Collecting a BMW 335d xDrive M Sport

One of my best friends, who most recently owned a B8.5 S4 (which can be seen here – https://stsupercarsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/audi-s4-b8-5-an-account-of-one-powerful-but-subdued-monster/).

Due to work requirements needed to change his car and he needed something that was more economical but still offered a decent turn of pace.

Now between you and me, we have been having this conversation between our group of friends for, what, 4/5 months now. Regularly getting sent various cars, having many many conversations around what the replacement should be.

Given the S4 was SO quick, it was always going to be hard to find a replacement that wasn’t underwhelming. I suggested numerous times to go to a S3 or Golf R. But because of just having an Audi, it was felt that the S3 would be a step backwards from the S4 and essentially a hatchback isn’t ‘grown’ up enough.

So the next choice was the 3 and 4 series. This led to various debates, around 3 vs 4 and do you save some money and go for a 30d RWD or sod it and go all out and get a 35d xDrive. Ultimately we all knew if it was going to be a BMW it would be the 35d xDrive.

After weeks of searching Autotrader, eBay and Pistonheads it was narrowed down to two cars (due to the spec that was a minimum requirement) a black car with Oyster leather and a Tanzanite Blue car with black leather, both almost fully specced.

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After much back and forth it was settled the preference was the Tanzanite Blue car, so we went to take a final look at it and ended up doing the deal there and then.

So what’s the car like?

Styling – interior and exterior

This particular car stands out above the rest in my opinion. The paintwork is finished in an individual BMW colour called Tanzanite Blue. Simply stunning.

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As a standard car the 3 series isn’t a bad looking car. The large blue callipered M Performance brakes on this car add to the exterior looks of the car.

Coming to the interior, it is a really place to be, with soft touch plastics and leathers, the Professional media as standard offers the stunning 10-inch display, navigation, online services, 20gb internal storage etc.

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The only real downside is that it features the slightly older iDrive systems in this car as it is a pre-LCI. But I mean, I really am nit-picking.

All in all the interior is a lovely place to sit and a noticeable step up over the M140i (as you would expect).

Engine

Having recently drive the X5, which features the same engine, I knew what to expect. This doesn’t mean it felt any less relentless in its delivery of power and torque.

The N57 in the 335d pushes out the same 313bhp and 630 N·m of torque (465 lb·ft ) as the X5 40d, which given the 3 series weight advantage makes it that slight bit quicker.

There is so much torque available in any gear you never really NEED to drop it down but of course the option is there is you so wish.

Performance

Performance in the 335d is pretty relentless, it picks up quickly and in Sport mode the throttle response is noticeably sharper and the steering has added weight to it. In terms of steering ‘feel’ there really isn’t any, although it wasn’t any worse than the rear-wheel drive 1 series – which actually surprised me as I expected the xDrive to have an impact.

The gearbox, was like other 8 speed ZF gearboxes. Silky smooth in auto but relatively responsive in manual.

This car has the adaptive dampers specced as an option and they do make a noticeable difference once you hit some more twisty roads, the ride stiffens, you feel more through your bum and there is noticeably less body roll.

The M Performance brakes were brilliant, a nice progressive pedal and would very quickly and effectively knock off speed. As I’ve mentioned before I do think BMW offer the best brakes as standard across Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

Handling/Ride

With the car and Dampers in Sport/Sport+ there is a lot less body roll, turn in is ok although there is no real feedback you just have to trust the car will go where you point the wheel.

There isn’t as little body roll as the 140i, but the 335d did feel a lot more composed over uneven surfaces.

The xDrive systems means traction is never really an issue, even on wet greasy British roads. So using all of that power and torque is possible in almost any situation.

Running costs 

Now I wasn’t going to include this as my little stint in the car I didn’t even look at the average MPG on the trip but my friend who bought the car has since sent me some pics and we have talked around the economy of the car.

For the performance on offer, it is easily capable of averaging over 40 MPG.

After I handed the car back it took a journey across motorway and some well known country roads where it averaged well in to the 40’s and given the way I know it will have been driven, that is impressive!

Final thoughts

Overall the 335d is a seriously impressive car and I don’t know what else for the money you could get.

Given what this car is designed for, which is munching miles in comfort but at pace but also offers a bit more for the country lanes, it does both extremely well.

The ride is much more comfortable and grown up than the 1 series.

Would I swap to one next? Great car, but its just missing a 6cyl petrol engine for me. Maybe I need to drive a 340i . Hmmm.

 

BMW X5 40d M Sport – a car that took me by surprise

I am going to open this blog by stating I’ve never been a fan of the ‘premium SUV’ segment, it didn’t make sense to me. Anyone who knows me will testify to this.

Externally you have these massive vehicles with no real space advantage inside over most estates.

So what is the point?

They’re expensive and you sit high up – some people love that last bit but personally I like to be as low to the ground as possible. As you can probably tell I have never been a fan of SUV’s generally.

The only exception where I would sit up high is in a Defender.

However since the X5 was introduced in 2000, it has sold over 1 million vehicles. Which means there are clearly a lot of people who don’t agree with how I feel.

With the launch of the F15 X5 in 2013, the xDrive40d replaced the existing xDrive35d. This utilised the N57 twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel, pushing out 313bhp and 630 N·m of torque (465 lb·ft ), which is is actually very impressive figures, but I wanted to know would it live up to it on the road. The engine is matted to a ZF 8 Speed gearbox.

Now given the popularity of the X5, I thought it was time I gave one a try to see just what the 1 million+ people love about the X5.

The car I drove was a well specced X5 xDrive40d M Sport. This model has an OTR price (without options) of £60,000, with the car I actually drove having a list price north of £70,000.

