Survival in today’s auto industry means constant change. If you don’t upgrade designs on a regular basis, you won’t sell many cars. Not a problem for most automotive engineers since they love their work, especially engineers at BMW. But today any change in car design is dictated by two factors, cost and public demand. So, when we look at the host of improvements made to this 1996 BMW 328i, we wonder … are they worth the cost, and will the buyers care?
They certainly have until now. And BMW isn’t about to let such rabid loyalty slip through its fingers. So while the 3-Series sport sedans get changes both major and minor, the biggest is plainly obvious to any Bimmer fan that sees this badge.
Just as the 325i that it replaces packed a 2.5-liter engine, the new 328i, packs a bigger 2.8-liter mill. The new longer-stroke engine, still in BMW’s familiar inline-six configuration, also gets new cams, lifters, valve springs, and exhaust.
Now this adds only one horsepower, for a total of 190. But torque gets a nice fat increase, over 14 percent, for a total of 207 pound-feet! … which decreases 0 to 60 time to a rapid 7.0 seconds flat. The quarter-mile time drops as well, to 15.3 seconds, at 83 miles per hour. Mid-range power is greatly enhanced, as is the BMW six’s already rev-happy nature.
And as well as it performed on the drag strip, it was even more obvious in the twists and turns of Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway … where this Bavarian missile powered out of corners, and down straightaways, like a scalded cat. With power pumping to the rear wheels through an upgraded 5-speed manual transmission, borrowed from the top-of-the-line M3.
Only the heavy plow of the soft front struts prevented an even more spirited pace. And made us wish for the optional sports suspension package. Lateral grip however, was excellent, thanks to sticky Michelin tires mounted on 15-inch alloy wheels. As was braking, thanks to a new ventilated discs at all four corners, and standard ABS.
At saner street speeds, the cornering push that held the 328 back on the track was barely evident. What was obvious, was the 328’s excellent ride, and forgiving nature. Drive it briskly down your favorite country road, and you immediately understand why BMW owners are such enthusiasts. This sedan is great fun!
Nice looking too, thanks to new body-color bumpers and rocker panels. They give this current generation 3-Series body, already one of the more handsome of the current crop of Euro-sport sedans, a more ominous look.
Inside, the 328i is familiar BMW. Still a little cold compared to some Asian and domestic competitors, but one of the most efficiently organized cockpits available.
The firm bucket seats are trimmed in imitation leather, and feature standard 8-way power adjustments. Real leather and wood trim are optional. As are front seat heaters. While the dash features new easier-to-understand automatic climate controls, with separate temperature settings for driver and passenger. The standard stereo is a 200-watt AM/FM cassette, while a new 320-watt Harmon-Kardon system is available.
As before, rear seat head and leg room are a little on the tight side. But cargo space can be increased with the optional split-folding seatback, which adds some welcome length to the small 10.3 cubic foot trunk.
Other figures worth noting are the EPA fuel mileage ratings. Manual transmission figures with the larger engine have actually increased to 20 city/29 highway. Our test car averaged 21 miles per gallon on our mixed test loop.
But the big figure is price. And in the case of the BMW 328i, it’s not small. Base price is $32,900. With a light option load, our test car comes to $35,570. That’s only a couple of grand short of BMW’s ultimate 3-Series model, the M3. A much better buy, if you can find one. Long-time BMW fans will probably consider the 328i’s price money well spent. But new buyers may opt for the less expensive 318. We can only hope that BMW reins in its pricing policy, or shifts 328i production to its less expensive U.S. plant.
We truly enjoyed driving the 328i. It is a worthy successor to the 325. And we also know true BMW fans will be turned on by the improvements, and not be turned away by the price. But you never know, next time could be different!
Engine: 2.8-Liter, Dohc, 24-valve, In-line 6 Cylinder
Torque: 207 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.3 Seconds @ 83 MPH
EPA Mileage MPH: 20 MPG City 29 MPG Highway