The Truth About Cars » 328i The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 26 Jul 2014 14:51:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 328i Alright, Jalopnik, We’ll See Your 320i and Raise You Thu, 18 Apr 2013 04:45:58 +0000

Last week, Matt Hardigree suggested that new-car intenders consider the 320i ZSP + ZMT, which offers a staggering 180 horsepower and a stick shift for a middling $35,000 or thereabouts. I’m personally very excited by this because I learned how to drive in a BMW with about the same weight, power, and sticker price. On the other hand, it’s a considerable step backwards from the 330i Sport I had from 2001 to 2004, so maybe not.

Since we’re big Jalopnik fans here at TTAC, we’re going to put our money where their mouth is. Plus a little.

I’ve been riding BMX and mountain bikes with my pal “El Jefe” since 1998 or thereabouts. In those years, I’ve driven him all over the Midwest in conveyances ranging from an ’82 Quantum Coupe to a Range Rover 4.0S. It’s time for him to return the favor, so he’s placed an order for the car you see above — a 328i M Sport in Estoril Blue. We’ll be doing all the stuff you aren’t supposed to do in a press car, like bouncing it off the speed limiter and jumping it off curbs and who knows what else. And when all that’s over we’ll give you, the TTAC reader, a chance to buy it.

I wouldn’t do that, were I you.

The order is “locked” but not built yet, so if anybody has a convincing reason why it shouldn’t be specced like you see, speak now or forever hold your peace.

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Avoidable Contact: An immodest proposal to solve the German nomenclatural nincompoopery. Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:03:02 +0000

Why, why, why the hell is the new BMW 328d called the 328d? It’s a 3-Series, so that part’s legitimate, even if today’s 3er dwarfs the old Bavaria. It’s also a diesel, so the “d” seems appropriate, even if the absence of a “t” rankles a bit among those of us who remember the 524td. Not that “t” always meant “turbo” in BMW-land; sometimes it meant “touring” like fast, sometimes it meant “touring” like station wagon.

The problem is this: the “28″ in 328d suggests a 2.8-liter engine. Just like the 528e had. Well, actually, that was a 2.7-liter engine. The same engine appeared in the 325e, where it was also 2.7 liters. Still, those are relatively white decklid lies compared to the effrontery of putting a two-liter engine in a car and badging it as a 2.8, right? There has to be a rhyme and reason here somewhere, surely. And it there isn’t, then surely there’s a way to put some sense and sensibility back into the German-car game, right?

Good news: I, your humble author, have a solution.

Before I detail my easy-as-pie and completely reasonable idea, however, let’s consider just how BMW and Mercedes in particular got themselves into this mess. The idea of naming a car after its engine displacement isn’t a new one — in fact, it dates from very nearly the first automobiles — but since cars in Europe were often taxed on their displacement the importance of knowing said displacement right up front took on a rather outsized importance in that market. It never happened here, otherwise the fellow chasing the “hot rod Lincoln” would have bragged that “nothin’ will outrun my three-point-six-liter Ford.” Here in the United States, we named our cars after animals, cities, natural phenomena, and other fun stuff. Who would want a “Ford 4.7S” when you could have a Ford Mustang?

In the dour environment of postwar Germany, however, Mercedes-Benz chose to name their cars after their displacement, with only the addition of an “S” for “Super” executive sedans spoiling the purity of the naming scheme. Later on, more letters appeared after the numbers, but those numbers tended to be trustworthy. A “180″ probably was 1.8 liters. The “300SLR” really was a three-liter engine. It mostly made sense.

The first real cracks in the scheme appeared when Mercedes-Benz decided to boost the available power in the S-Class sedans. When the 6.3-liter V-8 was dropped into the 300SEL, somebody realized that calling it the 630SEL might give it more decklid authority on the Autobahn than the “600″ limo. (That should have been the “630″, come to think of it.) Something had to be done, and that something was to create a car called the “300SEL 6.3″. Other 300SELs arrived after that, including the 300SEL 3.5 and the 300SEL 4.5. The last one always amused me because presumably it was done to prevent the crass horror of calling a car the “450SEL”. Naturally, the next big Benz to appear was, in fact, called the 450SEL.