Styling – interior and exterior

The F15 received cosmetic updates on the exterior, such a colour coded bumpers and LED lights front and rear. It is definitely more of a progressive design move but why change, what clearly is, a winning formula. The new F15 does look significantly better than the previous X5 models, which now to me, look very dated.

Inside you get Dakota leather as standard, with the option to pay £1500 to upgrade to the softer, comfier Merino leather. The standard brushed aluminium added to the premium feel of the cabin.

Being completely honest the interior really is a nice place to be, with soft touch plastics and leathers, the Professional media as standard offers the stunning 10-inch display, navigation, online services, 20gb internal storage etc.

All in all the interior is a lovely place to sit and a noticeable step up over the M140i (as you would expect being double the price almost).

Engine

Now this was the star for me.

As I have already mentioned this engine pushes out a claimed 313bhp and 630 N·m of torque (465 lb·ft ). Which even on paper is impressive.

Just wait until you are behind the wheel and press the accelerator pedal for the first time. I was quite frankly astonished that a car of this size was able to basically ascend in to light speed and rocket you down the road.

There is so much torque available in any gear you never really NEED to drop it down or rev it out, but boy its fun!

Performance

Performance for the size of the car was quite frankly astonishing. This thing moved.

I mainly drove the car in sport as I felt the ride on comfort was compromised.

In Sport, the throttle response was noticeably sharper. With all of that torque ready to push you back in to your seat at a prod of the throttle.

The gearbox, was like other 8 speed ZF gearboxes. Silky smooth in auto but relatively responsive in manual. Now it wasn’t quite as crisp as the ZF8 in the M140i, but it was responsive enough to enjoy changing through the gears if you so choose.

I found though, in Sport there really wasn’t any need. You could control the gearbox through the inputs of your right foot.

Luckily with all the performance on tap and it being well over two tonne, it had the brakes to match. You stamp on them and they swiftly knock speed off. It’s one thing I do think BMW does better than others in its segment and that is brakes. Audi always seem to lack in this area and Mercedes are always just ok. BMW seem to have great stopping power, a progressive pedal and offer a nice bit of feedback through the pedal.

Handling/Ride

First off I’d like to start with the steering, well more importantly what steering?

No seriously, it was as if the steering wheel wasn’t connected to the wheels. If you are willing to look past that and learn to trust the car will go where the wheel was roughly pointed you soon realise that for such a big and heavy car it handles surprisingly well.

You can chuck it into corners and use the massive torque of the engine to get you out of the other side.

Body roll wasn’t horrendous either.

The car I drove was fitted with the adaptive dampers and the one major thing I did find, which surprised me. Was that in comfort the amount of pogo’ing the car did was terrible. It felt very nervous. However flick it into Sport or Sport+ and it rides the way you expect, it was compliant and on British roads, which we all know are utter crap, it took the bumps, potholes and anything else in it’s stride.

I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised by the way it handled. Which left me wondering how good a Porsche Cayenne must be to drive….I digress.

Costs

Well this isn’t a cheap was with a £60,000 starting price.

One bonus if you do opt for the 40d version is that it make the options cheaper than on the 30d.

However with a relatively high standard specification, it might be that you can get away with spending very little on options.

Being honest I wouldn’t buy this car if you are looking for a 50mpg car. Given its weight and performance available I think its realistic to expect 30mpg average, pushed up to 35mpg on a motorway run.

Final thoughts

Overall I was very impressed by the X5. The performance and handling were very impressive for it size, with it’s only real downside being the steering.

The interior felt very premium and it would be easy to munch motorway miles in with the whole family.

However whilst driving the X5 has changed my opinion on SUV’s, for me personally I wouldn’t be spending £60,000 on it. I would still rather an estate if I needed the space.

Luckily for me I don’t need the space and for £60,000 I would be looking at something a little more dynamically interesting to drive.

Now I just need to get behind the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne…

 

 

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio – what’s it really like?

As some of you may know, I have been very lucky recently, having the opportunity to drive some pretty amazing cars. Probably my favourite over the last few months has to be the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

This is a car that ever since it was announced I knew I wanted to drive. The first rear wheel drive Alfa for over 20 years.

What an exciting time to be alive, when Alfa decide to take a Ferrari Cali engine chop two cylinders off and shove it in a family saloon, that produces over 500bhp and is rear wheel drive.

What more could you want?

My favourite bit – a prod of the red starter button mounted on the chunky three-spoke steering wheel, and the V6 engine bursts urgently into life.

If you would like to watch my video with the Alfa, check out the below:

Now let’s take a look at the all new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio in more detail.

Styling

 

Exterior

The standard Giulia’s is a good looking car with its flowing lines and neat proportions, but the Quadrifoglio gets a muscular makeover. This comes in the form of larger air intakes up front, below the trademark heart-shaped grille, a subtle carbon fibre rear spoiler and a diffuser that houses a quartet of tailpipes. Other visual enhancements include small vents set into the front wings.

The car I drove was finished in white metallic paint, which was nice but not the colour I would choose, mainly because I don’t like white cars. I’ve seen a couple of Alfa red cars and one Vulcano black on the road. I think for me it would be Competizione red or Vesuvio grey. The carbon ceramic brakes also help increase exterior styling by filling the wheel.

One thing I noted walking round the car was the staggering 285 section rear tyres, now they are wide!

Interior

The interior quality, I must admit, really did impress me. The green and white contrast stitching runs throughout the cabin, which is covered in leather and soft-touch plastics that definitely give the car a premium look and feel.

