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    Real World Performer. We try out. Birds’ divine #BMW-335d-xDrive-F30 with an engine upgrade, thoroughly revised suspension and a big brake kit. The M Cars might grab all the headlines but Birds’ tweaked 335d offers a stunning blend of performance and control to give it an unbeatable edge when the going gets tough. Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Dave Smith. #2016 / #BMW-335d-xDrive-Birds-F30 / #BMW-335d-Birds / #BMW-335d-F30 / #BMW-335d / #BMW-F30 / #BMW / #BMW-F30-Birds

    If you’re experiencing a mild case of déjà vu you needn’t worry as this Alpine white F30 saloon has indeed appeared with these pages relatively recently and while it was in its early stages of development last time we drove it this is now the finished article. Those with good memories will remember that it’s a 335d xDrive and that it’s been fettled by Birds. What you won’t know, though, is that this is, without a doubt, the best diesel BMW I’ve ever driven. I was going to leave the word diesel out of that last sentence which should give you an idea of quite how good it is…

    As luck would have it, on the day we’ve reserved for our photoshoot the weather forecast is for a typically British summer’s day – rain in Biblical quantities is expected – and I’m tempted to call it off until we have a better day in prospect. It does dawn on me, though, that as this is the 335d it has the benefit of four-wheel drive so it wouldn’t actually be a bad idea to sample it in the sort of conditions where a big power rear-wheel drive machine will inevitably suffer. Armed with enough wet weather gear to clothe a battalion, snapper Smithy and I elect to head north west from Birds’ Iver HQ as the rain is coming in from the south east and there’s a vague possibility we might not get completely soaked to the skin if we get a move on.


    Negotiating the back roads towards the M40 we’re both struck by the car’s ride – it’s definitely on the firm side of the spectrum. Having said that it doesn’t crash its way over potholes or feel particularly unpleasant, it’s just significantly stiffer than the VW Passat we’ve arrived in. Once onto the motorway, though, and moving at higher speeds the low speed firmness feels like its been dialled out and we get on with the business of munching miles quickly and serenely – one of the 335d’s fortes. Economy on the run up towards Birmingham hovers around the 45mpg mark, although on the slower trip back south that edges ever-closer to 50mpg, which is seriously impressive given the F30’s performance potential.

    Smithy’s eager to know what’s been done to the car so that he can compose a mental short list of what he needs to snapped before the rain inevitably arrives, so I run him through what we’re sitting in. First up is the performance boost, which is the only upgrade the car had when we drove it a few months back. In a nutshell this offers 380hp and 575lb ft of torque – hugely impressive gains of 67hp and 110lb ft. To this Birds, and its tuning partner Quantum Tuning, have added a larger intercooler to ensure that these gains can be replicated in all temperatures and conditions, and you can just spot this through the central front air intake in the lower front bumper, but it’s subtle stuff.

    Kevin Bird is a strong believer in properly fettling a car and in many cases he’d definitely recommend that other areas of the car be upgraded before you start looking for more power and he’s particularly keen on fettling suspension, expending a huge amount of energy in finding the optimum setup. In recent years he’s become increasingly disillusioned with off-the-shelf components, often finding that a one-size-fit-all solution just doesn’t reap the sort of dividends he’s looking for. In the end he realised that there was nothing available in the aftermarket that would fully satisfy his needs so he now develops a bespoke suspension setup for each new model range if there’s a demand from customers. Working in conjunction with spring and damper manufacturers and suspension guru Rhoddy Harvey-Bailey, Kevin’s setups have impressed us every time we’ve driven a car that’s been upgraded, so we’re keen to discover if this is the case with the 335d.

