2012 BMW 328i
2012 BMW 328i Review:
It’s amazing what a few inches more and two cylinders fewer can do for a car—especially one as storied as the BMW 3-Series.
Half of that equation is attractive and makes sense. The other part, at first blush, seems risky until you understand it.
On the sensible side is the incremental growth of the 2012 BMW 3-Series. Compared to its 2011 predecessor, the sedan is nearly four inches longer, almost two inches wider and has an additional couple of inches in wheelbase—the distance between the front and rear axles.All of that improves interior space and converts the new 3-Series four-door into an all-passenger comfortable mid-size sports sedan, where before it was a tight compact. The outboard back seats, in particular, now are accommodating for anyone shy of six feet tall, with plenty of head and knee room.
However, as is usual in most sedans these days, the center-rear seat is a punishing perch with hard upholstery and no place to plant one’s feet. So it’s best to think of these new BMWs as four-passenger machines.
The seemingly risky aspect is BMW’s return to a four-cylinder engine in the USA, which was a flop the last time the company tried it more than a decade ago in the hatchback 318i model.
But that was then, as the saying goes. This is now, in an era when small engines are delivering ever-larger gobs of horsepower and torque, along with better fuel economy, thanks to computer controls and such enhancements as turbocharging and direct fuel injection.
Moreover, it’s not as if the Bavarian Motors Works has no four-cylinder experience. The 1600 and 2002 models, which established BMW’s performance credentials in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had four-cylinder engines with carburetors or fuel injection.
The new four powers the 2012 328i sedan, while the 335i continues with BMW’s turbine-smooth in-line six. Later in this 3-Series iteration, the company will add hybrid, diesel and higher-performance M models, along with wagons and coupes, and all-wheel drive.Both the four- and six-cylinder power plants use what BMW chooses to call “Twin Power turbo technology.” It doesn’t mean that there are two turbochargers; instead the turbo divvies the boost among the cylinders. In the 328i, one snort goes to cylinders one and four; the other to cylinders two and three.
Combined with direct gasoline injection and variable valve timing, the package enables the relatively small 2-liter engine to deliver 240 horsepower, with 255 pounds-feet of torque, to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic transmission. The latter is the first eight-speed in this class of car.
From the driver’s seat, you’re hard-pressed to imagine there’s a four-cylinder under the hood; it feels nearly the same as BMW’s in-line six. The engineering alchemy includes internal balance shifts and a vibration absorber at the flywheel to smooth out the inherent shakiness of a four-cylinder.
Off the line, the power comes on instantly, with no turbo lag, and BMW claims a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time of 5.7 seconds with the six-speed manual. It’s a tribute to this four-cylinder that it’s just three-tenths of a second slower to 60 than its garage-mate, the 300-horsepower six-cylinder 335i.
Should you choose to be shiftless, the eight-speed automatic will get you to 60 in 5.9 seconds with the 328i and 5.4 seconds with the 335i, according to BMW’s specifications.
The four-banger bonus is an EPA city/highway fuel consumption rating of 23/34 miles to the gallon. However, premium fuel is required for maximum performance, a common trait with high-performance cars.
Enhancing the fuel economy is standard stop-start technology, which shuts down the engine at stop signs. On the manual-transmission four-cylinder models, it’s barely noticeable, while on the automatic-transmission sixes there’s a noticeable bump and roar when you start off. But it’s not distracting.
Not surprisingly, these cars do not come cheap. The 335i has a starting price of $43,295, with a long list of options that can bump the sticker way higher. The tested 328i came in a lot less at $35,795. But by the time all the extras were tacked on, the tested price came to a whopping $50,945.
The options packages mostly affected appearance items; there were few that contributed to performance except for the adaptive suspension system, aimed at improved handling. Some of the options were unnecessary, like blind-spot warning, which nobody needs if they properly adjust their original blind-spot warning system, called outside rear-view mirrors.In keeping with its high-tech orientation, BMW has fallen in line with the current infatuation with in-car connectivity through mobile phones and online social networking.
None of this has anything do with performance or driving pleasure. It is all about giving the current generation a feeling of being plugged in—never mind that this likely will contribute to distraction, now considered to be the prime suspect in vehicle accidents.
In this circumstance, there’s an app called BMW Connected. You download it, simply plug your iPhone into a dock in the center console and, voila! You are there connected in the ether with all of your stuff. So far, it’s only available with Apple products.