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BMW 3 Series Coupe

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BMW 3 Series Coupe 335d SE

Driven August 2006

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He said the Coupe is for people who want a proper lightweight sporty car, and the CC is much heavier. The CC will be positioned as convertible that you can use all year round. A refreshingly honest answer.

But actually the Coupe itself is a mere 10kg lighter than the saloon, even though it does have plastic front wings to keep the nose weight down. Becker promised me the next all-new 3-Series saloon, due in 2012, will be lighter than the current model. If he achieves that he'll be a hero - this feat has so far only been achieved by specialist cars like the Audi TT and Jag XK.

But for now we've got the 335i and it's an unimpeachably good car. At £33,420 there aren't any obvious rivals. To match the price, Mercedes has the CLK 280, but to match the power you'd need to pony up £47k for a CLK 500.

A new TT 3.2 isn't as fast, either. If you don't need the back seats, though, the new base-model Cayman would be a whole lot more fun to drive, if noisier on long journeys.

As usual, BMW's 3-Series is displaying amazing breadth. Most cars have an obvious sweet spot in the range. Usually that's somewhere near the bottom of the list, because if you pay too much you get more power than the chassis can handle (see Saab, Volvo) or too much tinsel for the fundamentally cheap interior (Fiats, Peugeots).

But the 3-Series manages to make some kind of sense as a stripped-out 130bhp base model, without this 306bhp job feeling out of its depth. To do that you need really sound fundamental engineering.

If anyone ever comes to you and says, "Hey, you're supposed to know about cars aren't you? What car should I buy for £x?" the answer is easy. £x can be any sum between £20,000 and £40,000, really. Your role in the conversation is to look thoughtful and say, "BMW 3-Series". Can't go wrong: it's simply a matter of determining which model.

The 3-Series is beautifully engineered and finished; some models are quick, some are economical and most are both; it handles like a dream; it looks just fine; and it holds onto its value.

Yet here's a thing. Here's the best-looking, fastest, most fun 3-Series of the lot. Sure to be the most widely admired and desired. But is it sexy? Absolutely not. There's something slightly haughty and offhand and reserved about this thing. Too perfect, too literal, too passionless. And sorry generalise, but I tend to ascribe the same qualities to its owners.

Does my view of those drivers inform my view of the car? Or is it the other way around? Probably a bit of both to be honest, but the result is BMW has bust a gut to build a brilliant 300bhp-plus two-door sporting coupe and I can't quite fall in love with it.

Paul Horrell

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