    Interestingly, even though we drove #Birds 435i quite some time ago Kevin was somewhat troubled to find that what necessarily worked on the 4 Series didn’t translate to the 335d and it quickly became apparent that the four-wheel drive machine’s setup was actually quite different to that of the rear-drive Coupé. We won’t delve too far into it here (partially as Kevin doesn’t want to give away all his secrets!) but there’s lots of talk about how what used to be called bump stops are now acting as secondary dampers and that the anti-roll bar setup that works perfectly on the 435i seemed to unsettle the 335d. The bottom line is that this car now wears bespoke springs and dampers to Kevin and Rhoddy’s specification but its anti-roll bar setup is currently as per the standard machine. Lastly on the suspension front are a set of non-run-flat tyres – this upgrade would be the first thing Kevin would recommend to anyone not happy with their car’s setup.

    The exhaust on the car is a twin outlet item that’s been modified from a 435i and it does give a better look than the standard 335d’s pair of pipes that emerge from the rear valance next to each other on the left-hand side of the car. Quite why BMW has changed the design from the E9x generation of 335d is unknown – there certainly doesn’t seem to be any technical reason as far as we can tell. Kevin was originally going to design a new exhaust, but in the final analysis he reckons that as every customer is looking for something slightly different the development cost simply wasn’t justified and he thinks that BMW’s own M Performance items are probably the best way to go as he couldn’t design a better setup for the same sort of outlay.

    The last item on the upgrade list is a set of serious stoppers. This is something that will no doubt be needed if you’re planning to use the car’s improved performance. For this application Kevin has optioned a set of Alcon discs and callipers, with the discs measuring a meaty 365x32mm, which certainly look the part nestling behind the 19-inch M Sport alloys. For cars equipped with 18-inch wheels there’s a slightly smaller 343x32mm kit, while for those customers who really want the ultimate in stopping power there’s also an optional 343x28mm setup for the rear.

    While we’ve delved briefly into the performance on the run up towards the Midlands neither Smithy or I are desperately keen on getting a thorough soaking so we peel off the motorway and head to our intended photo location. I get busy with the cleaning gear while the cameras are set up and by the time we’ve shot the statics and the detail images there’s a very faint dusting of drizzle starting, which is fine by me as I’ll be able to sit in a nice warm interior for the rest of the shoot. Smithy looks less pleased as he’ll be standing in a field taking action shots as I fly past. And it’s perhaps for this reason that he deems a short stretch of road with corn fields in the foreground and background as being suitable for some moving sideon shots. He then proceeds to tell me I need to be going as fast as possible so it looks dramatic which will be tricky given it’s a short piece of road…

    Fortunately we’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no one else on the road to witness the bonkers acceleration this 335d is capable of. It’s an absurdly simple process: turn the car round, plant size 10 on throttle, leave it welded to the bulkhead while the tyres find traction on the now slick Tarmac and hold onto the steering wheel for dear life for the fear that were it not for the driver’s seat backrest you’d now be sitting in the rear seat. Kevin’s timed this thing at 4.1 seconds from rest to 60mph, and if anything that seems conservative from where I’m sitting. The absurdly rapid acceleration does bring into focus the hope that those Alcon stoppers are up to the job as at the end of the short straight is a tight 90-degree left hander but I shouldn’t have worried as time after time they wash off the excess speed without breaking into a sweat and this is backed up by a very reassuring pedal feel, too.


    Once Smithy’s happy he’s got some suitable panning shots in the bag we move onto the cornering and while the rain has eased a little and the roads are just a little damp, the way the 335d xDrive goes about its business is deeply impressive and very entertaining, too. You need to do a little bit of recalibration work within your brain to get the best out of the car because if you approach the corner in a typical rear-wheel drive manner you’re simply not allowing the chassis and drivetrain to shine. Flooring the throttle in a rear-wheel drive machine too early in the cornering phase will lead to either a dollop of understeer or a tendency for the car to want to swap ends, especially in the wet, but with the four-wheel drive chassis in the 335d you need to feed the power in early and the front axle digs in and pulls you round the corner. Once you’ve got the hang of the correct technique the 335d makes ridiculously short work of corners and the way it’s happy to change its course through a series of right-left-right direction changes is even more impressive than the way it handles individual corners. Perhaps the icing on the cake is that it’s not an entirely sterile experience as you still get a decent amount of feedback through the seat of your pants about what the chassis is doing and there’s enough of a rear-drive bias to get a modicum of movement from the tail as you exit corners. The fact it can do all this in increasingly inclement conditions must mean that this has to be one of the fastest ways of crossing the countryside once the weather’s closed in. And the very damp Smithy, who I pick up after the last run for the camera, shows that the weather has now really caught up with us.