BMW had been struggling with a rather confusing displacement-based scheme of its own, where the 2002 was a two-door 2000 rather than a 2000 with two additional milliliters of bore. The sensible decision was made to create a universal naming scheme. To prevent the silliness of a 300SEL 4.5, the displacement was given second billing behind an arbitrary number meant to denote the size of sausage being sold. A 320i, therefore, was a 3-Series with a two-liter engine.

This scheme lasted all of ten minutes before BMW decided to fit a 1.8-liter engine into the US-market 320i without changing the badge. Presumably this was done because customers, who had already caught on to the general idea that a higher number was better, would balk at paying more for this year’s 318i then they had paid for the previous year’s 320i. The “318i” moniker didn’t appear until the E30 did. Note how quickly the number really started to matter. Fewer than five years after adopting a logical model designation system, BMW was already having to fudge it. Let’s not forget the 745i, of course, which was a turbocharged 730i. The “4.5″ was meant to represent the, ah, equivalent power potential or something like that.

By 1990 or thereabouts, the German model schemes were being honored more in the breach than the observance. The small Mercedes was called the 190E 2.3, or the 190E 2.5, or the 190E 2.6. You could buy a 190E 2.6 or a 260E. They were very different cars. BMW was selling the same engine in the 325 and 528. Mercedes blinked and created the ridiculous notion of C, E, and S-Class cars. This should have made it possible to honestly state the displacement, since the letter was there to denote prestige. Naturally, the minute the C230K went from a 2.3-liter to a 1.8-liter supercharged four-cylinder, the scheme was broken and we then had a C230 1.8. BMW, meanwhile, was selling a 3.0-liter six-cylinder in a car and calling it the 328i. In the 3-Series, the turbocharged 3.0-liter was called a 335i, but that same engine in a 7-Series made it a 740Li. This was odd, because once upon a time a 740Li was a 4.4-liter V-8.

This brings us to the present day, which looks like so:

320i — 2.0L
328i — 2.0L (four-doors)
328i — 3.0L (two-doors)
328d — 2.0L
335i — 3.0L

This won’t do, will it? Only one of the five configurations is even close to being named after its actual displacement. You can’t even rely on the engines being smaller than their listed displacement; the old carry-over coupe has a larger engine than the decklid suggests.

I find the whole situation thrilling because it’s yet another case of people “misusing” a technology or a language or a tool. Engineers and designers and marketroids love to sit around and determine exactly how somebody will use or buy or regard a product, but those plans never survive the first contact with the enemy. In Africa, smartphones are bank accounts. The World Wide Web mostly transmits content types that weren’t even suggested when the first HTML pages were written. Somebody goes through the trouble of making a nice pre-surgery drug like Rohypnol and the next thing you know, ugly guys in New York with the ability to lift and carry 150 pounds are getting lucky like you wouldn’t believe.

Whatever ideas BMW might have had for its naming system in 1974, the market has its own ideas, and those ideas run something like this: a bigger number is better. Well, duh. The 328d has to be a 2.8 “marketing displacement” engine because the 328i is a 2.8, and that is a 2.8 because it’s meant to have equivalent power to the old 2.8, which was really a 3.0 but which was downgraded to create more marketing space between it and the significantly more expensive 335i. BMW could just reset everything to actual displacement but customers would expect the price to drop. How could a 320ti cost as much as the old 328i? How could a 320d cost more than a 328i?

Let’s not even get into the 7-Series, where the fine old name 735i can’t be used because it sounds cheap compared to 740i, and 730ti absolutely positively cannot be used under any circumstances. How about those Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs which don’t displace 6.3 liters any more and in fact never actually did?

The pressure is on the manufacturers to offer more number for the buck. Pretty soon, the 328i will have to be a 330i, perhaps. It’s easy to imagine a situation where a high-efficiency 1.5-liter “330i” exists. Two marketing liters for every real one! Not to mention the fact that a two-liter turbo will eventually power US-market 7-Series sedans and no way in hell are they going to be called “720Li”. Meanwhile, Mercedes is selling a 1.8-liter C250 and a 3.5-liter C300. It’s all getting cray-cray up in here.

