2012 BMW 328i REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Luxury mid-size sedan
Price: $64,600, plus $2000 Luxury line package (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 6.3 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 7.2 l/100km
It’s simply fact that BMW builds some of the best sporting sedans in the world. Rear-wheel configuration, six-cylinder engine and the BMW roundel on the bonnet have been almost unassailable as the pinnacle for mid-size premium transport.
Now though, the 328i is missing two cylinders and in their place is a twin-scroll turbocharger.
In the 328i, the 2.0 litre turbo-charged ‘four’ is tied to an impressive eight-speed transmission. With a suite of Efficient Dynamics technologies managing its performance, it’s a thoroughly sophisticated and powerful package that symbolises the new guard of BMW drivetrain systems.
Quality: The interior quality and up-market feel of the latest model is a step-up over the previous generation 3 Series - itself not half bad.
The style is more timeless than ultra-modern but the combination of wood, metal and grained plastics across the dash impart a premium and quite exclusive air.
Just one section jarred with us: the panel beneath the climate controls didn’t quite fit correctly. Otherwise the tight fit, luxurious feel and interior space has you reminding yourself you’re in the 3 Series, and not the 5-Series.
Comfort: With the optional Luxury trim, seats are broad and comfortable - no torso-grabbing sports buckets here. With a wide range of movement in the electrically-adjustable front seats, all shapes and sizes can comfortably find a perch up front.
In the rear, outboard passengers benefit from genuine legroom. It isn’t limousine-like but does the job even with six-footers front and back.
In the middle the high transmission tunnel makes seating awkward, but the shaping of the bench doesn’t render the position useless.
Equipment: Standard fare includes dual-zone climate control, auto dimming, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, electrically-adjustable leather seats, automatic lights and wipers, front foglights, iDrive for control of interior systems, satellite navigation, nine-speaker audio, 17-inch alloy wheels and a limited slip differential.
Options fitted to our test car included extended Bluetooth and USB connectivity with voice control ($385), a glass sunroof ($2245), proximity key ($845) and the ‘Luxury Line’ equipment package ($1415) including 18-inch alloy wheels, exterior chrome detailing, satin chrome interior trims and ‘BMW Luxury’ stamped aluminium scuff-plates.
Storage: Thanks to the larger overall dimensions of the new 3 Series, the boot grows to 480 litres, further expanded by the 40:20:40 folding rear seat. Goose-neck boot hinges return in the new 3 Series; disappointing, but with little impact on cargo space.
Inside, the cabin gets a few small covered storage spaces and covered cupholders with a removable tray insert (as opposed to some kind of swing-away lid). The centre console offers phone space and not much more, but the glovebox is more generous.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With every new BMW model there’s always the possibility that this one won’t live up to the ‘ultimate driving machine’ mantra.
No such issue with the new 3 Series: it is in every part and every pore the connected sports sedan its predecessors have been.
The engine itself has large muscles to flex.
While an engine capacity of only two litres doesn’t inflame expectations, the twin-scroll turbo boosts power to a gritty 180kW between 5000 and 6500rpm. Torque measures 350Nm from 1250 rpm all the way to 4800rpm.
With such linear output figures, the engine is never far from performing at its best. Even with the eight-speed automatic keeping revs down, a slight push on the throttle brings a rich flow of torque to the fore.
The transmission is sharp - smooth to the point of being almost undetectable and gearshifts are lightening fast, certainly a rival for any dual clutch system. With eight speeds, it sits at least one, if not two ratios ahead of competitors.
Part of making the engine and transmission dance together the way they do is the selectable drive modes, with a choice of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes that can turn the 328i from a city trundler into a responsive highway slingshot.
Refinement: At idle the engine sounds almost diesel like, but once revs build the soundtrack settles to a more normal timbre. On song, if you give it a shoeful, it makes a sporting wail, but is otherwise a quiet and refined unit, staying smooth as revs peak.
BMW’s standard ‘Auto Start Stop’ system can jump back to life with a car-rocking shudder, but in the system’s defence, it is quick to start with the engine up and running before you hit the throttle.
Outside noise is well suppressed, but tyre noise builds to a level unbecoming of a prestige car (although not enough to call for raised voices).
Suspension: Despite growing in size, the 3 Series retains its agile on-road feel. The responsively tuned double-wishbone front suspension and five-link rear axle endow it with particularly secure but responsive roadholding.
With a neutral front/rear balance, it can carry quite high speeds through corners without feeling unsettled - even when meeting mid-corner corrugations.
The steering feel isn’t greatly diminished by the electric assistance, with plenty of communication and good weighting.
Braking: There’s ample braking performance on tap; the 328i can be hauled down from highway speeds with absolute confidence. The pedal feels a little softer than previous BMWs - a help in stop-start traffic.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars
Safety features: Safety equipment includes six airbags, stability and traction control, ABS brakes with emergency brake assist and cornering brake control. Headrests and three point seatbelts feature in all positions, but the front seatbelts lack height adjustment.
BMW also provides its Active Protection System which closes the sunroof and all windows, as well as tensioning the front seatbelts should it detect an imminent impact at speeds above 18km/h
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres, additionally paintwork is warranted for three years, and body panels for up to 12 years against corrosion.
Service costs: BMW does not set servicing intervals for the 3 Series; servicing costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Lexus IS 350 Prestige ($64,800) - Lexus’ value-for-money pricing means that for almost exactly the same entry price as the BMW, you can opt for the more powerful IS 350.
Drivetrain technology and handling lacks the sophistication of the BMW though and interior room feels tighter, particularly in the rear. (see IS reviews)
Audi A4 2.0T ($59,900) - While the 2.0T A4 goes toe-to-toe with the 328i for equipment in key areas, the engine is down on both power and torque.
The smooth multitronic gearbox (CVT) is also not a match for the eight-speed in the BMW. (see A4 reviews)
Mercedes-Benz C 250 Elegance ($67,900) - Refreshed late last year to tackle the 3 Series head on, Mercedes-Benz now delivers an interior of exceptional quality.
For comfortable cruising the C 250 is hard to beat, but the BMW has the edge in sporting feel. It’s line-ball - best you look at both. (see C-Class reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The best news with the new 3 Series 328i is that despite the downsizing of the engine to 2.0 litres, it remains a superb potent unit.
Driving dynamics too have remained as scalpel-sharp as they’ve always been. If there’s anywhere that the 3 Series really shines, it’s on a stretch of winding road - this sporting machine is a very rewarding car to drive.
For commuter duty however the 328i is refined and relaxed premium transport with a comfortable, high quality interior and sensible fuel-saving technologies.
There’s so much to like about the new 328i that it demands consideration if you’re in the market for a premium mid-sizer.
- BMW 318d - $56,400
- BMW 320i - $57,600
- BMW 320d - $60,900
- BMW 328i - $64,600
- BMW 335i - $91,900
Note: Manufacturer’s Recommended List Price is shown and includes GST and Luxury Car Tax (LCT) but excludes dealer charges, stamp duty, statutory charges and on-road charges.
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