    With no more prospects for photography other than an in-car driving shot we head back to Iver and consider Birds conversion for the 335d. The complete kit as we’ve tested here will cost a smidgen over £8500 (including parts, labour and VAT), and while that’s a sizeable chunk of cash it does elevate the 335d xDrive from being a very good car into a truly exceptional one. If you’re in the market for an upgraded 3 Series we’d urge you to try this car as we reckon that once you’ve sampled its delights you’ll be as smitten as we were.

    CONTACT: Birds Tel: 01753 657444 Web: www.birdsauto.com / #Birdsauto

    The 335d makes ridiculously short work of corners.

    TECH DATA #Birds-B3-3.5x / #Birds-B3-F30
    ENGINE: Straight-six, turbodiesel / #N57
    MAX POWER: 380hp
    MAX TORQUE: 575lb ft
    COMPLETE CONVERSION: £8515
    INDIVIDUAL COMPONENTS
    ENGINE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE 380HP: £2496
    B3X SPORT SUSPENSION: £1682
    ALCON AE BRAKE KIT FRONT, 365X32: £3380
    19-INCH TYRE SET, CONTI SPORT CONTACT 5: £1460
    OPTIONAL EXTRAS
    ALCON AE BRAKE KIT REAR, 343X28: £2810
    ALCON AE BRAKE KIT FRONT, 343X32 (FOR CARS WITH 18” WHEELS: £3110)
    B3X ANTI-ROLL BAR KIT: £1037
    EXCHANGE QUAIFE BMW FINAL DRIVE: £2016 (All prices include parts labour and VAT)

    Reworked 335d xDrive offers stunning ability in the corners with astonishing grip and plenty of poise; ride is firm, but not unduly so; twin exhausts look much better than the production version.

    The way the 335d xDrive goes about its business is deeply impressive and very entertaining too.

    Right: Q Sport intercooler can be seen nestling behind front air intake Below: engine looks entirely standard; Alcon brakes sit behind standard 19-inch M Sport alloys equipped with non-run-flat tyres.
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    Dynamic Additions #BMW-F32

    We take a drive in the #BMW-F32-Birds modified #BMW-435i-F32 to see how small changes can make a big difference. While the #BMW-435i-F32-Birds makes a good looking junior GT, Birds thought that it needed some additional driver appeal. We sample its demonstrator to find out if it’s been successful Words: Bob Harper Photography: Max Earey


    Ensuring there’s enough differentiation between models must be one of the most delicate of tightropes that a car manufacturer has to walk especially as each new model is expected to be more powerful, faster, more economical and demonstrably better than the machine it replaces. Logic must dictate that there will come a point when cars simply can’t get any quicker but we’ll have to wait for a few more years before that eventuality.

    No, for the time being what we need to look at is the way that #BMW has to ensure that its new XYZ is better than the old generation XYZ but isn’t so much better that it treads on the toes of the inevitable M XYZ. A case in point is the F32 435i. New name aside this is obviously effectively a 335i Coupé and its onpaper stats are pretty impressive: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six developing 306hp and 295lb ft of torque. Good enough for a 5.4-second 0-62mph time with the six-speed manual (5.1secs if you opt for the eight-speed auto), and there’s no doubt that the vast majority of machines will be thus equipped.

