BMW 328i is a technological tour de force
By ANDY MIKONIS For Sun-Times Media June 8, 2012 3:38PM
2012 BMW 328i SEDAN
ENGINE: 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: eight-speed automatic
DRIVETRAIN: rear-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 24 city/36 highway
BASE PRICE: $34,900 plus $895 destination
AS TESTED: $49,870 including destination
Updated: June 11, 2012 10:45AM
It’s no secret the BMW 3 Series has made many favorites lists over the years, so when it’s time for an all-new redesign, as in 2012, such a successful car is a tough act to follow. Though I haven’t cared for some of BMW’s styling directions in the last few years, I found the new 328i to be quite a handsome sedan.
This 3 Series’ silhouette is recognizably BMW, accented with artfully crafted character lines down the sides, and an aggressive, widened rendering of the headlights and trademark kidney grille. Classic turbine-style 18-inch wheels push out to the corners, creating an authoritative stance. The 3 Series has actually grown slightly, though weight is reduced over the previous generation. A nice rich color, Imperial Blue Metallic, helped offset with a light-colored Oyster interior.
BMW offers three themes to select from when equipping the 3 Series: Luxury Line, Sport Line or Modern Line. This heavily optioned tester featured the latter. On the exterior, this manifested itself subtly in satin silver accents, but it had the one of the most dramatic interior treatments I can recall. BMW uses words such as “avant-garde” and “contemporary character” to describe the interior appointments and trim materials. Overall it comes across as airy-looking with a low-contrast color palette.
Most unusual was the wood trim, which has a matte, unfinished feel with a striated texture that BMW calls a “whole new feast for the fingertips.” Unfortunately, polling the small group of friends and relatives I ferried around that week, all were aghast. I rather liked it, just because it was so different. I can definitely see someone like an architect or designer digging this interior.
The only thing I didn’t care for was the light color on the top of the instrument panel as it reflected on the inside of the windshield in certain conditions. Similarly, the gauges were a white on tan that made the values hard to discern. That wasn’t an issue at night since the numbers were bathed in a soothing orange in classic BMW fashion; they popped out from the now-dark background. A black interior is available, which would probably remedy both of these situations.
In terms of the basics of the interior, power front seats with power lumbar were wide and comfortable. I especially appreciated the tilting headrests. Even though this is classed as a compact car, it was no problem for me to find a suitable driving position. Rear passengers benefit from the size increase of the car, which is good since it’s still cozy in back.
In a way, the 3 Series is returning to its roots by offering a four-cylinder engine. But those early 3s were slowish cars known for their handling. This pint-sized powerhouse, new to BMW for 2012, is a technological tour de force, delivering brisk acceleration with high levels of efficiency and refinement.
Handling is still the high point of the 3 Series. Exceptional steering response and a great suspension make the 328i feel surprisingly light on its feet. If you’ve ever read the word “feedback” in a car review and wondered what it meant, whip the 328i through a fast corner and you will understand.
At first I was a little disappointed that this 328i was delivered with an automatic transmission, since the 3 Series is known to be a driver’s car. However, in retrospect, it was more important to sample the new segment-first eight-speed automatic. It offered positive shifts, and the shift patterns noticeably changed when sport mode was engaged. Up and down shifts can be manually selected as well.
Interestingly, it also features an automatic start/stop system, which shuts the engine off when you come to a complete stop in the interest of saving fuel and reducing emissions. When you remove your foot from the brake, it automatically restarts. I like the idea but in operation it is surprisingly choppy.
I noticed that air conditioning output was significantly reduced in stop mode, and the climate control was already struggling in sunny conditions. My wife and I both felt the cabin did not cool down sufficiently in stop-and-go driving on warm days. However, there is a handy button to disable the system. I left it on, logging just shy of the estimated city rating in mostly city driving, one jaunt to the suburbs and some spirited cornering when conditions permitted. All in all, for the type of driving I do in a typical week, I was impressed with the fuel mileage, especially considering the luxury level and driving performance the new 328i delivered.
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