It's been a very long time coming, considering we had our 2012 BMW 335i Sedan almost before they arrived in dealer showrooms. However, this F30 is like no other before it; we've never seen such a famine of parts for a new 3 Series like this before.
Ordinarily, as soon as a new model hits the streets, the aftermarket is ready with new parts to bolt on. However, we've waited almost six months for the first coilover suspension kits to arrive, and even these are prototypes for the US market.
What's more, there's still no exhaust system available for the car, nor any body pieces, etc. In fact, the only program available is the BMW M Performance range from BMW itself. We hope to install some of their parts in future issues, but for now it's time to do the most important mods first.
Any car, we don't care what it is, will benefit from lowering and bigger wheels/tires. The suspension usually takes the slop out of the factory setup, and the wheels give you a wider footprint. And both improve the looks.
The latest F30 335i with Sports Package, such as our car, isn't exactly a dog to drive. It's stable at high speed and is tight enough to find its way around Laguna Seca without any embarrassment. So while we have a good starting point, there's always room for improvement.
H&R coilovers with adjustable spring perches on the front struts and separate inserts for the rear springs
H&R coilovers with adjustable spring perches on the front struts and separate inserts for
A German car needs German suspension, and one of our firm favorites (pun intended) is H&R Suspension. From spacers and adapters to dampers, lowering springs and coilovers, this company has it all. And everything is built to the highest TuV-approved quality.
We return to them because the coilovers offer good height adjustment range but, more importantly, the ride is only slightly stiffer than stock but the body control is exemplary plus we've never had a damper fail.
Fitting aftermarket suspension is about peace of mind. You want to know the parts you're fitting will do the job every time, and despite plenty of abuse and lots of miles, the H&R parts we've fitted have always been superb.
After following a number of leads for many months, H&R came through first with a set of coilovers for our 335i so we ran down to LTMotorwerks (formerly LTBMW) in El Monte, CA to have it fitted. The guys swear they can fit springs in less than 20min, so how long could ours take?
As it turns out, we kept interrupting to take photos. And there were some questions over the front springs, since people are now discovering US cars are 15mm higher than Europe's. Such is the adventure of getting the first box off the boat, but replacement front springs alleviated our small issue and are now standard issue.
Fitting on the front is fairly straightforward - release the strut from the pinch bolt in the hub, undo the sway bar end-link and unbolt the top mount. Our car doesn't have the complication of EDC (Electronic Damper Control), simplifying it further.
After clamping the springs to transfer the top mount onto the new parts, we discovered that you don't need the stock bump stop or dust boot during re-assembly.
On the rear, the damper unbolts from the top and bottom mounts, allowing the wishbone to droop, giving access to the spring. The H&R spring perch slots into the top of the new coil, allowing height adjustment once installed.
The LTMW crew had everything bolted into the car in about an hour, even with our distractions. However, we then antagonized them with numerous height adjustments, requiring wheels to be removed and H&R-supplied C-wrenches employed.
Initially, we had the car at a conservative ride height, but that wasn't working, so they called our bluff and dropped it all the way down, as it appears in the workshop photos. While this tucked the tires nicely, and didn't appear to rub on the rear, we were concerned about the front tires. Having runs cars this low before, it's possible to catch the front fender if you hit a bump mid-turn with lots of steering lock. Therefore, we raised it, drove it, raised it, etc. We probably repeated the process four or five times while the patient techs jacked up the car, unbolted the wheels and wound the perches. These guys understand the importance of appearance and performance, finding a good compromise we could all live with.
So far, the ride is firm, primarily thanks to the very low profile tires, as we'll see next. However, there's compliance in the suspension and it doesn't crash into potholes, or bounce over freeway joints. With more sensible 18 or 19" wheels, you'd have a great deal of comfort but the body control is superb. It's firm without being stiff, tight without causing discomfort. And although we have the car far lower than commonsense might dictate, there doesn't seem to be a penalty.