    These stats really aren’t very far off previous generation M3 figures and there’s no doubt that with its wide spread of torque the 435i will be more or less as fast as an E92 M3 in most driving situations. Or until the road becomes a little bit more demanding, requiring a little bit more finesse than the 435i seems to possess. While the Four is great piece of kit it’s perhaps gone a little too far in the direction of being a junior GT rather than a sports coupé – a little bit too soft in its reactions for the really keen driver. For the vast majority of us we’d be more than happy with a 435i straight-out-of-the-box but for those looking for a little bit more involvement, a little bit more feedback and drama, then there’s certainly room for some improvement. And who better to supply that than Birds? Kevin Bird has been fettling BMWs for probably more years than he cares to remember and in recent times we’ve been hugely impressed with the changes he’s wrought to a diverse range of machines – his 130i was a revelation on just how devastatingly good the hot hatch could be and the transformation he managed on the E89 Z4 had to be experienced to be believed.

    Naturally enough he had plenty to say about the 435i he purchased as his company’s new demonstrator: “The 435i seems to have had a character bypass. Granted, it’s quite a pretty car with plenty of new visual signatures but the driving dynamics, which we are primarily interested in, are buried under a layer of electronic management systems. Keep an eye on the speedo, and it’s obviously a fast car, but the seat of your pants and the other driver interfaces – steering, pedals and the like – seem to be disguised under a layer of, err, can’t really say for sure.

    “It feels like an excessively mature version of the previous 335i, but maturity seems to mean bigger, fatter, heavier, and boring in this case. Testing of the standard car went like this. Drive, foot to the floor, and it seemed there were immense levels of mechanical grip. Unable to get anywhere near the limits on the road. Okay. Let’s switch some of the gadgets off. Traction control first. Nope, no wheelspin or loss of grip found. Try harder, even in the wet, and no real signs of big traction loss. Maybe, by accident, BMW has bunged the M-Performance diff in as a free-ofcharge favour? After a few miles, the truth becomes clear. There is some traction management in here. The first three gears don’t appear to be authorised to accept the full power of the engine. Big brother is at work, managing the whole show.

    “Now you can tell the throttle is blunted, but there is a Sport button, which sharpens the throttle response, so we’d better try that. Much better, now you feel like control over the engine is yours. Bad news, you can’t have throttle response and traction control off. It’s a struggle to find how to enjoy this car. Best solution is to switch the DSC fully off and give it everything and see what happens? Whoa! It gets massively untidy when you do find the limit. Don’t try that again. There seems to be no finesse, or the ability to hold the slide on power, or anything pleasurable like that.” We think it’s safe to say he wasn’t particularly impressed.


    So, what were Kevin’s solutions to what he sees as the car’s dynamic shortcomings? “The lack of a limited-slip differential is an obvious shortcoming but given the levels of hidden traction management, we want to understand the handling balance of the car before giving it more traction. Anti-roll bars first, then. Changing the roll stiffness bias toward the rear increases the overall roll stiffness, allowing the front end to grip more in turns and quelling understeer. The front end feels immediately more responsive and accurate but, as expected, there is a loss of traction at the rear but not enough to worry about at this stage. The car seems to have gained a chunk of character and poise, and can be more accurately steered,” Kevin told us.

    Birds has worked wonders with the suspension on other models we’ve sampled so it should come as no surprise that the setup on the 435i has come in for some attention. After Kevin’s own impressions and then some input from chassis guru Rhoddy Harvey- Bailey prototype springs were duly ordered. According to Kevin: “The spring rate changes make the car feel supple and balanced, and compliment the significant rear roll bar increase.”

    Naturally enough damper changes were also required, and as Kevin’s not a fan of the OEM adjustable setup he spec’d the fixed dampers on his demo knowing they were going to be changed anyway. Kevin takes up the story once more: “Tuning the dampers is a matter for experts only. Having been involved in BMW chassis tuning for 30 years, mostly relying on other people’s work, the process is still completely alien. Watching the experts assess a damper dyno curve, draw lines on it, and then hand it back to the renowned Bilstein engineers is impossible to follow. But the results aren’t. As soon as you start driving the car, the differences are immediately tangible, in a positive way, of course. Several road tests later, and after a few calls to major tyre manufacturers’ engineers, we know we have a result. What’s more, we have arrived at a setting that can be used with 20-inch wheels and tyres – something that eluded us with the E92 development.”

