Redesigned BMW 3 Series lives up to expectations
By ANDY MIKONIS For Sun-Times Media September 25, 2012 12:23PM
2012 BMW 328I SEDAN
ENGINE: 240-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: eight-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 24 city/36 highway
BASE PRICE: $34,900, plus $895 destination
AS TESTED: $49,870, including destination
2012 BMW 335I SEDAN
ENGINE: 300-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: eight-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 23 city/33 highway
BASE PRICE: $42,400, plus $895 destination
AS TESTED: $55,870, including destination
Updated: September 25, 2012 12:27PM
The redesigned sixth-generation BMW 3 Series sedan debuted earlier this year, again with a choice of 328i and 335i models. Comparing two vehicles with a significant difference in base price may not seem logical, but the fact remains not only are both based on the same car, but with the wide array of available options from BMW, it is likely you will see examples of each at a similar sticker price.
One case in point: My heavily optioned 328i tester rang up at $6,575 above the 335i’s base price. The main difference between the two models is the engine and the more powerful 335i has larger brakes.
There are a number of standard features on the 335i that are options on the 328i. Looking at the two testers specifically, the 328i was Modern Line, an aesthetically experimental design treatment, while the 335i was a Sport Line, what I would consider a more traditional BMW arrangement.
The 328i tester had xenon headlights, power front seats, auto dimming rear-view mirror and a moon roof added either in packages or as stand-alone options, all of which were included on the 335i. While a six-speed manual is still available, both featured the new eight-speed automatic transmission, a no-cost selection, though the 335i had the sport setup with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for an extra $500.
Though the 3 Series originally hit the ground with a four-cylinder engine, a 328i has had a six for some time. This 328i’s four-cylinder is a new engine for BMW in 2012. The 335i has an inline six-cylinder carried over from 2011. Both engines maximize performance and fuel economy through the use of direct fuel injection, variable valve and cam timing, and turbocharging.
Both engines deliver peak torque like votes in a Chicago election: early and often. That is to say full power is available practically right off idle and is constant up to higher speed ranges. It’s not like the old days of turbo lag, waiting for the power to build up. Specifically, the 328i delivers 255 pound-feet all the way from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm; the 335i has 300 pound-feet from 1,200 to 5,000 rpm.
It looks great on paper, but I also had the opportunity to run these cars on Wisconsin’s Road America racetrack for back-to-back laps. A four-cylinder street car on Road America was once a laughable proposition, and a six was even a stretch. However, the 328i was impressive and the 335i magnificent.
What typifies the 335i buyer compared to the 328i buyer? I posed the question to Alanna Bahri, the 3 Series product manager. Since this vehicle launched such a short time ago, she said we had to base the answer on sales of the previous-generation 3 Series. “Historically, the 335i skews more male, household income is higher and there are more DINKs [dual income, no kids],” she said. “Typically we’ll see the same base, but it will be interesting to see the differences.”
Unless ultimate fuel economy is your goal and a lot of your driving is on highways outside the metropolitan area, my recommendation is a 335i with an eight-speed automatic. Notice it is rated only 1 mpg lower than the 328i automatic in the city (and matches the 328i manual). Also, the automatic stop/start system felt more robust and smoother operating with the larger engine; I might be inclined to shut it off on the 328i, further reducing fuel mileage.
While the power level of the 328i engine is hardly a compromise, I did appreciate the higher torque and buttery smoothness of the 335i’s six-cylinder. While I’d like to think I would purchase a manual transmission on a 3 Series, in the Chicago area if any of your routine involves rush-hour driving that makes for a lot of extra work, not to mention a 3 mpg penalty in the case of the 335i. Funny, didn’t we used to buy manuals for better mileage?
I thought the Sport Line better exemplified a true BMW feel, but pay attention when selecting wheels and tires. Both testers had larger wheel upgrades. The ride quality of the 3 Series is excellent, though it does tend toward the firm side of the scale. The 328i tester with 18-inch, 45 aspect ratio Goodyear tires took average bumps quite well.
The 335i had 19-inch wheels, wider in the rear, with shorter ContiSport tires, as well as an optional adaptive M suspension; I felt it crashed over rather modest imperfections. I would live with it while exercising some extra caution over the rough stuff.
Were price the prime concern, I would still opt for the increased performance of a base 335i over a 328i with a lot of technology features.
And how is the idea of a four-cylinder being received?
“It’s still early, but having a four-cylinder hasn’t hurt us at all,” Bahri said. “It’s a great engine, but sometimes perception can outweigh reality.”
You Might Like
- Beetle Convertible debuts with sportier style
- Lexus ES350 maintains luxury feel
- Jeep Wrangler Sport a dual-purpose SUV
- Click & Clack: How to replace a car’s interior
- Chrysler Group makes substantial investment in Ohio machining plant
- Chevrolet Equinox a distinctive and comfortable crossover
- New Ford Explorer Sport a high-performance SUV