The proper solution to all of this is blinding in its simplicity. For the majority of consumers, the number on a BMW or Mercedes is only relevant insofar as it provides an approximate estimate of price. The numbers are also judged against the competition, a fact which caused Audi to rename its new “300″ sedan to “Audi V-8″ at the last minute lo these many years ago, since the Audi “300″ would have cost a fair bit more than a Mercedes 300E and a hell of a lot more than a BMW 325. So why mess around with all this stupidity about equivalent turbocharged marketing displacement and whatnot?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the newest BMW: the BMW 32,250. Formerly known as the 320i, it’s now named directly after its price. If you put options on it, the number will go higher. Or, you could choose a full-sized sedan like the BMW 73,550, formerly the “740i”. All the mystery is gone. The price is on the trunk. Show it to your neighbors, who just took delivery of a Mercedes-Benz 51,500 instead of the E350 they’d had their eyes on a year or so ago. From now on, you’ll know what everybody around you paid for their car. No more obscurity. Sure, we won’t know what size the engines are, but we don’t know that now. You can find that boring crap out right here on TTAC, while your girlfriend looks at your mid-engined Audi 114,200 and calculates what her engagement ring should cost.

In a single unilateral move, I’ve destroyed all nomenclatural confusion for all time. Until, that is, BMW starts offering rebates. Pretty soon, the BMW 89,400 will go out the door for $60k or less. Leased examples won’t say BMW 339/month, but maybe they should? What about used cars? Will they have their logos jumbled the way second-rate bodyshops often create S450 Benzos with heavy orange peel? It’s all too much to think about. Maybe some legislation should be introduced to give every car a name — but what if that name is Cutlass Calais Brougham?

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Review: 2012 BMW 328i Luxury Take Two Wed, 01 Aug 2012 13:00:43 +0000  

The 3 series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the A4, C-Class and S60 and include things like M3 vs Camaro, 328i vs Prius. There’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: how do you redesign it? Carefully, mildly, infrequently and only when absolutely required. With increased competition from the Audi A4, a redesigned S60 and Caddy’s new ATS, can BMW afford the same formula again? Michael Karesh got his hands on a 328i back in March, while I spent a week testing the 328i in its natural habitat: the California freeway. (Oh, and we spent some time on Lagua Seca as well.)

Click here to view the embedded video.


If you’re not a BMW fan, you might mistake the 2012 3-Series for its predecessor, or at the least assume this is just a different trim level of the same. Despite practically nothing being shared with the outgoing model, the exterior looks like a simple facelift with new front and rear bumpers. According to BMW, that’s just how the target demographic likes it. Since the sheetmetal is pleasing to the eye, who am I to disagree?  If you compare side profiles, you’ll find the 3-Series’ wheelbase has been extended two inches while the entire car has been stretched by four inches. The cabin-stretching results in a more balanced and elegant look than before. If you’re into BMW trivia, because of the 3-Series’ perpetual growth, the 328i is just one inch shorter than a 1998 5-Series. Aficionados will bemoan the loss of LED turn signal lamps. Why BMW chose to move one step backwards we don’t know, but their loss won’t bother many shoppers.

In an attempt to create multiple personalities for the 3-Series, the same basic sedan can be had in five different style packages: Modern, Luxury, Sport, M-Sport, and the base model. Exterior differences boil down to different bumper covers, wheels, a sport suspension upgrade on the Sport trims and different answers to the eternal question: to chrome or not to chrome?


I never cared for BMW’s “double-bump” dash look that put the infotainment screen in a binnacle of its own. Apparently it didn’t do anything for the BMW’s engineers either. For 2012, your choice of standard 6.5-inch or 8.8-inch iDrive displays is permanently fixed to the center of the dash, sans “hood.” The look is reminiscent of the last generation of pop-up Volvo Nav system, sans-pop and is far more pleasing to my eye. The new screen and the Jaguar-like volume of real-tree are clues to the baby Bimmer’s refocused mission: luxury and technology.

2012 brings more wood, metal and plastic trim options than ever before. Also on offer are several finishes for the portions of the interior you see above in matte chrome. Base models continue to come with BMW’s “leatherette” seating surfaces in two shades, while real-cow surfaces are offered in 7 shades with available piping and contrasting stitching. The front seats in our “Luxury line” tester were extremely supportive during a 4 hour road trip and selecting the “sport” seats allows a range of seat contour adjustment that is class leading. Thanks to the wheelbase stretching, rear leg room is up by a quoted 3/4 inch but the adjusted seating positions (slightly more upright) and the shape of the front seat-backs makes the rear larger. Trunk space has grown more considerably to 17 cubic feet, notably larger than even the American-sized trunk in the Lincoln MKZ, despite the considerable intrusion from the trunk hinges.