    With the suspension sorted Kevin was able to slot a Quaife limited-slip diff in to the car and start to enjoy its new-found abilities. “The car is starting to feel like a driving machine. The reactions of the chassis to inputs, both from the driver and the road, are measurable and repeatable. The car doesn’t misbehave on the limit and you can control the car on the throttle and the steering. Isn’t this the way it should be?” he argues.

    The extent of Birds’ work on the 435i doesn’t stop there but what’s been discussed so far gives us more than enough to get our teeth into to start with and as we depart Birds’ Iver HQ we have two days of varied driving to put the car through its paces. We could just take it for a good blast along one of our favourite stretches of back road but that would only really show up one side of its character – if it’s to be a thoroughly convincing conversion it must also cope with commuting and a bit of motorway jogging, too. It doesn’t take too long to realise that there’s real depth to the suspension upgrade – it feels pretty supple on the motorway, absorbing dips and crests and expansion joints without breaking into a sweat.

    Compared to our M235i longtermer we’d say it’s firmer than the Comfort setting yet much better damped than when in Sport. Around town it also works very well and after a while behind the wheel we really don’t notice the suspension – sure-fire proof that it’s comfortable enough for everyday use. Bigger potholes will send a shudder through the car but, overall, for a machine of this size to be able to run 20-inch wheels without ruining the ride is quite an achievement.

    The following day we have a rendezvous with snapper Earey in the wilds of Northamptonshire to put the 435i through its paces on some proper roads and the run up there once again demonstrates how Birds’ work hasn’t detracted from the car’s mile-munching abilities. As well as the suspension upgrades there’s also a new exhaust system and while Kevin reckons this is the quieter of the two prototype systems he has test fitted it can be a little loud here and there. It’s not a drone per se and when on a constant throttle at 70-80mph you don’t notice it but it does become significantly louder when you put your foot down at those speeds. On the back roads it sounds superb so it would probably come down to personal preference as to whether this upgrade would suit you.

    While we’re yet to give the car a through pasting it’s become obvious from the motorway and town stints that Birds has also given some thought to the gear change on the car. Kevin elucidates: “The clutch and gear change on the standard car are frankly appalling. The clutch pedal operation can be likened to stepping into a blancmange, with zero pedal reaction, no indication whatsoever as to whether the clutch is engaged and disengaged. It makes you drive like a learner, crunching gears both on up and downshifts. Ably assisted by a gear lever mechanism that is long in throw, and changes into even gears have your elbow in contact with the central armrest. Both of these items receive attention, and considerable improvement. Small issues like these are what really make a properly tuned car.”

    Upgrades here include a short-shift kit that virtually halves the throw on the gear lever and a clever modification to the clutch pedal that removes the over-servoed effect. In our M235i it can be difficult to be smooth when changing gear, especially from first to second as there’s not a lot of feel as to where the biting point is. However, changes in the Birds’ machine can be completed lurch-free, which is surely how it should be.

    It should come as no surprise that this 435i has also had a power upgrade too, and while Kevin wouldn’t recommend it on a 435i without the chassis upgrades, this fettled example can now make use of some more power. It’s not as easy as it used to be, though, and Kevin says that, so far, the latest BMW engine management cannot be modified and attempts to generate significant power increases often fail with engine management warning lights the norm. As far as the 435i is concerned, 362hp is the limit. What Kevin has also done, though, is a modification to the accelerator to allow decent throttle response – equivalent to the Sport mode when still in Comfort – and this will still allow the traction to be fully switched off at the same time.

    Hammering up the B660 for our rendezvous with our photographer gives us a real opportunity to feel the whole package gel together and by the time we meet up there’s a Cheshire cat-sized grin etched on our faces – this is a huge amount of fun to punt along. There’s power aplenty and while it doesn’t matter hugely which ratio you’re in – such is the spread of torque – you do find yourself swapping cogs just for the fun of it as the upgraded interfaces encourage you to do so.

