Throw a rock in the entry-level luxury car segment these days, and not only will you be facing a sizable body shop bill for the paint work you damaged, but you'll also probably hit more than a few all-wheel drive sedans. Even turbocharged engines driving all four wheels are no longer as rare as they once were. Faced with a market where all-wheel drive is no longer a differentiating factor between one model and the next, and where turbo power is increasingly available, how does a vehicle like the 2013 BMW 335i xDrive maintain its status as the go-to option for well-heeled buyers? The answer has to do with the stunning driving dynamics that are built into the 3 Series DNA - a set of attributes that vehicles like the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class simply can't match.
The 2013 BMW 335i xDrive is the most expensive of the three all-wheel drive sedan options offered by the diverse BMW 3 Series lineup. The 335i xDrive starts at an MSRP of $45,150, which represents a reasonable $2,000 premium over the rear-drive 335i model. The model I drove for a week came in the Sport 'line' ($1,700 tacked on to the price), which includes standard gear such as adaptive HID headlights, a sunroof, 18-inch rims, the iDrive interface, Bluetooth connectivity, power front seats with imitation leather upholstery, dual automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition, and a number of unique trim features designed to set it apart from the Luxury, Modern, and M Sport lines.
My car additionally came with the Cold Weather package (heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel), the Driver Assistance package (rearview camera, blind spot detection, parking assistance), the Premium package (real leather seats, satellite radio, upgraded keyless entry) and the Technology package (navigation system, BMW apps, head-up display). Taking these options into consideration - plus the $550 charge for the Melbourne Red Metallic paint and the Sport automatic transmission with shift paddles ($500) - my tester's sticker price topped out at $56,025.
The 2013 BMW 335i xDrive is now in the second year past its most recent re-styling effort, and the car continues to compare well against not just the previous model but also other cars in its class. Whereas the design of the older version of the 3 Series came across as a strange mix of bland and busy, for 2013 the car is much more straightforward in its presentation. Smoother lines make for a car that, while not quite sporty, is definitely engaging to the eye and befitting its premium status.
The interior of the car maintains a similarly streamlined philosophy, with everything in its right place and a surprisingly high quotient of top-notch materials everywhere the eye can see - or the hand can touch. Even for what is purportedly an entry-level sedan (albeit in one of its most expensive iterations) the 2013 BMW 335i xDrive impresses in all areas save for perhaps the somewhat pebbly texture of its leather seat covers. The Sport line's red stitching - found on the steering wheel and the seats - was also a pleasant contrast to the car's general black palette.
Although the 2013 BMW 335i xDrive is ostensibly a compact sedan, it provides a surprising amount of passenger room in both the front and rear positions. The 3 Series is particularly generous when it comes to its back seat, as legroom is ample and shoulder room is fine as long as one doesn't try to stuff three adults across. Up front, the car wraps around the driver with supportive seats that deliver the necessary support during aggressive cornering without exacting a concomitant decrease in long-distance comfort. In fact, during a road trip lasting several hundred miles the 335i xDrive impressed me with just how refreshed I felt after stepping out of the cockpit.
The vehicle's cargo space is also excellent for its segment. I used the BMW as a tire mule and successfully hauled four 18-inchers home using a combination of its trunk and rear seats. This isn't a task you can entrust to just any small luxury car, and I appreciated the trunk's wide opening and concealed hinges, each of which aided and abetted me in transporting my rubber goodies.
The 2013 BMW 335i xDrive is largely unfussy when it comes to interacting with its premium features. Gauges and controls are logical to use and to read, and the steering wheel buttons that connect with the vehicle's entertainment and communications system (as well as its gauge cluster LCD display) are straightforward.
Most of the BMW's gadgets and gizmos are accessed via the iDrive system, whose rotary controller occupies prime real estate on the vehicle's center console. Matched with an 8.8 inch LCD screen that sits at the top of the dash (and does an amazing job of staying highly visible even in direct sunlight), the iDrive dial and the small set of buttons that go with it helped me parse the sometimes-deep menus that conceals the 335i xDrive's navigation and stereo controllers. One can also see a virtual analog read-out of horsepower and torque via iDrive, as well as access the owner's manual and any of the smartphone integration features that might be installed.
