Car manufacturers use the words “all new” to describe just about everything. But when BMW said that the 328i is “all new” for 2012 they really meant it. Nearly everything about this car is new, including a redesigned body and a new 4 cylinder engine. But BMW fanatics, fret not, because despite everything that’s new, at the end of the day, the F30 still feels like a proper 3 Series.
Model redesigns are always tricky, garnering both the love-it and hate-it crowds. I happen to be in the former, thinking that the new front end adds a touch of class to what was a very pedestrian design. The first thing you notice is that the car is visually bigger. In reality, it gained less than an inch in both width and height, but the new body sits higher and wider than the previous generation. The new headlights are sculpted right up to the wider grilles, adding to the visual effect up front. The new rear end’s shorter and wider tail lights and lower reflectors provide the same effect in back. The real growth, though, has occurred between the wheels, making it appear more like a little 5 Series.
The interior retains the simple and elegant 3 Series layout. The console is angled slightly towards the driver making everything readily accessible. If you’re used to being in a 3 Series, everything is largely where you left it. That said, everything about the F30 328i interior feels of better quality than the outgoing E90 328i. The seats are more comfortable, the steering wheel is thicker and more commanding, and all of the trim feels more refined. Visibility remains nearly the same as the old car. With that said, I noticed a bit of a glare off the top of the instrument cluster when driving into low-angled sunlight. As mentioned before, the new 3 Series grew four inches in length, greatly aiding rear leg room. I’m a 6’2″ guy and I noticed the difference immediately.
Now comes the fun part. The 328i has an all new engine, the TwinPower Turbo inline 4 makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (up 40 hp and 30 lb-ft over the outgoing I6). When connected to the new 8 speed automatic transmission, BMW claims a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds. Naysayers will decry this new engine as impure, despite the fact that this isn’t the 1st boosted 4 banger in BMW’s history. Granted, its delivery isn’t as smooth and it doesn’t sound as spectacular as the outgoing engine, but it does get up and go. Unfortunately, the transmission lets it down. The problem with 8 gears is that power delivery is always at least a gear away. Thankfully, there is a remedy. The new 3 Series comes with a toggle switch that changes the setup from “Comfort” to “Sport” or “EcoPro” at ease. “Sport” firms up the suspension and holds the transmission in a gear longer. This combination immediately makes the car more agile and willing. The opposite is true with “EcoPro” which goes so far as to reduce the gas pedal sensitivity to that of wet cardboard. Enthusiasts, avoid it at all costs, mostly because it really isn’t necessary. A spirited 40 mile commute with an average speed of 60 mph, primarily leaving the car in Comfort, returned 34 mpg. Not bad for a 3400 lb sedan.
The ride was solid and, for the most part, comfortable. Run flat tires upset the chassis over winter-buckled roads to the point that the Traction Control was triggered once or twice. However, on and off-ramps are tackled with minimal roll and the ride was never harsh. As with BMW, the car’s limit is well above the courage that the average driver will muster. It’s balanced, but can be persuaded to step out if so desired. Steering feel was light yet telepathically accurate, truly a typical BMW setup. One minor complaint is that that chassis is so composed that any attempt at rapid acceleration feels a bit muffled. Despite what the optional heads-up display reads in MPH, the ‘ol “butt dyno” isn’t impressed. BMW’s other turbo engines have a moment when you really feel the boost feed in, as if the car hikes up its trousers and goes. That feeling was missing. Its a victory for the seamless power of BMW’s new turbo with direct injection, but a failure in the fun-factor usually generated from turbo engines.
The particular 328i I drove was a Luxury Line, set apart from the Sport Line and Modern Line through different wheels, exterior trim color and the number of slats in the traditional “kidney” grilles. On top of that, it had the Cold Weather Package, Premium Package, Technology Package, anti-theft alarm, rear manual window shades, Park Distance Control, Xenon headlights, Satellite radio, BMW Assist and BMW Apps. All in all, this nearly loaded 328i broke the bank at $49,820; too much for this car.
The level of technology in this car is fairly high. One complaint is that it doesn’t all work towards the same goal of the Ultimate Driving Machine. In particular, I find start/stop annoying. I just don’t like that feeling of my car shutting off when I don’t want it to. Gratefully, it can be deactivated with the push of a button. Similarly, BMW’s new key fob doesn’t need to be inserted into the car. In fact, there isn’t any place for it to go. That’s right, a car that doesn’t need a key. At least in the E90, you had to actually insert the fob into the dash before you push the start button. It was a very assuring feeling. Old habits.
The iDrive system works as well as ever, especially because the new screen seems brighter. All the same functionality remains, with voice commands, radio controls, navigation, and vehicle settings. A nice touch, Bluetooth phones now have the ability to play content through the car beyond just being a phone. Pandora radio streamed on a 4G network sounded as good, if not better than satellite radio. The biggest complaint here is that the multi-function steering wheel doesn’t have buttons to control the “Next” and “Previous” presets. This gets annoying when you realize you have to scroll through every available station. It forces you to take a hand off the wheel and use the iDrive knob or one of the preset buttons. Again, not a huge complaint, but not something you’d expect from the Ultimate Driving Machine. Finally, the cruse controls have found their way back onto the steering wheel, a la E46 style, removing the 3rd stalk from behind the wheel.
At the end of the day, this car is going to be compared to the outgoing model. So, has the new 3 Series improved? In my opinion, the updated exterior is a step forward. Gone are the extra hood creases, headlight eyebrows, and unsightly swooping jaw line. It’s been replaced by a serious yet sophisticated configuration. There’s no argument about how far the interior has come over the base E90 as well. That brings us to the drive train. Does the TwinPower Turbo inline 4 adequately replace the outgoing inline 6? I argue that it does. It’s lighter and more powerful. It’ll hold a comfortable cruise or play around near redline with more excitement than its predecessor. It might not sound or feel it, but its faster than the old car, while simultaneously consuming less fuel. That’s a win-win on paper. With that said, I’d order mine with a 6 speed manual, not only because I’m a purist, but because it’s simply the best way to enjoy a turbo engine. With complete control of the transmission, the nanny isn’t going to suddenly decide to take the fun away. Now a verdict. I wouldn’t take this car home. The nearly $50k sticker opens the door for lesser optioned, more powerful 335i. I took a short drive in a 335i Sport Line with the upgraded double-clutch transmission. You get the same great new look and feel coupled with a nearly perfect, more powerful engine. And the transmission? Let’s just say that, for $500, I might actually consider owning a car without 3 pedals. Yeah, it was that good.