You’ve heard us say it time and time again. The BMW 3 Series is the benchmark of sport sedans. Indeed, just about every upstart four-door with performance intentions compares itself to the 3. But, the challenge for 21st century sports sedans is to maintain their credentials while dramatically improving fuel economy. This BMW 328i motors in that direction by replacing its much-loved inline-6 with a turbo-4. Now some say that could put the 3-series reputation at risk. Here’s what we say.
2012 marks an all-new 6th generation of BMW’s venerable sport sedan, and while the traditional inline-6 powered 335i is still available, it was the new 4-cylinder powered 328i that peaked our interest the most.
So, we ordered one up, and off we went, stopping by Roebling Road Raceway near Savannah, Georgia along the way. Here, we quickly discovered that the 328i has definitely grown up a bit. Handling is still top drawer, with only mild understeer and body roll. However, with each generation the 3 seems to lose a little bit more of that super tight feel and feedback that we love so much. Meanwhile, power from the new 4-cylinder turbo is more than adequate for both coming out of corners, and moving off the line.
Indeed, we hit 60 miles-per-hour in a quick 5.9-seconds;launching is about as easy as it gets, as the car hooks up and takes off, with just a hint of turbo lag. Through the ¼-mile, power delivery is smooth, and with 8-gears on-tap, shifts come early and often helping us trip the lights in 14.2-seconds at 98 miles-per-hour.
The 4-cylinder under the hood is BMW’s N20 TwinPower turbo that we first sampled in the latest Z4 Roadster. It rates the same 240-horsepower, and 255 pound feet of torque, but we felt its rough-around-the-edges persona matched the Roadster a little better. Here in the 3, the diesel-like clatter, especially at start-up, may turn off anyone used to the silky operation of a BMW 6-cylinder.
On the street, this maturing of 3 Series performance is less noticeable. We’ve said before that the 3 is the 5-series of generations past, and that rings even more true, now. It’s still a wonderful car; it’s just lost a little bit of its intimacy. Whether back road or highway it’s still a real pleasure to drive. And while its larger size may have held us back at the track, in everyday practicality, it adds much appreciated space and also a bit of luxury.
It’s no wonder then, that every member of our staff had nothing but praise for the interior. In typical BMW fashion, everything is still driver focused and high quality leather and wood trim are joined by sporty looking aluminum highlights. Our car featured the optional Premium Sound Package, pumping 420-watts of sound through 13-speakers. Navigation is also optional as part of the Technology Package. The new 3’s extra interior space is mostly noted in the rear seat, where you’ll find additional leg-room and more comfort all around. In the trunk, cargo space is way up as well, to 17 cubic-feet.
Styling remains traditional BMW. The new 3 is bigger in every dimension except for width. Front track however, is wider. A flat front end with wide twin-kidney grilles and elongated headlights does make the new 3 appear wider than before. In profile, shorter overhangs, and a convergence of character lines and fender flares, give the expected athletic stance, highlighted by our cars 18-inch wheels that replace the standard 17’s. In the rear, traditional L-shaped tail lights have been pushed even farther outboard, again accentuating width, while chrome trim adds flair.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings for the 328i with an automatic are 24-City, 36-Highway. Automatic stop/start helped us achieve a fine 29.9 miles per Premium gallon. Likewise, the Energy Impact Score is more economy-car than sports car, burning up just 11.8 barrels of oil per year, while emitting 5.2 annual tons of CO2. Size and fuel economy are not the only things that have increased with the new 3, pricing has as well, but just barely. The 2012 328i stickers for $35,795, with the 6-cylinder 335i begins at $43,295.
The new BMW 3 Series may have passed the “ultimate driving machine” torch to the 1-series and become more of a “family” sport sedan for the maturing driver, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With its gains in interior room and fuel economy, it still remains the car that other sport sedan makers have to keep squarely in their sights.
Engine: N20 TwinPower turbo
Torque: 255 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 5.9 seconds
1/4 mile: 14.2 seconds @ 98 mph
EPA: 24 mpg city/ 36 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 11.8 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.2 tons/yr