This particular car didn’t feature the optional Harmon Kardon stereo, but being honest I didn’t switch the entertainment system on once. You get lovely big aluminium paddles, that are attached to the steering column, which provide a nice positive feel and click upon use. Being honest on the inside, in this particular model most stuff comes as standard, like sat nav, front a rear parking sensors, folding mirrors etc.. However one thing this car didn’t have, which would really step the interior quality up, is the optional £2,500 carbon fibre seats. I would love to try a car with these in (Alfa – hint hint ;-))

I will say some of the switchgear wasn’t as robust as others, like Audi’s for example. But for a first attempt within the segment, it is actually a very nice place to be.

My only real gripe about the interior, which is a real first world problem, was that the steering wheel buttons don’t light up at night. I’d imagine over time you would just know what’s what, but to begin with you might find yourself fumbling around or pressing the wrong buttons as I did.

Engine

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In a word it’s a masterpiece. This new ‘supersaloon’ is powered by a 503bhp twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 that has been ‘worked on’ by engineers at Ferrari

Now I’d just like to expand on this point a little further. So we have Ferrari; which is controlled by the Agnelli family behind Fiat, who also, coincidentally own Alfa. However Ferrari is adamant that it’s not the same unit it fits to the California, with two cylinders chopped off. The fact that the two engines have the same bore, stroke and V angle is a coincidence, it says. As is the fact that in both the twin-scroll turbo is in the V of the engine, providing instant punch whenever the driver so much as twitches his little toe.

What a coincidence eh?

Well regardless of the engines origin, it really is sublime. Because the turbocharges are buried deep within the V, it means turbolag is kept to a minimum and throttle response is fantastic.

The engine does feel slightly lethargic lower down in the rev range, probably below 3-3.5k, but this must mainly be due to mapping to give it a more naturally aspirated feel building to a top end crescendo of noise and power.

Performance

What I really liked about this Alfa was its ability to have a real split personality, this mainly comes down to Alfa’s DNA Pro system, which allows you to switch between Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency and Race driving modes. Each setting alters not only shift times for the gearbox, but also the weight of the steering, plus throttle, diff response and the adaptive suspension.

The headline figures on this car are massive, 503bhp, 443lb/ft torque and a 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds. But what really amazed me was the way it built speed.

The engine happily revs all the way to the 7000rpm redline where it develops it’s peak power. It’s bloody quick getting up there as well.

Little do you know you’re quickly at 60mph.

Unlike the M3/4 the Alfa builds to speeds in a way that you don’t really realise, until you look down at the speedo, just how quickly you’re going and that you need to swiftly hit the anchors.

Handling/Ride

Going in to this I had in the back of my mind that the kind gent who helped develop the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio chassis, had not long before worked on the sublime 458 Speciale. So my expectations were high and I must admit, it delivered.

The adaptive dampers are standard, and in Dynamic and Race settings they deliver strong body control without being too firm on the UK road, which as we all know are bloody terrible.

If you then switch the suspension into Natural, the Giulia feels remarkably supple on the UK’s broken and bumpy roads. It thuds through deeper potholes, but overall it’s more comfortable than the BMW M4 I drove.

What I really liked about the Alfa over the M4 was that you can choose to have the suspension in “bumpy road” mode independently of the driving mode selected. “Bumpy road” mode makes the ride incredibly smooth and gives the Alfa the ability to take most pot holes in its stride.

The steering is quick and direct, with only 2 full turns lock to lock. It’s well weighted and on turn in points the Giulia’s nose exactly where you want it, whether an apex or just a nice tight corner on the roads..

Front end grip seems never ending on the road, with very little understeer evident even when entering a corner slightly too fast. But most importantly what helps you get out quickly and in a controlled manner is the LSD – it may not be as technically advanced as the latest M version but on the road it allows you to exit tight hair pins very effectively.

Race mode, which is where I spend most of my time in the car, relaxes the stability and traction control, allowing you to indulge in the car’s stunning rear-wheel-drive balance, as we discovered even with the aids switched on, the Alfa’s line can be altered using the steering and throttle, giving it a more natural feel than an M3.

I think the most noticeable thing for me handling-wise was just how light on it’s feet it felt. For what is essentially a very big car, the nimble handling of the Alfa really did impress. This is down to a curb weight of 1500kg, thanks to lots of carbon fibre, such as the drive shafts and bonnet.

Noise

Noise is where the Alfa obliterates the M4. I know I  have mentioned it before but the S55 featured in the latest M3/4, really doesn’t do it for me. This Alfa, on the other hand, is a thing a pure beauty.

Despite being a twin-turbo V6, it delivers a soundtrack that you could listen to all day, turning from a growl at low revs to a howl as the revs climb towards the 7,000rpm redline.

In race mode, you really get to unleash the beast. This is where the exhaust valve opens and all hell breaks loose from the exhaust. You get pop, bangs, cracks, farts, the lot. I know it’s all engineered in but it just adds to the experience of driving the car. The best thing is you don’t have to be going fast to get it to produce some outrageous noises. If you want to create a riot in town at low speed, you can, just expect a lot of funny looks and death stares. But hey, who cares right? As long as you’re having fun.

If you’re interested in hearing the Alfa, check out this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqv3JT6JHS0

Gearbox

Now in the U.K. we are only going to see the ZF 8 speed auto, which having watched a couple of reviews on the manual is probably a good thing.

However, considering I drive a car fitted with a variation of the ZF 8 Speed, the box in the Alfa left me a little, well, underwhelmed. Even in race mode, which is supposed to be it’s most aggressive mode, I found it slow in response.

In auto mode the box is nice a smooth. Not really feeling changes up or down.

However when using it in manual mode, on the way up through the box it was easy to hit the limiter if you tried to change up anything after 6800rpm, just due to the delay in the box. On upshifts I found myself having to press the paddle around 500 rpm before you wanted the change. It was a little crisper on downshifts, but again compared to the box in the M140i it seemed lethargic.

