- 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
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
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.