Modern mass-produced cars rarely seem to go seriously wrong, or at least not the ones we’ve had at evo in recent years. When I started out on Autocar in the late ’80s there were several cars on that magazine’s long-term fleet that seemed to be almost permanently afflicted with one ailment or another. Jags, Rovers, Fiats, Lancias – all suffered a litany of electrical and mechanical failures. There was one Volvo, a 480 ES if you remember those, that literally spent more time at the dealership than it did on the road.
But in 2007 you don’t expect a nearly new BMW 335i to go wrong, do you? I certainly didn’t, so you can imagine me blinking in disbelief a few weeks ago when an engine warning symbol illuminated on the dash and the engine appeared to go into ‘limp home mode’. There were no nasty noises, vibrations or pongs, so I pulled over and had a quick check under the bonnet for any signs of overheating or leakages. The car had only recently been serviced, so the oil was, as you’d expect, up to the mark on the digital readout. All seemed fine, so I limped to the office and called Wollaston BMW of Northampton, who asked me to leave the car with them overnight.
At least it gave me an excuse to drive JB’s M3 that evening. And hugely enjoyable – and revealing – it was too. The M3 highlighted just how heavy is the 335i’s steering at low speed, and how heftily mechanical is its gearshift, which, combined with a bit of shunt and clunk in the drivetrain, makes it feel endearingly old-school. The M3 also appears to ride slightly better, certainly filtering out the niggly little thumps and bumps that are amplified by the 335i’s run-flats.
It is, of course, quite a bit quicker too, though not by as much as you’d perhaps imagine. The 335 has immense torque, swollen by its twin turbochargers, and terrific top-end reach, though eventually it would give best to that screaming V8. But on a give-and-take road I bet there wouldn’t be a lot in it. More to the point, because the M3’s limits are that much higher, and because by the time you’ve extended it fully in third gear you’re well into licence-losing territory and looking for Nick Freeman’s phone number, you have to question just how valuable is the M3’s extra top-end.
Anyway, next day Wollaston called to say they suspected a turbo failure. They’d ordered parts from Germany but it could take a few days, so would I like a loan car? Actually I was quite keen to hang on to Barker’s M3, but so was JB. So next day I got a lift to Wollaston to pick up the 320d Touring loaner. The whiff of ancient ciggy smoke wasn’t nice, but when I brimmed the tank the range showed 650 miles, which is pretty impressive considering the more than acceptable performance.
The days went by, and Wollaston phoned regularly to keep me up to date with developments. In fact the car wasn’t ready until exactly a week after they started looking at it, but then they did have to remove not only the exhaust system but also the engine. Andy in Service told me they’d had to replace a turbo. Apparently the wastegate was prematurely worn, resulting in it sticking open. All the work was done under warranty, of course, and the car’s now performing with its customary brilliance, but it’s still more than a little worrisome.
OK, I’ve done a couple of trackdays in the 335i and it’s often been driven in a spirited manner, but as anyone who knows me will testify, I’m hardly a car-killer. And I’ve always been careful to warm the car up properly and keep it running for several minutes after it’s been extended, always with those turbos in mind. So I’m more than a little perplexed. If you’ve experienced – or heard of – anything similar, please drop me a line at the usual.