Infotainment & Gadgets

The 2012 3-Series gets the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive. The system builds upon the previous versions in small, but important ways. Keeping up with the times, BMW has swapped the CD button for a “Media” button which makes accessing your USB and iDevices easier than in the past. You’ll also find an additional USB port in the glove compartment enabling you to have two USB/iDevices plugged in at the same time with an additional device plugged into BMW’s “dock” in the center armrest.

BMW has also taken the next logical step and integrated the infotainment system with the optional heads-up display. While some may look at this as an all-new distraction, if you’re going to be browsing your playlist, you might as well do it while looking at the road. The full-color image is projected onto the windshield from an in-dash LCD that makes the electrofluorescent HUDs used by GM and Toyota look like a 1980′s flash back.


Our 328i tester had the “BMW Apps” package, a $250 option on-top of the $2,150 navigation system and $650 “enhanced USB” and BMW Assist (both of which are required to “app” yourself.) If you’re not a gadget freak like I am, app integration won’t matter much to you. If you like the idea of being able to download an app to enhance your infotainment system years after you buy your car, then apps are for you. The current app suite allows you to Facebook, Tweet and stream internet radio from your iPhone to the car’s radio. The twist for 2012 is an all-new Wikipedia app (that can be used on previous generation BMW vehicles with the app option as well). While this may sound silly, the Wiki app integrates with your GPS to find Wiki articles about nearby points of interest. Once a POI is selected, iDrive will download the Wiki article and using text-to-speech, it will read it to you as you roll. While Ford MyTouch has vastly superior voice command options, iDrive’s tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration make this the system to beat.

If these gadgets float your boat, they can be combined into one package for $3,100 and includes 4 years of the basic BMW Assist (BMW’s version of OnStar). Before you get too excited by the advertisements however keep in mind you have to pay an extra $199 a year for the “convenience” features of BMW Assist like Google send-to-car and the BMW concierge service.

No new European car would be complete without a bevy of luxury and convenience features, especially not the new 3-Series with its new luxury direction. The extensive list includes: blind spot monitoring, top-view camera, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, lane departure warning, collision warning, radar cruise control, speed limit help, keyless-go, variable steering, adaptive suspension and automatic high-beams. The 328i may start at $36,500, but its easy to option your entry-level 3-Series up to its $57,000 max if you’re nor careful.


BMW has long been known for their silky-smooth inline sixes, but you won’t find one under the hood of the 328i. Instead, you’ll find the latest fruit of BMW’s direct-injection-turbocharged love affair: the N20. On the surface there is nothing special about BMW’s all-new, all-aluminum 2.0L turbo engine. After all, everyone from Audi to Volvo has a new 2.0L turbo four-banger, so what’s the big deal? Aside from the shock of finding an engine with 33% fewer cylinders under the hood of a 3-Series, not much, and that’s the big deal. Producing 240HP from 5,000 to 6,000RPM and 255 lb-ft of twist from 1,250 to 4,800RPM, this engine is significantly more powerful than the old 3.0L N52 six cylinder, all while being 20% more fuel-efficient and better in just about every way. Due to the nature of a gasoline direct-injection system, the N20 sounds like a quiet diesel at idle. Thankfully, inside the cabin you’d never know since BMW balanced the N20 extremely well and installed so much sound deadening material that you can’t hear the engine in normal driving.


You may not be able to hear the N20, but you can sure feel it. The Kansas-flat torque curve that drops precipitously after 6,000 RPM is a stark contrast from the old 3.0L engine that loved to sing at high RPMs. While some may miss the power delivery style of the old naturally aspirated six, the N20′s curve is a better match for the ZF 8-speed and average drivers.

The N20 isn’t just 33% shorter than the old N52, it is also 50lbs lighter and sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious out on the track where the 328i felt much more nimble than the 335i when driven back to back. The difference was far more pronounced than I had anticipated. In my book, the increased nimbleness is worth the reduction in thrust. While I’m sure my 335i laps were faster, the 328i was more fun. It’s easy to forget how hose heavy the 335i is until you have an identical car with a few pounds removed from the front.

In the 328i’s natural habitat, the urban jungle, you may find the new Start/Stop feature something of a mixed bag. As you would expect, the system turns the engine off while the transmission is in Drive, is stopped and the driver’s foot is on the brake. As you would expect this results in real improvements in city mileage, but there us a problem. The system is far from smooth.