It’s funny how quickly you adjust your driving style around quirks of cars. After 10 minutes behind the wheel I didn’t need to consciously think about changing slightly earlier to avoid the limiter but just did it.

Dreaded reliability…or lack of

Finally, something that seems to impact almost every test car and potentially something a prospective owner needs to consider (yes I know you get warranty but that doesn’t cover your time), is reliability.

Now this is something that impacted this particular car, putting it in LIMP mode and lighting the dash up like a christmas tree. For anyone that doesn’t know LIMP mode limits power, meaning you now have to go everywhere really slowly.

Alfa did a code read and it turned out there was a fuel pump error, there was also a few ‘invalid ECU’ codes which suggests something went wrong. Having a read online there seems to be a real variety of errors which can cause the car to go into LIMP mode.

Conclusion / wrap up

Overall the fast throttle response, the fast steering, the outrageous exhaust noises and the preposterous rate at which the speedometer climbs combine to make this car feel extremely special. More special than any M3 or M4 (particularly with that not so great sounding S55 engine).

It may be more expensive than the M3, but in reality, it’s a 500bhp rear-wheel drive Alfa Romeo. It’s an absolute riot to drive. If you’re in the market for a stupendously fast saloon, I highly recommend you give the Alfa a go.

Check out some of my videos with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

 

 

 

 

Audi A3 Ultra driven

So just last week I was fortunate enough to be handed the keys to a 2016 model Audi A3 S Line 1.6tdi Ultra.

Now, normally I would see the 1.6tdi and automatically not be interested. If I was looking for a diesel it would be the 2.0tdi and if funds permitted it would be the slightly higher powered 2.0tdi quattro. I mean whats the point in an Audi without quattro?

Well, last week, I found out.

So lets begin with a little bit of background. The third generation A3 was launched back in 2012 and was the first car to use the latest Volkswagen Group’s lighter, stiffer ‘MQB’ platform. This can also be found underneath the Mk7 Golf, the SEAT Leon and Skoda’s Octavia etc.

From the outside the looks could be described as progressive over the previous model but a welcome upgrade nonetheless.

However the biggest changed compared to its predecessor, is that it’s now around 50kg lighter even with increased levels of equipment and safety, a platform that Audi felt it perfect for the creation of this super-frugal ultra variant, based on the 1.6-litre TDI diesel model.

So on paper this entry-level 1.6-litre TDI diesel version of Audi’s A3 now gets an ‘ultra’ badge with engineering that delivers under 90g/km of CO2 and well over 80mpg.

That seems mightily impressive so I was intrigued to find out how it performed in the real world.

The ‘Ultra’ badges bring some additional changes over a standard A3 which include lowered sports suspension, low rolling resistance tyres, a longer final drive ration in the six-speed manual gearbox (no Stronic is available on the ultra) and 16-inch alloys.

Handling, ride and steering

Let me start with how the car drove in terms of handling, ride and steering.

Most people will agree, you don’t buy an Audi to have the most involving driving experience. However I was mightily impressed with the drive of this car. I was expecting a noisy engine, vibrating through everything I touched, a very stiff ride and pretty dead steering.

However, the car handled very well. The steering was well weighted, tight and direct. Yes it was numb in terms of feedback but so is our BMW M140i, so that was to be expected.

You could barely feel that the 1.6tdi was even running, the cabin is very quiet and when at a stop you could feel very little vibration coming through the gear stick, steering wheel and pedals.

The economy-boosting lowered suspension is a touch stiffer than the standard A3, though, meaning the ride can be a little bumpy. The low resistance tyres definitely add more road noise to the cabin but thats only if you are looking out for it or drive around with no music on.

All in all,  the surprisingly heavy and direct steering and a very nice slick gear change make for an enjoyable drive, considering it is an ‘eco’ model.

Performance

So coming in to this, I really didn’t expect much from the little 1.6 ‘eco’ engine. On paper it develops 110bhp and 250Nm, which in this day and age is not a lot.

However get it out on the road and it feels surprisingly nippy. With the torque being readily available in almost every gear, makes it for an enjoyable drive. Yes, it’s not going to blow your mind. But considering where the car sits, it’s performance really did impress.

In terms of times, the three-door gets from 0-62mph in 10.5sec, while the Sportback takes 10.7sec. Both have an official top speed of 124mph.

Not ground braking but considering its ability to also return 60+MPG realistically (even when driving rather aggressively) is very impressive.

Interior

Now we come to the interior, this is really the A3’s party piece. It is where it stands above other cars in it’s call. The use of dense, soft materials, beautifully damped switches and cold-to-the-touch metallic surfaces give it real class-above appeal.

The cabin is well thought out and everything is easy to reach and in a logical place. The standard sound system is not far off our HK system in the M140i, which just shows how poor the 1/2 series setup is.

The navigation you get as standard has a relatively small screen, but given its standard I would be happy with it. The MMI isn’t as easy to use as the latest BMW iDrive system, it’s good enough don’t get me wrong but it just feels more clunky

Overall, the interior is a very nice place to be even with the standard spec. Choose a couple of options and you can have an even more premium feeling cabin.

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Final Thoughts

All in all, this car actually took me by surprise as an overall package.

If you are looking for something that offers reasonable pace, a nice place to sit and a drive that is surprisingly enjoyable, whilst still returning 60+ MPG then look no further.

Personally I still think I would prefer a 2.0tdi lump for the extra torque it offers, but the trade off in economy and CO2 figures mean that it may not be a cost effective viable solution and in that case, the ultra really is a cracking little car.

 

 

BMW M140i – what does the new B58 bring to the party?

I recently caught myself reflecting on the past 10 years of driving and cars, a lot has changed over the last ten years with pretty much the ‘death’ of the naturally aspirated manual car, instead we have a whole host of new technologies taking over, a large one being forced induction.