Personally, I find iDrive to be a good, but not perfect end-run around the implementation of a touchscreen interface. A few drawbacks include confusing structure that links one set of screens to another, which led to occasionally unexpected behavior when trying to use the 'Back' button to return to a previous display. I did, however, like that I could split the screen in two and see vital information like fuel mileage, range, and trip data on the right, while the left half of the display showed whatever else I chose to call up.
The 2013 BMW 335i xDrive features a full complement of airbags, including knee airbags and side impact airbags up front, dual forward airbags, and side curtain airbags for all outboard riders. Electronic stability control and traction control, as well as anti-lock brakes, are also present and accounted for. The blind spot monitoring system that was included with my car pleasantly mounts its warning indicator on the inside of the mirror mount and not the side mirror glass itself, which makes it less distracting when attempting to check the lane to your right or left.
2013 BMW 335i xDrive Crash-Test Ratings: The BMW 335i xDrive scored 'Good' in all important IIHS tests, and it also features a five-star NHTS crash protection rating.
The 2013 BMW 335i xDrive comes with perhaps one of the finest motors in the entire BMW fleet, a 3.0-liter straight-six that makes use of a turbocharger to product 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. While a six-speed manual transmission is available with the xDrive model as a no-charge option, the version of the car that I drove featured an eight-speed automatic that also featured steering wheel-mounted shift paddles that I could use to indulge in the fantasy that I could change gears with greater prescience than the vehicle's computer.
All-wheel drive, which has returned to the 3 Series sedan lineup for 2013, is what the 'x' in xDrive stands for. It exacts somewhat of a fuel mileage penalty when comparing the car to its rear-wheel drive counterpart: the xDrive delivers 20-mpg in city driving and 30-mpg on the highway, while the standard 335i is three miles per gallon better for each respective measure. I managed 24-mpg in mixed driving, which was right on the nose with the EPA's prediction.
What is the best kind of all-wheel drive system when considering the conflicting needs of luxury and performance? In my opinion, it's one which is almost completely transparent, especially when the roads are clean and dry, and in this respect the 2013 BMW 335i xDrive makes a laudable effort with its all-wheel implementation. With somewhat of a rear bias during normal driving, one has to struggle to feel the effects of the torque being sent to the front wheels through the steering system. I didn't have the chance to sample the car's grip in foul weather, but I was impressed with the lack of understeer when the 3 Series was thrown into a corner at semi-insensible speeds. The car also skillfully handled itself on gravel roads, with even a novice driver capable of catching its progressive downhill drifting in the loose rocks and sand.
This smooth and balanced character is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the BMW 335i xDrive. The vehicle's chassis is well matched to the seemingly endless power delivery of its turbocharged six-cylinder engine, which provides outstanding acceleration regardless of whether the Drive Select feature is set to Comfort, Sport, or Sport+ (the latter being a perk of the Sport line which backs off stability and traction control). The eight-speed automatic transmission's gear changes were seamless when cruising and properly abrupt when the car was being pushed to perform at its utmost, and power was available on-demand with no protestations from the turbocharger.
The BMW 3 Series handles better than almost any other car in its class, and while this is not new information, the sedan's ability to mix comfort with performance is a praiseworthy achievement that bears repeating. Was there anything about the car that rubbed me the wrong way? I wasn't too keen on the automatic engine start/stop system, which, while smoother than the implementation in the ActiveHybrid 3, was still intrusive to the driving experience. A button above the starter allowed me to turn this feature off, but it didn't always seem to take, with the car occasionally defaulting back to turning itself on and off as it sat at a light.
The 2013 BMW 335i xDrive is presented as the most well-rounded version of the entry-level compact sedan produced by the German automaker. In a market that has embraced the 3 Series at the 'gold standard' of what an entry-level luxury car should be, the 335i xDrive ticks off nearly every box that a buyer could want in a high end product: all-wheel drive, fantastic power, a spacious interior, and enough options and packages available to suck up as much cash as one is willing to throw at this particular model. Provided that one isn't thrown off by the 3 Series' premium pricing structure - which doesn't really prize value as one its key attributes - there's little I can think of to dissuade luxury shoppers from strongly considering this excellent entry-level sedan.
BMW Group Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.