At the heart of the BMW Start/Stop system is a beefier starter and a “glass-mat” 12-volt battery designed to handle the frequent starting. When the engine is warm and the cabin heating/cooling demands are in the right range, stopping at a light will be followed by a less than graceful shudder as the engine turns off. Next, the car turns the HVAC blower down to a gentle breeze to keep the electrical draw low. (Without a hybrid style battery, capacity is fairly low.) The car will automatically start the engine when you release the brake (or when the car decides the engine needs to run for cabin cooling.) Engine restarts are far from seamless with engine cranking, a shudder and a delay to forward progress while the ZF 8-speed’s hydraulics re-pressurize. Passengers used to smooth start/stop cycles in hybrid cars found the start/stop cycles “abrupt” and “jarring.” I found the fuel savings worth the commotion, but if your tastes differ, BMW offers an “off” button. If you live in a hot climate like Phoenix, don’t expect the system to start/stop too often.

After handing the keys for the BMW back something dawned on me. I’d miss the 328i. That’s not a statement I make lightly, or often. Previous 3-Series sedans just didn’t press the right buttons for me, but somehow the this one managed to poke just about all of them. The combination of handsome looks, good fuel economy, nimble handling and gadgets galore is a siren call for gadget geeks in their 30s. The problem? Is the 328i worth the premium? Or should you just buy a Volvo S60 or Audi A4? Unless you’re the kind of shopper willing to put down 5-Series money for a loaded 328i, then the A4 and S60 will deliver 95% of the experience for less and throw in AWD for your troubles. If however you value driving enjoyment, a slick nav and a gorgeous HUD, then the 3-Series is for you. The 3-Series’ benchmark status? Completely safe. For now.

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BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 1.65 Seconds

0-60: 5.72 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.25 Seconds @ 100.6 MPH

Average fuel economy: 32.8 MPG over 1,124 miles



2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, BMW Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Exterior, 328i badge, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Engine, 2.0L TwinPower Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Engine, 2.0L TwinPower Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, shifter and iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, iDrive, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, heads-up display, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i, Interior, heads-up display, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 BMW 328i Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 64
Review: 2012 BMW 328i Luxury Line sedan Sun, 25 Mar 2012 16:37:36 +0000

No car has defined and dominated a segment like the BMW 3-Series. It is the compact sport sedan everyone else has been gunning for since the origin of the line over 30 years ago. So when the 3er is redesigned, as it has been for 2012, everyone wonders: have they once again raised the bar, or have they lost their way, perhaps even choked? An answer, in two parts. First up: a “Luxury Line” 328i automatic. Next month: a three-pedal “Sport Line” 335i.

The 3-Series rose to dominance as a car for driving enthusiasts. But if BMW was ever content with such a narrow focus, that ended decades ago. Even back in the 1980s there were luxury-oriented “L” variants of the 6- and 7-Series. The newest 3 lifts a page from the Mercedes playbook to more distinctly target different groups of buyers with a “Luxury Line” alongside a “Sport Line.” A “Modern” Line” is essentially the former with less chrome on the outside and more adventurous trim on the inside. (Cheap SoBs content with 17-inch rims and satin plastic trim can get a car with no “Line” at all.) Of course, trim levels are relatively cheap and easy. Much more ambitious, especially given the relatively small size of the company is how BMW has sold some variant of the 3 to anyone seeking a $35,000+ compact sedan. But can a single model hope to be the best car for everyone?

Even successful revolutions tend to be followed by counter-revolutions. Chris Bangle’s “flame surfaced” designs sold cars and were widely copied. But enough of BMW’s core constituency expressed (at times vehement) disapproval that by the time the “E90” 3-Series (below) was introduced six years ago the American innovator had been tamed. With the new “F30” 3-Series no new aesthetic ground was sought, and even less was gained. No one will mistake the new 3 for anything else. Well, unless they mistake it for the previous generation sedan or the current “F10” 5-Series. The new car looks much the same as the old one, only with mildly softened, simplified lines, including a more bulbous nose and widened “kidneys.” An already watered-down design has been watered down further, and some of the old body’s tightness and rightness have been lost in the quest to produce a more broadly appealing, less pedestrian injuring car. Compared to the F10, the main difference is size.