During this I kind of came to the realisation that it has been one of the best golden ages for the car industry, in terms of development and technological advancement. Over the past ten years we’ve seen many new and fancy technologies being invented and being made popular by main stream manufacturers including the 8-speed, 9-speed or even 10-speed automatic transmissions (which are world apart from auto’s of days gone past), turbochargers and superchargers, electric vehicles (EV), hydrogen fuel cell power, self-driving cars, LED lighting, the list goes on..

BMW saw this trend of forced induction as a method to increase power and torque whilst helping to hit the stringent EU emissions laws.

BMW has been leading the way though its use of turbocharged engine technology, which has started a whole new era for BMW performance cars. From the introduction of the ground-breaking twin-turbocharged N54 and the later N55, N63, N20 etc., to today where the latest and greatest B-series engines are now in production (B37/38, B47/48, B57/58).

Having previously owned an N54 powered e92 335i, and currently owning the latest B58 powered M140i, I wanted to take a look at just how far the engine technology has come since the introduction of the twin-turbocharged N54.

I’m now going to take a more in-depth look at the B58 engine, based on multiple sources of technical information and also my observation during ownership through the M140i.

A Brief bit of Background

Back in the start of the 21st century, there is a trend quietly emerged within the auto industry, which is the desire for power. In another word: people wanted higher engine output.

At that time, 6-cylinder engines usually had around 200 hp, and the territory above 300 hp belongs to more high-end engines such as V8/V10/V12.

The first auto maker that started the “power war” in the affordable pricing sector is Nissan – it released the Infiniti I35 in late 2001, equipped with the VQ35DE V6 engine which passed the 250 hp mark for the first time within entry-level luxury cars. Starting then, BMW was under huge peer pressure, below is the timeline overview:

  • Late 2001: Nissan VQ35DE V6, 255 hp (2002 Infiniti I35)
  • January 2005: Nissan VQ35DE V6, 300 hp (2005 Nissan 350Z 35th Anniversary Edition)
  • January 2005: Toyota 2GR-FE V6, 280 hp (2005 Toyota Avalon)
  • April 2005: Toyota 2GR-FSE V6, 306 hp (2006 Lexus IS350)
  • April 2005: BMW N52 V6, 255 hp (2006 BMW 330i)
Toyota_2GR
Toyota 2GR-FSE Engine

Also worth noting, that the N52 also incorporated the lean burn technology, which 2GR-FSE does not have. Therefore this indicates Toyota, at this point in time, has acquired more advanced design capabilities in NA engines. Being able to extract over 300bhp from a 6 cylinder engine for the first time.

As a response to the Toyota 2GR-FSE engine, BMW rolled out the N54 twin-turbo engine the following year in the e90 and e92 335i.

We now know that BMW had been secretly developing the N54 for years, and was taking a more longer-term view (they chose a different route to generate the power: turbocharging). What BMW had missed is it underestimated its competitors’ R&D progress, which forced BMW to release the N54 engine in hurry.

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BMW N54 Twin Turbo I6 Engine

Because of this, there were some aspects of the N54 that BMW later found, could be done better. So three years later, BMW released its successor, the N55. Obviously the N55 cannot be said to be 100% perfect, partially due to its development falls into the period of 2008 financial crisis. Although N55 does have lots of technical enhancements, it also compromised in places.

However, in 2016, we were gifted with the latest BMW engine, the B58. The B58 engine is totally different than the N54 and N55. It has true performance oriented design, while the previous N54/55 have limited potential which prevents them from taking higher loads.

Key Changes

There are two main changes that distinguish B58 from N54/55:

  1. The B58’s cylinder block is closed deck; while N54/55 are open-deck;
  2. B58 is using air-to-liquid intercooler, compared to N54/55’s air-to-air intercooler.

Closed Deck Design

Let’s first take a look at B58’s closed deck design. By nature, a closed deck cylinder block is much stronger than the open deck, therefore it is more suitable for high load and high pressure application. This explains why for the S55 engine (used on M3/M4), BMW needed to convert the N55’s open deck block to a closed deck design. This is also the reason why BMW never officially boost N54/55’s output to over 340 hp.

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Open Deck Design of the N54 Cylinder Block
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Closed Deck Design of the New B58 Engine Cylinder Block

Although B58’s closed deck is structurally strong, it also has shortcomings. For example it carries a higher manufacturing cost; Also the coolant flow is more restricted, which has meant that BMW has had to use a dedicated heat management module on the B58 engine.

On the other hand, this does not mean open deck design is bad. Open deck block is lighter and has better cooling effect, therefore it is more suitable to applications that does not call for high cylinder pressure.

The N54/55 uses cast iron cylinder sleeve, but B58 is different: it uses one latest technology called “Electric Arc Wire Spraying”. This is a type of the ferrum plasma spray method, which creates a thin layer (0.3 mm thick) of iron on the cylinder wall surface and thus eliminates the need for using the cylinder sleeves. The ultimate goal is to save weight. For your reference: plasma spray is an exotic technique previously (for example GT-R, LFA etc.), however nowadays its cost is lowered so significantly that even Ford uses it in the EcoBoost engine family.

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A BMW 4 cylinder engine block is under the Electric Arc Wire Spraying (LDS) process

You may also find most of the BMW inline six engines are all undersquare, and this is exactly the same on B58 too. The B58 engine has a bore of 82 mm and stroke of 94.6 mm.

The purpose of such geometry design is not for lower-end torque, but with consideration in packaging. Had BMW used a shorter stroke, in order to maintain the same displacement, its cylinder bore need to be much larger. Since here 6 cylinders are placed inline together, this will lead to a excessively long cylinder block, and thus hard to arrange spaces inside the engine compartment (particularly in a 1 series chassis), or requires the vehicle to have a much longer bonnet (which in my opinion is unnecessary). Also, a longer crankshaft (caused by long block) is weaker too.

