear-wheel-drive platform promotes a traditional handling feel, it is pure and the handling parameters can be pushed into the traditional sports sedan category.
Steerage is involving, while grip through the huge Good Year tyres (225/45 x 18in) never seems to wilt and that taking into account they are putting 225kW and 400Nm to ground. These power outputs are gleaned though a capacity of just 2979cccc. The engine is turbocharged which forces fuel to promote quick acceleration (0-100km/h in 5.5sec) as well as a high top speed of 250km/h.
While the 3-series is takes on board BMW's effiency components, there is regeneration charging available on deceleration and an eco drive mode which moderates the engine into a fuel saving role. BMW claim a 7.2-litre per 100km/h (39mpg) combined cycle average which correlates well with my time with the test car at 8.2l/100km (35mpg). That figure taking into account that I far preferred driving in sport mode. At 100km/h a 5.6l/100km (50mpg) instantaneous figure is available the engine turning over at just 1600rpm in top gear. Given its performance capability, these figures are rather remarkable.
The engine drives through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It is a stunner for its shift sophistication and quick changing ratios which enhance immediate acceleration yet offer relaxed highway motion.
Steering wheel-mounted paddles are included and I have to admit using them frequently on my evaluation drive.
The 335i is a real treasure in the tight stuff, it has power and handling which can only be described as delightful. It can be pushed hard, yet retains composure and balance typical of high performing rear-drivers.
I wasn't game to turn off any of the traction and stability control devices, but there is an element of playfulness incorporated into the system. Just when the rear end wants to flick out as the power is applied, the moderating devices intervene, not dramatically, the entire handling process lets the driver utilise the engine/chassis to their fullest without presenting danger.
The 335i blasts between corners with impetus that is forceful and is ushered in with a shrill high revolution shriek that is characteristic of the straight-six, it is lovely to listen to and yet it is a sound that lets you know the engine is enjoying its work rather than sounding strained.
And the 335i doesn't need to be driven hard to be enjoyed or appreciated. At sedate speeds it is relaxing and comfortable. It is made with the technique that incorporates all attributes of its predecessors and is packaged in a user-friendly, comfortable in-cabin environment for all occupants.
The new 3-series will be a top contender for the 2012 New Zealand Motoring Writers' Car of the Year award, it is already one of the finalists, it certainly deserves to be there.