In the world of automotive design, BMW’s 3-series has become the standard-bearer for small performance sedans. Its combination of nimble chassis, flexible powertrain, and eye-pleasing styling has made it a giant in its segment, and the mark by which all other contenders are judged. Because of this, BMW has always taken a measured risk whenever the 3-series design has been updated. The 3 received an overhaul for the 2012 model year, and the resultant changes have been impressive. The base engine is no longer the I6, but a more powerful turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder (the 335i retains the six-cylinder engine) The sixth generation 3-series carries the F30 designation, and is available in sedan, coupe, hardtop convertible and wagon variants.
The vehicle tested for this review was the 328i sedan with a base price of $34,900 and a total MSRP of $50,620. Major option groups include: Sport Line ($2,500) Premium Package ($3,600) Technology Package ($2,550) Premium Sound Package ($950). Standard equipment includes 17″ alloy wheels, adjustable drive settings, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, cruise control, automatic dual-zone climate control, a tilt-and- telescoping steering wheel, eight-way manual front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, the iDrive electronics interface and a premium sound system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The 328i is available with a host of stand-alone options that include larger wheels, an automatic parking system, headlight washers, parking sensors, keyless ignition/entry, an active steering system, heated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, BMW Assist emergency communications system (includes Bluetooth), a navigation system (includes BMW’s iDrive electronics interface), a head-up display, satellite radio and a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system.
All 3 Series comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. The sedan gets front knee airbags while BMW Assist emergency communications is optional. 17″ run-flat tires are standard, as are Dynamic Brake Control and Cornering Brake Control. The base motor in the 328i is rated at 240hp and 255lb-ft torque, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. (six-speed manual is standard) This is an increase in power from the previous year’s base engine, the 3.0 liter inline-six rated at 230hp and 200lb-ft. The 2.0 liter engine motivates the 328i from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds (BMW data) which is in keeping with the car’s sporty intent. EPA estimates are 23mpg city and 33 highway, with a combined rating of 26mpg. A new feature on the 328i is an automatic stop/start function that shuts down the engine while idling in traffic. (This can be disabled after engine start by a switch above the starter button) BMW’s Eco Pro mode enables lower fuel consumption through powertrain settings adjusted to maximize gas mileage. Throttle response is dampened, and the transmission upshifts sooner and downshifts later. Additionally, electrical power consumption by the climate-control system and heated seats and mirrors is reduced.
Up front, the sport seats are comfortable and supportive, with exceptional material and build quality as one expects from BMW. The latest iteration of BMW’s iDrive is intuitive, and paging through the multi-level screens is simplified by the rotary knob. The classic round analog gauges remain, flanked by fuel and temperature gauges. The tachometer has an additional indication of “ready” when the auto-stop feature has shut down the engine. Restart occurs when the brake pedal is lifted, although there is a bit of a shudder when this happens. A fun feature for the enthusiast included in the I-drive menu is the “sport gauge” function, which displays instant engine horsepower and torque in two separate electronic gauges. The optional Harman Kardon audio system produced impressive clarity, and distortion-free sound, even at higher volume levels. The bass response was excellent without being boomy, and did not rattle panels.
On the road, the 2.0 liter engine pulled with authority and never felt as if it was running out of steam. The loss of two cylinders over the previous six cylinder base engine is not apparent; in fact, the boost in engine torque is a welcome improvement. The Twin Power designation is BMW-speak for a twin-scroll turbocharger, which essentially eliminates any turbo lag. Engine balance shafts and a dual-mass flywheel combine to dampen out the four cylinder’s power pulses and produce a smooth-running engine. At highway speeds, wind and road noise are hushed; BMW has done an excellent job in insulating the cabin. The adaptive suspension does a remarkable job in countering body roll in normal maneuvering, and the ride quality is very good – not what one might expect in a small sport sedan. The steering is responsive and balanced nicely, and can point the car without lots of small corrections allowing the driver to maintain lane position easily.
BMW’s goal with the new 3-series has been to preserve the car’s agility and performance attributes while raising its efficiency, mindful of the coming 35mpg CAFE standard. By any measure they have done so, and in a way not to alienate the 3-series faithful that view the car as the pinnacle of sport sedans. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as the 3 accounts for at least a third of all BMWs sold in the U.S. In sum, the new 328i offers more of the qualities and options buyers actually use on a daily basis, while remaining a class-leader in driving enjoyment.
For more model information, visit http://www.bmwusa.com
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