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Cutaway of the B47 diesel engine, showing the B series piston’s stroke
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Cutaway of the B48 engine, notice the different shape of the piston head

However, turbocharged engines may benefit from the long stroke also: because of turbo lag, it is good to have higher torque when the engine is under naturally aspiration mode, which contributes to the driver’s perceived throttle response.

From everything I have read online It does seem like the B58’s closed deck design costs BMW more to build. However, taking a more holistic view of the engine family, it is another story. The B58 is not a single product, in fact it is a member of BMW’s latest B-series engine family. The B engines use the modular design principle: same bore, same stroke, and even same block between gasoline/diesel versions. Therefore, all of these engines can share many of the design and manufacturing process, and ultimately lower the total cost.

Air-to-liquid Intercooler

Next biggest change is the intercooler. Almost all “serious” high performance turbo engines use air-to-liquid intercoolers, mainly because it is more effective and more stable. BMW have chosen this route for the B58.

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Highlighted section is the air-to-liquid intercoolers

The air-to-water intercooler on B58 is integrated into the intake system, which is on top of the engine and sits beneath the cylinder head. Since the intake air no longer needs to be routed to the intercooler in the front bumper (like the N54/55), such compact design brings huge benefit for the B58: the intake path is shortened significantly, which quite significantly improves throttle response, something that manufacturers want to improve in turbocharged cars making them feel more like naturally aspirated engines.

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Intake air path comparison: N55 v.s B58

There are other hints which indicate the B58 is designed as a high output engine. For example its crankshaft is forged, stronger than N55’s casted unit; also the piston connecting rod is also forged on the B58.

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B58’s crankshaft

In one word: closed deck design and also the air-to-liquid intercooler, determines B58 is fundamentally different from its N54/N55 predecessors.

More Detailed Look at the Improvements

Those two are the main design differences, but on top of the improvements mentioned above, the B58 also incorporates many remarkable new designs. They aren’t stand alone improvements, basically they all work together to get the most out of the new engine.

Heat Management Module

As mentioned above, the B58’s closed deck cylinder causes more restricted coolant flow, and it raises a tougher requirement for the engine cooling system.

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B58: heat management module
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Highlighted: the heat management module’s drive pulley

Therefore, BMW uses a heat management module on the B58, which is mechanically powered directly by the crankshaft through a serpentine belt. Inside the module, coolant flow rate is adjusted by a rotary valve.

Using a mechanical coolant pump avoided the hassle of possible failure of the electric type, like in previous BMW engines. However, to deal with the situation that the turbo still need to be cooled after engine is turned off, an extra dedicated electric pump is added to the turbo unit to tackle this issue – this is also used if stop/start is activated. I know a lot of people worry about stop/start and the turbo, but clearly BMW have thought about this in their design.

Engine Weight Distribution Optimisation

On the N54/55 engine, they place the alternator, AC compressor, timing chain and engine oil filter assembly towards the front portion of the engine, therefore the engine’s centre of gravity tends to be front-biased.

However the B58 treats this differently by placing the oil filter and its radiator, VANOS timing chain at the back of the engine. Therefore improving the weight distribution, however this comes with a price when it comes to added maintenance difficulty.

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The engine oil filter assembly is located in the back

Although the oil filter cap is hiding a little bit deep in the engine bay, it is still not too hard to reach. However, the VANOS system is now a huge pain for maintenance, since it is located right behind the engine and extremely closed to the firewall, it is impossible to service the VANOS system without taking the whole engine out of the engine bay.

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B58’s VANOS components are located right behind the engine block

Since there will be noises when the timing chain is operating, BMW placed a sound insulation foam between the cylinder head/valvetrain cover and the passenger cabin firewall.

Valvetronic System and Throttle Body

VANOS is responsible for timing adjustment, and Valvetronic is used for control the lift height of the valves and acts as the throttle body.

The valvetronic used on the N55 is the 3rd generation, and the one on the B58 is the latest 4th generation. There is no fundamental change in the working principle, the major difference in the B58’s Valvetronic system is it moves the servo motor out of the valve cover (which was part of the N55’s design), and places it outside at the top right hand side of the cylinder head.

Such design brings two major advantages: (1) it significantly reduced the installation space; (2) It brings down the engine’s total height and lowers the engine’s center of gravity.

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Highlighted: B58’s Valvetronic external servo motor

Theoretically speaking, a throttle body is unnecessary given the presence of the Valvetronic. However B58 is still equipped with a real throttle body, in front of the intercooler’s entrance.

The throttle body’s purposes are: (1) when there is a sudden load change, the Valvetronic mechanism may not react fast enough to adapt to the new operation requirements; the throttle valve can help to provide a seamless transition; (2) a slight vacuum is needed for the engine ventilation; (3) the throttle body acts as a redundant backup in case the Valvetronic malfunctions.

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B58’s throttle body

Fuel System

One major change to the B58’s fuel delivery system is each of the injector is now bolted to the rail directly, not through an extra high pressure line as in the N55. The benefit is less pressure loss (the longer the path the greater the loss) and slightly faster and accurate pressure control.

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B58’s six fuel injectors are directly bolted onto the fuel rail

The B58 is still using the solenoid valve injectors, not the more expensive piezo unit found in the earlier N54 and the current N63 engine. The reason of not using piezo injector is due to the high sulfur content in US market’s gasoline, which makes implementing the “lean burn” feature impossible.

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The Bosch solenoid injector used on the B58 engine

Turbo Charger

The B58 is still using a twin-scroll type turbocharger similar to the one on the N55, however it is larger in dimension. Compared to the unit on N55, the B58 turbocharger has a 6% larger turbine, and the compressor wheel diameter is also 10% larger, therefore the B58 gains 20% in boost pressure.

