Best of 2007: Sure money

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

What's in your portfolio? Are you a high-risk investor or do you prefer the slow and reliable clink-clink of blue-chip stock? Personally, I've got all my money tied up in a racehorse named Barbaro. What? No way! When'd that happen?

I would love to see a survey of BMW owners and their investments. I'd suspect Bimmer buyers play it pretty conservative in the market. These cars are such a safe bet that to buy one seems to make a statement about one's fundamental disposition to risk. I'm not talking only about residual value -- though BMWs hold their value exceedingly well. Good thing, too, since they're overpriced.

I'm talking about exposure. Why, after all, do people buy these cars? Is it because of BMW's exemplary handling and performance? Please. For most Americans, it's a red-letter day if they can negotiate the drive-thru at In-N-Out Burger. Is it BMW's grand motorsports heritage? Again, most Americans wouldn't know a Sauber-BMW F1 car if it cut them off at the shins.

It's because -- as sure as Prince is an all-weather rock star -- BMWs represent good taste and unimpeachable judgment, a kind of mass-market connoisseurship endorsed by the sheer numbers sold. Even if you know nothing about automobiles, you know BMWs are well regarded, and you can sleep at night knowing that, as compared to the rather more uncertain investment in, say, Infiniti. What Partagas is to cigars and Fender is to guitars, so BMW is to cars.

It would be tempting to dismiss BMWs as totems of affluent groupthink but for the fact that they are, in fact, terrific cars, and the new BMW 335i Coupe is just a killer. As per the Werks' methodical ways, the Coupe came late last summer, about a year after the 3-series sedan (the E90 chassis, in the specialist's nomenclature) hit the streets. With the two-door, BMW introduced a sparkling new bit of reciprocating machinery: a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged and intercooled, direct-injection inline six-cylinder motor with variable valve timing, all milled from the finest Bavarian aluminum. From three liters of displacement, this engine manages to produce a nice, round 300 horsepower and an even nicer and rounder 300 pound-feet of torque, using the small, lag-free turbos to force-feed three cylinders apiece. For 2007, this motor replaces the naturally aspirated 3.0-liter in the four-door (335i sedan) and in the future you can expect BMW product planners to put this motor in everything but their coffee. It's already in the 2008 3-series cabriolet and the 5-series (535i by name).

OK, Bimmerphiles, quiz time: What was the first BMW in the U.S. to offer a turbocharged engine? Please write me a long, involved e-mail about the history of the 1974-era 2002 Turbo and then forget to send it.

THIS is a seriously great engine. First of all, look at the fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway. I'm wondering if this isn't the most fuel-efficient 300-horsepower coupe on the market. Thank you, direct injection. Second, this engine feels like the log flume ride at Six Flags Over Torque. Full torque arrives at a mere 1,400 rpm and doesn't begin to dissipate until 5,000 rpm. Even then the car feels so giddy and besotted with rpm that it's easy to bump up against the 7,000-plus rev limiter in the first two gears.

These compact turbos spool up with nary a breath of hesitation, giving the car a throttle response indistinguishable from a bigger, naturally aspirated motor. Put your foot down and the car just pulls like a reindeer. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration hovers in the range of 5 seconds flat, but that hardly does justice to the right-here, any-gear eagerness of the motor. In sixth gear at highway speeds, the twin-turbo still has enough amperage to draw you back into the deep-bolstered seat.

In turbo cars, such festive displays of acceleration are typically accompanied by contraltos of turbine whine and big sucking sounds. This twin-turbo puts a very expensive sock in all that, and the most notable sound is a plush, plummy bass vibrato coming from the exhaust pipes.

This is not the handsomest coupe on the market but it's certainly presentable for class reunions and business meetings. It has the proper profile -- BMW's wheels-in-the-nose front overhang, smooth hood and windshield transitions, and the bustle butt. Yet it's hard to look at the car and not see it as missing something, that something being two rear doors, which is to say, the car doesn't look to me organically coupe-like.

The surface tension of the sheet metal has been dialed up compared to the sedan, and the fuselage has a down-the-road lean by virtue of the gently arched beltline that runs from the front fender into the rear light assembly, with its bands of LED lighting. Up front, BMW's road-following, bi-Xenon headlights are standard equipment. In the daytime the glassy rings around the projector lens glow eerily -- think Cujo with mega-candlepower.

Our test car ($46,340) did not have the company's dastardly iDrive system (it's a $2,100 option) and yet somehow, remarkably, I didn't miss it. The 335i's interior is a seamless, stately blending of rich materials and clean modernism.

Rear-seat access is a major theme in the Coupe. In addition to a cam-over lever that moves the seats forward and back, there is a toggle on the seat shoulder that allows the rear passenger to adjust the seat ahead. Also -- in deference to the less spine-flexible of its clients -- the company uses belt extenders, motorized wands that hand front passengers the shoulder belts when they get in the car. Note also that this is a two-seat back seat; the center console extends between the rear seat positions.

BMW has obviously invested thousands of man-hours in interior design -- much of that prime beer-drinking time, so to all of you, prost!

In addition to the company's signature handling, cornering, ride and braking behavior (all dialed up a touch with the sport package's 18-inch wheels and racy run-flat tires), the 335i supplies a generous list of standard features, including: dynamic cruise control; moon roof; adaptive brake lights (they strobe during emergency braking); rain-sensing windshield wipers; and all manner of intelligent braking, traction- and stability-enhancing systems.

Sleek, secure, well tailored, and stronger than day-old coffee, the BMW 335i Coupe is yet more proof -- as if its competitors needed it -- that this company has a crystal-clear sense of itself and its customers.

You know, sometimes you follow the herd because sometimes the herd knows something you don't. Moo.

2007 BMW 335i CoupeBase price: $41,295 Price, as tested: $46,340 Powertrain: Twin turbocharged and intercooled 3.0-liter dual-overhead cam inline six-cylinder with variable valve timing; six-speed manual transmission; rear-wheel drive Horsepower: 300 at 5,800 rpm Torque: 300 pound-feet at 1,400 to 5,000 rpm Curb weight: 3,571 pounds 0-60 mph: 5 seconds Wheelbase: 108.7 inches Overall length: 181.1 inches EPA fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city, 29 mph highway Final thoughts: A reason to invest in a thoroughbred.

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