BMW coupes have been special since that automaker's earliest days, and its new-generation coupe provides sleeker styling, more features and additional power to keep up that tradition.

The redesigned coupe joins the 3-Series sedan and station wagon, which were redesigned for 2006 and thus little changed for 2007. However, the 335i sedan gets the same twin-turbocharged 300-horsepower inline 6-cylinder with a direct fuel injection system offered in the new coupe. The new turbo sedan replaces the 2006 330i sedan, which had 255 horsepower.

The BMW coupe usually follows the sedan by about a year, and the new BMW 3-Series convertible likely will arrive for the 2008 model year.

The high-performance M3 version of the coupe has been dropped for 2007, but returns in a year, likely with a V8 producing about 400 horsepower.

The new 3-Series coupe I tested replaces a 1999-2006 version, and is slightly longer, wider and more rakish than the 3-Series car it succeeds. It's also a little lower, except for the new all-wheel-drive version, which stands just a bit higher. All coupe trim levels look sportier than the sedan or wagon.

Sleeker Appearance
The new coupe has a long, more aggressively sculpted hood, short body overhangs, a new version of BMW's traditional kidney-shaped grille and a low, sleek roofline that slopes seamlessly into the trunk. Body lines flow into one another for a classy appearance. The hood extends beyond the headlights, and thus they appear to have a custom, sliced-off look at the top.

The coupe only holds four adults because rear passengers are separated by a center console between their individual rear seats, bringing back memories of 1970s and 1980s BMW 6-Series coupes.

Athletic Moves Needed
Access to the rear seats has been made easier, but it still calls for athletic moves to get in and out of the back seat area, where there isn't much room for taller passengers to spare. Opt for the 5-passenger sedan or wagon if rear-seat room is important to you.

The 335i has the world's first inline (not V-shaped) 6-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers, aluminum construction, direct fuel injection and dual vane twin turbo technology." The 3.0-liter engine has virtually no turbo lag and produces not only 300 horsepower, but also plenty of neck-snapping torque.

New All-Wheel Drive
The 328i coupe has an inline 3.0-liter non-turbo 6-cylinder engine with 230 horsepower. So does the 328xi coupe, which offers an all-wheel-drive system for the first time in a BMW coupe. The advanced system enhances agility and stability on dry and slippery roads, besides optimizing traction.

All 3-Series trim levels are fast: The 300-horsepower coupe does 0-60 mph in 5.3-5.5 seconds and the standard 230-horspower version hits 60 mph in 6.2-6.8 seconds, with the quicker numbers obtained with a manual transmission.

Notchy Shifter
All 3-Series trim levels have a standard 6-speed manual transmission that is smooth but, as with all BMWs, that transmission's shifter gets notchy when rushed. It works with BMW's typical long-throw clutch, which is reasonably light.

Optional is a 6-speed "Steptronic" automatic transmission that replaces a 5-speed unit in the coupe and has normal, sport and manual shift modes. The 335i can be equipped with optional steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters if the Sport Package is ordered.

The new coupe has sharp steering, a supple sport suspension and powerful brakes with a progressive pedal feel. Nearly 50/50 weight distribution and a new 5-link rear suspension help handling. The rear-wheel-drive sedan and wagon offer a firmer suspension and seats with extra bolstering in a Sport Package if their buyers want to match the coupe's road manners.

Why a Button?
There is a keyless engine start (and stop) feature, with a "start-stop" button that starts the engine when the "ignition key" (actually a plastic radio transceiver) is inserted in the dashboard and the clutch pedal is depressed. But why are all those steps needed just to start the engine?

Estimated fuel economy of the 230-horsepower engine is 20 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway with the manual gearbox and 21 and 29 with the automatic. With the turbo engine, the figures are 19 city and 29 highway with the manual and 20 and 29 with the automatic.

Higher Coupe Prices
The 328i coupe lists at $35,300, while the 328xi costs $37,100. The 335i is $40,600.

Coupes usually cost more than sedans, so the 328i sedan is $32,400, the all-wheel-drive 328xi sedan is $34,300 and the 335i sedan is $38,700. Opt for the 328i wagon and you'll see a $34,200 sticker. The 328xi wagon has a $36,100 list price.

All 3-Series models are precisely built, beautifully painted upscale cars, so they're nicely equipped with comfort, convenience and safety features.

Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard, as are front-seat side airbags and tubular side airbags for both seating rows. All have run-flat tires and a sunroof.

Key Options
Options include heated front seats, leather upholstery, rear obstacle detection and adaptive cruise control. There's also a navigation system, but buyers might be wise to avoid it because it requires that BMW's complex iDrive control system be ordered.

My test car had a rear ashtray, which is an unusual item when even found up front these days.

Supportive front seats encourage spirited driving, and all-around visibility is good from the driver's position. The new instrument cluster is easily read. Cupholders that pop out from the dashboard are conveniently positioned, although one may question their longevity.

Roomy Trunk
The spacious trunk has a wide opening and a lined lid that opens smoothly on hydraulic struts.

The hood also slides open on struts to reveal an engine compartment with lots of plastic covers. Most fluid filler containers are within easy reach, but one is nearly buried at the back of the compartment.

The new 3-Series sedan is an improvement over the previous generation 4-door, and the new coupe has enough differences to make it stand out from the car it replaces.

MSN Autos

© 2009 Microsoft

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