    It’s the chassis that really impresses though and it exhibits just about every trait that we like to see in a car. There’s enough suppleness in the setup to allow for some body roll but it’s beautifully controlled, never lurching in its transitions and even when really committed mid-corner changes in surfaces or encountering a dip halfway round a bend don’t upset its balance. The more you hoon along the more confidence you have that the car will simply follow your instructions and respond to inputs in the way it should. It transmits those 362 horses to the Tarmac so well that you slingshot from one corner to the next safe in the knowledge that the upgraded stoppers will wash off speed with no drama or fuss. We’ve not mentioned these before but it’s an Alcon setup that offers awesome retardation and a better feel to the pedal that becomes the perfect pivot for some heel and toeing.

    You couldn’t really ask for more from a complete conversion but, as with all things in life, quality doesn’t come particularly cheap. Carry out all the upgrades that are fitted to this machine to a new 435i – power, anti-roll bars, springs, dampers, LSD, brakes, wheels, tyres, short-shift, clutch modification, brakes and exhaust – and you’re knocking on the door of the price of a new M3 and M4. Dynamically it doesn’t honestly feel like it’s that far away in terms of its chassis but it doesn’t feel as quick either. No, the joy of the Birds upgrades are that you can cherry-pick the ones that you want, the ones that will suit your driving style and the type of roads you drive on. What is in no doubt is that Birds has brought about a huge number of changes to this machine and all of them for the better. It really does bridge the gap between the #BMW-435i and the M4 and transforms it from a gentleman’s GT into a rip-roaring performance coupé that’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive. Mission accomplished we’d say.

    CONTACT: Birds Tel: 01753 657444 Web: www. #Birdsauto .com

    TECH DATA
    Birds component prices
    HARTGE ENGINE ECU 362HP: £2433.39
    B4 ANTI-ROLL BAR KIT: £841.75
    QUAIFE BMW LSD CONVERSION: £1562.00
    B4 SPORT SUSPENSION: £1528.37
    SHORT GEARSHIFT: £411.13
    CLUTCH PEDAL WEIGHT MODIFICATION: £81.60
    EXCHANGE QUAIFE BMW FINAL DRIVE: £1667.00
    SPORT SUSPENSION SPRINGS: £600.04
    ALCON AE BRAKE KIT FRONT, 365X32: £2797.40
    ALCON AE BRAKE KIT REAR, 343X28: £2325.83
    B4 REAR SILENCER, FOUR OUTLETS: £1593.91
    HARTGE 20-INCH WHEEL & TYRES SET: £3961.00
    Please note: All prices quoted within this panel refer to components fitted individually not as part of a B4 Dynamic Package. Prices include parts and labour but not VAT.


    Birds B4 Package prices
    B4-3.5 COMPLETE CONVERSION: £6,464.65
    Hartge engine ECU 362hp, B4 anti-roll bar kit, Quaife
    BMW LSD conversion, B4 Sport suspension, short
    gearshift, clutch pedal weight modification
    B4 DYNAMICS PACKAGE 1 £2,330.64
    B4 anti-roll bar kit, Exchange Quaife BMW Final Drive
    B4 DYNAMICS PACKAGE 2: £2,903.31
    B4 anti-roll bar kit, Sport suspension springs, Exchange
    Quaife BMW Final Drive
    B4 DYNAMICS PACKAGE 3: £3,859.01
    Exchange Quaife BMW Final Drive, B4 Sport suspension,
    B4 anti-roll bar kit
    BRAKES: £4,684.35
    Alcon AE brake kit front, 365x32, Alcon AE brake kit rear,
    343x28
    EXHAUST: £1,453.56
    B4 rear silencer, four outlets
    Please note: All prices quoted with this panel include labour and a discount on parts that only applies if a Birds Dynamic Package is ordered. VAT is not included in these prices either. See the separate panel for individual costs of specific components.
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