The BMW 3-series. She is the Gold Standard. The sport sedan against which all others are judged against. The rules of entry level sport sedans are written by BMW, and even its competitors concede to that fact. And when a new 3-series arrives, well, it is big news. And for 2012, a new 3-series four door sedan has arrived. The Garage had patiently waited for months to get access to this car, as we were so impressed with the last generation 335i convertible we reviewed last year.
No one denies the 3-series legacy, but as a former E30 325 owner, I was especially keen to see what BMW had cooked up. And when my red 328i was delivered to my door, it was like serendipity, as my 325i was also red, and was the car I owned when I started to date the woman who has now been my wife since 1998.
That said, upon receiving the 328i, it looked fairly large. Sleek and sophisticated without a doubt, but the compact style of prior 3-series seems to have been lost. Attention to detail is absolutely meticulous, and BMW ranks at the top of the stack for quality and execution. Although it appears larger than prior 3-series, the car is graceful, elegant, and sporty. I emphasize elegant, a quality prior 3-series did not really have. They do now. If I had any complaint, it is the dual kidney grille is no longer set by itself.
As you would expect, the cockpit is driver focused. The iDrive is workable, but still inferior to its premium Japanese competition for ease of use. Seats were perfectly comfortable, and easy to find a perfect driving position. Thankfully, the gauges are still clear as day, it just takes some getting used to the other tech the new 3 offers. The new 3 is not opulent, but rather adheres to the German standard of old-nothing fancy. That said, I loved the supportive seats and the simple, no nonsense interior. The quality of materials and workmanship are exceptional.
BMW has given up on its model number reflecting the engine displacement under the hood, as our 328i is powered by a 2.oL turbo four rated at 240hp. Our test car was blessed with a six-speed manual, though an 8-speed automatic is an option. Ever present overseas, the new 3-series harkens the return of a four cylinder BMW to our shores. The little turbo four makes an impressive bark at start-up. The car was plenty quick merging on the highway, in passing, and was quite at home on back roads. You can still order up a six cylinder, but in the real world, the four was more than adequate. And it’s tough to argue with EPA fuel economy ratings of 23/34 MPG city/highway.
In the effort to preserve fuel, the 328i features stop/start technology. Meaning, you bring the car to a halt, and instead of idling, the engine shuts down, and starts up again once you depress the clutch. The trouble is, this engine, as I said, has a bark on ignition, so this is a fairly abrupt process, with plenty of noise and vibration. This is something that my passengers complained about as a real annoyance. Worse, on a blazing hot week in July, in stop and go traffic, each time the engine shut down, we lost a lot of cold air from the AC. Again, something my passengers, or myself for that matter were not happy about. The only way around the problem was to set the climate control to MAX, which kept the engine running at all times. I see the need to conserve fuel, but this system is in serious need of fine tuning. I am honestly surprised BMW rolled this technology out in its current state.
BMW still considers themselves the makers of the Ultimate Driving Machine, and I am pleased to say the 328i was a joy to drive. Handling, steering and braking were flawless and befitting the roundel on the hood. The trouble is, the competition is closing the gap, namely the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with the Infiniti G37 nipping at the 3’s heels. I’d still say the BMW is the most rewarding to drive, but the playing field is getting more level all the time.
The 2012 BMW 328i four door starts at $34,900USD. Standard equipment includes Driving Dynamics Control, iDrive, HD Radio and 17″ alloys. Our test car added Melbourne Metallic red paint, Sport Line Package (includes sport steering wheel, 18″ alloys, M suspension, sport seats, brushed aluminum trim), Premium Package (includes keyless entry, moonroof, auto dimming mirrors, power seats), Premium Sound Package (XM Satellite radio, Harmon Kardon audio), Technology Package (Navigation and head up display), heated seats, park distance control, xenon headlights, and BMW Assist. Including destination, our 328i had a sticker price of $50,370. That’s quite a chunk of change, and as tested, more money than a base Audi S4. At this price I was incredulous our car did not have a back-up camera.
Don’t get me wrong, the new 3-series is a great sports sedan, and is likely still the best. But I never heard the ‘Hallejuah’ chorus. I thought I’d be hearing Carly Simon reinforce it with ‘Nobody Does it Better’ from James Bond fame. Because in my lifetime I’ve had many similar moments driving many BMW’s…but not this one. I can’t point to a specific fault. Maybe it’s because the competition is now catching up. BMW, the 3-series is still the best around, but your enemies are getting ever closer.