Oops, wrong photo. Here’s the right one:

This is likely the last time BMW can get away with such a mild update. The F30 sedan is an attractive car, but not a striking one. Next time around, they’d best attempt an aesthetic reinvention along the lines of the E36. We’ll have plenty of warning. Design innovations tend to be tested first with the 7 then the 5. The upcoming “i” cars enable a preliminary round where truly risky concepts can be tested well ahead of any new 7.

The F30’s interior similarly represents a further development of the design language established by the 2002 7-Series, though in its case the changes are generally for the better. As with the current 5 and 7, the center stack has been vertically shortened, for a sportier appearance. For the F30 they’ve gone a step further, visually separating the display screen from the rest of the center stack. As a result, the screen sticks out of the top of the instrument panel much like a retractable one would—only it doesn’t retract. Not the cleanest appearance, but this does successfully minimize the perceived mass of the IP and thus makes the car itself seem less massive. I drove the new 5 a week earlier, and even more than past midsize BMWs it feels a little large to me. Sliding into the new 3, I instantly felt at home. Okay, not quite instantly. Unlike those in the Audi A4 and upcoming Cadillac ATS, the 3’s driver seat feels too low (to this 5’9″ driver) when in its lowest position. The seat adjuster provides a quick and easy fix.

There’s luxury, and then there’s “BMW Luxury.” In cars without the “Sport Line” treatment you get BMW’s basic seat, so it’s firm and lacking in contour. Theoretically the four-way lumbar adjuster should enable a perfect fit, but as is often the case with these no setting seemed quite right (YMMV). The “Sport Line” includes BMW’s sport buckets, with larger adjustable bolsters (oddly decontented from the current 5).

The biggest surprise with the new 3: nearly as much rear kneeroom as in the 5, and considerably more than in competitors. (Ignore the on-paper superiority of the Audi A4—it doesn’t exist in the real world.) On top of this, the rear seat is even comfortably shaped and positioned, a rarity in the segment. The trunk has grown even more. At 17.0 cubic feet, it’s easily the largest in the segment. The optional folding rear seat now splits 40:20:40. With the passive entry option, swinging a foot under the rear bumper pops the lid open hands-free.

I’m just old enough to remember when most 3ers were sold here with four-cylinder engines. And Audi fits most A4s with fours. Even so, it’s a little hard to get my head around the idea of a 328i with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. The inline six feels and sounds so good in runs to the redline, how could a four possibly serve as a suitable replacement? Well, it just can’t.

Not that the four is bad. It’s plenty powerful and capable of getting to sixty in under six seconds. But at idle and low rpm it sounds shockingly similar to a diesel, transitioning to a boxer-like brogue in the mid-range, and then finally to an engaging snarl over 4k. At no speed does it sound like a conventional four. But it only sings sweetly at higher engine speeds, and even then the positive impression lasts only until you get behind the wheel of a decent six.

The boosted nature of the engine is evident in a sluggish throttle response at low revs. The four might bang out 260 pound-feet at a low, low 1,250 rpm, but these “torques” aren’t immediately available. Let the transmission manage its own shifts and you’ll often find yourself seriously thrust-deficient mid-curve unless you request said thrust at turn entry—or earlier. Even in “sport” mode (which makes much less of a difference than in past BMWs). The solution is to manually shift the occasionally bumpy eight-speed automatic and keep the revs over 3k. Or get something else with a six.

An undeniable advantage of the four is fuel economy. In “Eco Pro” mode, the throttle feel approaches that of a Prius, and I found it oddly soothing to ooze slowly away from stops much as I would in a Prius. (So much so that, when I drove a 528i with the same powertrain, a Prius first tailgated then passed me. Payback’s a…well, you know.) The payoff of going extra easy on the gas: when hyper-miling through the burbs, the trip computer reliably reported 37-38 miles-per-gallon. On one trip between the kid’s school and home where the traffic signals aligned in my favor, I even managed a bit over 40. Does it lie? (I’ve asked the fleet company to let me know how much gas they put in it when the car is redeployed tomorrow.)

In less casual driving, expect high 20s to low 30s. Employ a lead foot and spend a lot of time over 4,000 rpm? Then hello high teens. With the turbo, fuel economy varies widely based on driving style. Dare the 2.0 to drink, and it’ll drink.