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B58’s twin-scroll turbocharger, and also the electronic wastegate control unit

From the below official power/torque curve chart, the power output has a plateau area after 5,000 RPM. This is most probably due to artificial limiting logic in the ECU software, or BMW plots that curve on purpose – since any “unconstrained” power output should be a smooth curve, not with such an abrupt plateau like this one below.

Therefore this indicates the B58 should have a high output version (and in fact BMW now offers the M Performance Power Kit on 2016 340i, which boosts the B58 to 355 hp and 370 lb-ft).

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Output curve comparison: B58 v.s N55

The B58 engine’s turbocharger utilises an electrical actuator to control the wastegate valve; this is a different approach than the N55 engine, which uses a vacuum-controlled charging pressure control system. However because of the high heat generated from the turbocharger, on M140i’s application, BMW places a heat shield around the electrical actuator component.

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Metal heat shield around the electrical actuator unit

Conclusion

The B58 engine represents the BMW’s latest powertrain technology: new architecture, new design ideas and new approaches.

The closed-deck design and also the integrated air-to-liquid intercooler grant it a large advantage over the previous N55.

From my experience with the B58 powertrain in the M140i, it provides quick throttle response, the feel of turbo lag is so faint that it is almost impossible to be perceived in daily driving conditions – you have to use transmission’s manual mode to detect it.

With the B58 engine, BMW finally regains its power to compete in the 350hp 6-cylinder engine sector, against Mercedes-Benz’s M276 DELA30, and also Audi’s new 3.0T V6.

BMW 430d xDrive – the best all rounder?

Aside from BMW dropping the 3 series coupe post the e92 and instead introducing the new 4 series. How does this new car fare?

The new BMW 430d features a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine. This new engine pushes out an impressive 258bhp and 560Nm of Torque. In the M-Sport trim with some very tasty M Performance carbon fibre upgrades, the car I drove had the looks to go with its performance.

The biggest difference from the old e92 330d, is the introduction of BMW’s four-wheel drive system, called xDrive. This is the first time I’ve driven a BMW that is not rear-wheel drive. Luckily, or unluckily the weather was appalling when I drove the car out in the Brecon Beacons, which meant I was really able to test the new xDrive system.

Having owned and driven a host of Audi Quatto’s before (S3, A4 3.0tdi etc.) I had expectations of an understeer machine with very little involvement. But that all changed as soon as I jumped in and got on the move..

So lets take a look in more detail

Steering

The steering whilst not the most full of feedback did have a very nice weight to it, particularly in the more firmed up Sport/Sport+ settings. It certainly felt better than most Audi Quattro’s I have driven, which surprised me. It was still very precise in the firmer settings.

Handling and Ride

Ride quality, even on the M-Sport suspension and 19-inch wheels, was excellent and, even in the appalling conditions we were contending with I never felt like the car was out of control, even when pushing on. A characteristic of some new BMW’s I have drive is that over bumpy roads they become unsettled but not this, the 430d just turned in with no fuss and then you could get back on the power quickly and fire out of the corner exit.

This car offers great levels of comfort, where you could quite comfortably do long motorway cruises, or cross country road trips and this car would just eat up the miles whilst leaving you comfortable and relatively refreshed.

Performance

This car is honestly like a rocket ship. It’ll race from 0-62mph in just 5.3 seconds (three tenths faster than the rear-wheel drive car), while the massive 560Nm torque figure means pick up anywhere in the mid range is frankly astounding. If you lose concentration even for a second, it’ll easily have you doing illegal speeds with you right foot pressed.

It is impressive the power modern diesels produce.

xDrive

The xDrive system will send 60 per cent of its power to the rear most of the time, making it feel much like a normal BMW from behind the wheel. As the road conditions got trickier, however, you can feel it pushing more torque to the front to shore up grip where it’s needed most.

I was really surprised by it, it’s a really well sorted system, and at times can show an all-wheel-drive Audi it’s sporty behind.

The extra grip is obviously most welcome in bends, but don’t get confused in thinking that it will make the drive boring… Sport+ still allows slip so in the soaking went you could enter a sharp hairpin slowly, pin the throttle and get the rear end rotating. It can be a bit snappy sometimes but generally if you know what to expect it is easy to have some fun.

Interior

The interior was pretty standard BMW, nice high quality materials throughout and a well thought out drivers ‘cockpit’.

My only ‘criticism’ – I use term loosely – of BMW interiors is that they all almost look and feel the same, I admit some of the materials in the 1 series aren’t as nice as in the 4 but on the surface of it, it looks and feels the same.

Final thoughts

So overall I think the new 430d xDrive is great to look at, particularly with the splashings of carbon fibre courtesy of BMW M performance parts like the car I drove had, and surprisingly even better to drive.

The 430d offers blistering real world performance whilst returning reasonable economy. It will happily eat up motorway miles whilst you sit in comfort or alternatively will enjoy a B road blast, with the new xDrive system adding a new driving dynamic and allowing you to press on whatever the weather.

 

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BMW M4 – Is it the true M car you expect?

A few years ago BMW decided they wanted to remove the 3 series Coupe and instead rename it a 4 series. Roll on a year or two and the M4 is announced. Fast forward a few more years and you get to 2017 where there are now 4 variations of M4 available, the M4, M4 Competition Pack, M4 CS and M4 GTS.

Last week I was lucky enough to get behind the wheel of a MY17 BMW M4 fitted with the DCT gearbox.

Initial impressions after a quick 10 minutes behind the wheel and that is that the M4 is a fast, engaging, hugely desirable, good looking car that even offers some practicality for those who occasionally need to carry luggage or rear-seat passengers.