Further aiding the handling was our set of HRE wheels. These are the C100 design from the new C1 Series of modular three-piece wheels that are incredibly lightweight yet strong, making them suitable for the street or track. In fact, the C1 and R Series wheels were developed directly from HRE's recent involvement in ALMS, Grand-Am, NASA and SCCA competition, as well as Pike's Peak. As a result, the C100 is manufactured from aerospace-grade 6061-T6 forged aluminum centers with spun rims. They're then assembled with titanium bolts to save as much unsprung mass as possible.
This construction means the wheels have low rotational inertia to help braking, acceleration and steering - despite their size, braking and cornering seem quicker than stock, allowing you to feel their lower mass as the car responds to your inputs.
Not only is the C100 an attractive design, one of four in the new C1 Series, but it's compatible with the BMW TPMS and lug hardware. So all you have to do is remove the TPMS sensors from your factory wheels, then mount the HRE's using the factory bolts.
The C100 is available in 18, 19 and 20" diameter. We originally opted for 19s since we hope to get the 335i on the track, but LTMW convinced us otherwise. I believe the expression that persuaded us was "pussies". So we followed the example of their shop cars (see the feature in EC 10/12 or at europeancarweb.com) and filled the fenders.
The respective sizes are 20x9" ET36 front, with 20x10.5" ET54 rear. Fitted with the
square-shouldered Nitto Invo tires and sat low, we had some rubbing on the rear inner fender wells, so LTMW used 5mm spacers to overcome this. To date, we've had no rubbing issues, even with a packed trunk, although we've not yet carried rear passengers.
While the C100 design is classic Euro, the finish really sets them off against our Mineral Grey paintwork. The wheel centers
have a gorgeous brushed and tinted finish that gives them texture and contrast against the clearcoated, polished rims. With their ambitious size and aggressive offset, we couldn't be happier with how the 335i looks.
Described as a luxury sport ultra high performance radial, the Nitto Invo has a good reputation among performance enthusiasts for its high levels of grip and frankly an aggressive tread pattern - some people buy tires based on appearance, although we've never seen this as a prime concern when it comes to roadholding.
The company used computer simulation and real-world testing to develop a tire that offers a mix of good ride comfort with performance handling. It was optimized for road wet and dry conditions, with attention paid to road noise. The Invo has a UTQG of 260, so is relatively hardwearing, and is rated AA/A.
Unfortunately, we messed things up by selecting 245/30 for the front and 295/25 R20 on the rear. Such skinny sidewalls ask a great deal of the tires in terms of ride comfort but it seems Nitto did its homework because the ride isn't terrible. The H&R coilovers undoubtedly play a part, but the combination works well. The car really isn't crashing around and while the ride is undeniably on the firm side, it's not uncomfortable.
One aspect we have noticed is an increase in road noise over the stock, low-resistance 17" tires. The Invo produces a slight whirring noise at speed, which we're hoping will diminish as the tread depth is reduced. Again, the low profile will be contributing to this because the sidewalls have to be stiffer, but it's something we can live with when the pay off is a large footprint with lots of grippy rubber on the road.
Front strut assembled with OE top mount. Spring perch is wound all the way down here
Strut slides into hub and bolts into upper turret after aligning the prongs
Front height adjustment is achieved with C-wrenches, turning two rings on threaded shock body. After setting it very low, we ended up somewhere in the middle
Rear damper bolts to top and bottom mounts
Adjustable perch sit on top of rear spring and fits in factory location
Once in place, height adjustment is again achieved by turning the threaded rings
20" HRE C100 three-piece wheel and Nitto Invo high- performance tire. Wheels have brushed, tinted, forged centers and spun, polished rims
Patience is required when adjusting ride height. It has to be same each side and done several times until right
Next Month We'll test our new H&R coilovers against a similar system from KW. By happy circumstance, Long Tran from LTMW has a similar 335i on KW suspension with 20" HRE wheels, so we're heading to the canyons to compare and contrast ride and handling.