[Update: the fleet company got those figures to me, and they're not pretty. If they're correct, the 328i managed only 21.9 miles-per-gallon during its week with me. This is about 8 to 10 mpg lower than the figures reported by the trip computer, a huge difference. The trip computer also reported surprisingly high numbers with the 528i, so BMW trip computers could tend to be highly inaccurate.]

One fuel economy trick in need of further refinement: an automatic stop / start system. Stop at a light in Drive with your foot on the brake and the engine automatically cuts off. Lift off the brake and it automatically restarts. Hybrids have done this for years, and in heavy traffic, moving from signal to signal you’ll save a lot of gas. Unfortunately, the stops and starts are far from seamless—each is accompanied by a shudder that will provoke a visceral reaction from anyone who has ever stalled a car with a stick. More of a quibble: as in some hybrids, it can be easy to forget you haven’t actually turned the car off. The tach provides a clue, with the needle at “ready” when the engine is off but the ignition isn’t.

BMW’s reinvention of the slushbox shifter is no more desirable in the new 3 than in the 5 and 7. A tip to OEMs: if your shifter requires on-screen instructions, it’s probably too complicated. Another: people operate these things with their hands. It’s more important that they feel good when grasped than that they give sci-fi fans the cold fuzzies. A more hand-friendly reinvention, once you figure out what they’ve done: the secondary release under the hood is impossible to find, because there isn’t one. Instead, pull the release inside the car twice.

So you’ve got the engine north of 3k and head into that curve. Can the Luxury Line 3er handle it? The car’s initial reactions set off alarm bells. The body heels over and, if the pavement gets wavy, the nose also bobs considerably. Body motions are more tightly controlled in a Buick. But, what do you know, despite all the swaying and bobbing there’s no weaving. The 3er adheres faithfully to your specified line. And while the feedback might not all be confidence-inspiring, it is at least still provided in quantity, through the seat of your pants more than through the fairly light, somewhat vague (yet still superior) steering. Oversteer is easy to induce, even easier to correct. Squeeze the go pedal just so (with the revs and thus boost up) and the rear end slides around beautifully, even gracefully. Squeeze the pedal a little further to…well, just because driving sideways is fun when you can feel confident that a touch of counter-steer will dependably bring the rear back into line. You can connect with this car, the bond just isn’t as strong, as engaging, or as rewarding as in the E90 (at least not in non-Sport form). Does this matter? If the car will do what is asked of it, must it necessarily do so with a smile?

The combination of precise handling (when the chips are down) with a smooth, quiet ride might well be the best of both worlds for non-enthusiasts. But the new 3 doesn’t quite deliver the latter. As soft and squishy as the suspension can feel at times, bumps and divots still announce their presence more loudly and sharply than in a Lexus. Overall noise levels are low, perhaps lower than in the larger 528i, yet enough small sounds intrude to break the spell. Much like the interior doesn’t look like that of a luxury car, the ride doesn’t sound or feel like that of a luxury car. Many people will no doubt blame the mandatory run-flat tires, and they could well be right. But I also get the sense that, no matter how much BMW wants to appeal to luxury car buyers, they can’t entirely escape the corporate DNA.

One group BMW remains happy to leave for other auto makers: those seeking affordable wheels. The base price of the F30 is up only a few hundred dollars from the E90’s, to $35,795. Accounting for the disappearance of last year’s no-cost leather widens the gap, but a $400 adjustment for the new car’s additional features (using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool yields a roughly $1,300 bump. But the E90 was already more expensive than the competition. Check most of the option boxes, as with the tested car, and the 2012’s sticker stops just short of fifty large. A similarly-equipped Infiniti G37 (no need to bother with the torque-free G25) runs about $4,000 less after adjusting for remaining feature differences.

I remember my first drive in the BMW E90. I instantly bonded with that car, and had a blast pushing it hard along my twisty route. In comparison, many aspects of the F30 328i impressed me—most notably the rear seat and the fuel economy—but the driving experience just isn’t quite the same. BMW seems so confident of its handling superiority that it has sought to only hold the line (or even yield a little) in this area, and concentrate on improving the car elsewhere. Like the buttoned-down bureaucrat who decides to cut loose one night after work, the result in incomplete and unconvincing. Few true sybarites will be fooled. And driving enthusiasts? Well, the “Luxury Line” isn’t intended for us. I’m still very much looking forward to a week in a “Sport Line” stick-shift 335i next month.

BMW provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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