The biggest change from the e92 M3 is the power plant. BMW have moved away from a high-revving 4.0 V8 and instead opted for a straight six twin-turbocharged unit. For many purist, this new turbocharged engine just can’t live up to the e92’s naturally aspirated V8 for both drama and character. But if you look past it’s lack of a good soundtrack, the new M4 can deliver on the road pace that will keep supercar owners on their toes, all while offering luggage and passenger space.

What’s even better is, that like all BMW M cars, the M4 is really engaging to drive. The rear-wheel drive handling demands respect in any kind of adverse conditions, which I happened to find out, but the upside to that is that when you are on it, the car is very rewarding to drive.

For 2017 BMW has announced another series of small upgrades to the ‘regular’ M4 including standard fit LED headlamps and rear lights, upgrades to the infotainment system interface and some minor interior trim detail changes.

So after a good blast around South Wales these are my first thoughts on a MY17 F82  BMW M4.

Engine

As I mentioned above the new M4 features BMW’s twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six-cylinder engine that improved both performance and economy compared to the previous generation M3’s V8.

In its latest form the M4 pushes out 425bhp and 550Nm of torque as standard, or 444bhp if you opt for the Competition Package. But if you wanted a little more the GTS edition offers 493bhp and 600Nm of torque or alternatively the recently announced M4 CS offers 454bhp and 600Nm of torque.

Having only driven a standard M4, so far, the 425bhp is more than enough for every day driving on the road in my opinion and easily becomes a handful in wet conditions in any other mode than comfort.

Performance

Power delivery from the new engine is a different question entirely. BMW has fitted two relatively small turbos, each working on three cylinders, to ensure they spool up quickly and try to reduce as much turbo lag as possible.

Even though the turbos are small, they still have an effect on the way the car responds. No matter how minimal the lag is, there’s no question that this is a less responsive engine than a naturally aspirated one and therefore comes with less urgency to a throttle prod than previous generations that I have experienced.

However on the road, generally, it doesn’t matter. Yes, sometimes there is small delay between asking for a lot of the available performance and getting it. But I found that if you were paying attention and had full control of the gearbox (manual mode on the DCT) then you can much more easily work around any lag.

I think what impressed me the most with the engine was that it is very smooth, revs very high for a turbocharged engine and actually surges towards the red line rather than running out of puff at about 5500-6000rpm. Also at higher revs, the engine definitely responds more closely to that of it’s natural aspirated counterpart. So as I said, keep control of the gearbox and you really can workaround any lag.

Noise

So engine noise is something I’m still undecided on. Inside the cabin it is definitely more noisy than our M140i but I do feel a lot of that noise is amplified through the speakers in to the cabin.

I’d say the engine noise is loud, or atleast the exhaust system is with the valves open is loud, but I don’t think it sounds the best now I’ve come away and driven the M140i again. I do think the new B58 engine has a nicer tone to it than the S55 unit used in the current M3/4.

As I only had a short time in the car, naturally I left it in it’s noisiest mode which is called Sport+. So it made as much noise as possible, which adds to the experience of the car.

Handling

I actually thought the BMW M4 was pleasantly well balanced, making it predictable on the road and pretty easy to place in to a corner.

When you jump in to the car you have a choice of three modes for the electrically assisted power steering and a firmness on the adaptive dampers. The mode options are Comfort, Sport and Sport+. I personally didn’t have any problems with any of the modes on UK roads.

The steering is much weightier in its latter setting but feel remains similar in all modes, the only difference being that the signals reach you at a different amplitude.

Actually controlling the body movements of the M4 is easy and the cars feels compliant, even over some terrible road surfaces and bumps, which is somewhere the M140i falls down. The suspension set up on the car really helps the car turn in with a real willingness, considering it is quite a heavy car, tipping the scales at around 1600kg. Once you have turned in you can really manage the power with the throttle pedal and lean on the rear diff to get you out of the corner at speed.

Being completely honest the M4’s road manners were delightfully surprising, but don’t think I’m saying that the M4 is just another sensible, soulless 4 series.

Gearbox

The car I drove was fitted with the new 7 speed Dual Clutch gearbox. Noticeably quicker shifts than the ZF 8 Speed auto in the M140i, it was more responsive and I actually found when in auto it was better at working out what you were trying to do.

I’m not sure if I was buying if I would go manual or DCT. Maybe I need to get behind the wheel of a manual.

Interior

Throughout the interior fit and finish quality are predictably high, the ergonomics are still superb and the cabin is a very nice place to sit. With trimmings of carbon fibre everywhere and seat logo’s that light up, you don’t just feel like you’re in a standard M4.

The test car I drove had the HUD fitted to it, which not having had one before I would have said its not worth it. Now having used it, it is a great option and allows you to keep an eye on your speed and road speed limits without taking your eyes off the road.

Really though, the most important thing on the interior is two little buttons that sit on the left hand side of the steering wheel and are labelled M1 and M2 .This allows you set up the car however you want it, by assigning specific settings from the car’s menu of adaptive options. I would highly recommend this as it means you spend less time faffing trying to set it up and more time enjoying the car and driving it.

Overall

The new M4 feels like a generational step forward. Not only is the new M4 more powerful, lighter and cleaner than the old M3.

All of the key ingredients for a very enjoyable car to drive are still there: a front-mounted engine and rear wheel drive. Yes things have gone electric and turbocharged, but given that Porsche dropped a 4 pot in their new Boxster and Cayman, you have to thank BMW for sticking with a straight six designed engine and if you can look past the fact it’s turbocharged and pumps sound into the cabin I would recommend you do so, just because of how much more usable the available power and torque now is on the road.

The new BMW M4 is a real weapon on the road.

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