Four wheel-drive sedans are divisive devices. Their buyers tend to split into two camps: snow scared drivers (who would no more cane their car in the dry than leave home without their wallet) and pistonheads (intent on boldly hooning where no front or rear wheel-driver would hoon before). Of course, pistonheads like the extra snow-and-go seating, but fear the four wheel-drive gubbins will add extra weight and sap steering feel. So, does the BMW 328xi coupe cater to both groups, dodging the dynamic bullet even as it pampers the paranoid?
As you’d expect, the 328xi two door looks no different from the regular 3er coupe. Despite all the kvetching about Chris Bangle's flame broiled designs, the 3 coupe marks a welcome return to blandsome Bimmers. This isn’t just a car you could take home to mother; it’s your mother’s fortieth anniversary present.
That said, the 328xi's front is busier than Dick Cheney's cardiologist, with grilles below air dams beneath the bumpers. While it’s not a completely incoherent design, I wonder how all that low-hanging plastic will fare in snow-covered Neiman Marcus parking lots. And Ladies Who Lunch better be careful opening that door; the swage line running the coupe’s length is sharp enough to draw blood.
The 328xi’s profile is gorgeous, but if you've seen the 6-Series, you've been there, propeller-badged that. At the back, the 3's ghetto fabulous booty is suitably capacious for lifestyle load luggers. It easily swallows a set of weekend bags for empty nesters visiting their progeny at parents' weekend. Options miser BMW even throws in the hinges for folding rear seats gratis with the coupe, so all your oddly shaped possessions can protrude into the cabin. Safe! Or not.
The 328xi coupe’s trunk could (and should) fit the body of the engineer who designed its seats. In the Ultimate Driving Machine, you’d expect to sit on something a bit more sporting than leatherette-draped pizza boxes. Even worse, the standard-issue seating material combines the "freeze or burn" delights of leather with cloth's stain-holding powers. Unless you spring for the four-digit sport package's sexy, supportive chairs, slathered in Dakota leather, the 328xi’s thrones are a medium-sized flaw that literally gets on your ass.
Otherwise, the 328xi coupe’s interior is a motorized museum of modern art. The wood is as finely crafted as a Sam Maloof rocking chair. The fit and finish is befitting of a Dale Chihuly chandelier. And the steering wheel designers somehow found middle ground between "chocolate donut" and "hula hoop" (I did say modern art). Best of all, the electronic Rubik’s cube known as iDrive– the wheel controlled multi-media interface carefully designed to drive technophobes mad– is optional. Unfold the map, honey…
Hey! Let's play the BMW reviewer adjective challenge! Silky smooth, quiet and quick, balanced and slick, responsive, tactile, perfectly judged, telepathic and entertaining. Feel free to place the words “engine, transmission, brakes, steering and suspension” after any of these modifiers. Those of you who’ve played before know it’s the way Bimmer’s boffins weave these elements into a coherent narrative that makes the BMW a perennial best seller.
The 328xi’s engine is the title character. Although the powerplant serves up a 'mere' 230hp (versus the 335i’s 300hp), winding out the straight six is no chore (as in an infinite pleasure). And you’re never far from the mill's big, fat power band– with one exception. When accelerating from 50-70 mph, downshifting isn't just a sport, it's a way of life. Luckily, the 328xi's manual stick and Steptronic auto (with semi-manual function) both offer six-gears of slick shifting joy.
I didn’t get a chance to test the 328xi coupe in inclement weather. In theory, BMW´s brainy xDrive system transfers up to 100% of the brawn to the wheels that need it. While this extra level of confidence qualifies the car for the overly sensible, no one escapes the 328xi’s hoon-inducing siren song. Normally, when I’m driving a ride that’s not mine, I’m as gentle as Johnson & Johnson´s baby shampoo. But saying no to this car is like turning down an invite to the champagne room. From Lindsay Lohan.
Lots of cars go where you point them, but the 3er does it on point. With finesse. And a Ginsu knife. Thanks to the linearity and predictability of its athletic responses, the 328xi dispatches twisty roads and late turns with extreme prejudice. I'm not sure the 328xi adds any measure of confidence in the wet (slowing down tends to work for me), but it doesn't weigh the coupe down or numb the tiller in the dry. So, well, why not?
For less money, you could buy the more useful 328xi sedan or the cheaper rear wheel-drive coupe with a set of good snow tires. Even more annoying, for $3500 more than the 328xi Coupe, you can own the superb 335i sedan. But hey, if you value style and security over massive thrust, the 328xi is the ultimate no excuses compromise.