There are, in this uncertain life, a few certainties. Among them is the fact the BMW 3 Series is the sport sedan by which all others are measured. Remarkably, so many other manufacturers have tried to replicate the pathos of the BMW 3 Series, and while a number of them have gotten close, none has ever bested BMW’s entry-level sedan.
One of the key ingredients of any BMW automobile is the silken responsiveness of its engine. Of course, when you rely primarily upon inline six-cylinder engines, smoothness is guaranteed. In fact, the only engine capable of operating as smoothly as an inline-six is a V12, which is basically two inline sixes mated. That is, until the engineers at BMW decided to fit an inline four-cylinder engine to its cars once again.
Thanks to the miracles of direct injection, variable valve timing and turbocharging, the 2.0-liter four fitted to the new 328i makes 240 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque. Maximum torque output is achieved at 1,250 RPM. It should be noted the second generation BMW M3 sold in the US (designated E36 in BMW’s internal nomenclature) also made 240 horsepower—from a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine.
Taking advantage of the efficiencies of BMW’s TwinPower turbocharging system, the 2.0-liter four delivers power like a significantly larger engine with no discernable turbo lag whatsoever. Two separate paths (one for each pair of cylinders) feed the twin scroll turbocharger from the engine’s exhaust system. Splitting it reduces backpressure at low speeds, enabling the gases to flow more freely into the turbocharger. This improves its responsiveness tremendously, so when a demand for large amounts of output arises, pulling power from the engine is near instantaneous.
Having settled behind the wheel without looking at the badge on the rear of the car, we actually had to be told the car we were driving was fitted with the two-liter. In addition to its satisfying power output, somehow the magicians in Munich have made the four sound like an inline six. BMW quotes a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds, which, remarkably is just a tenth of a second slower than that E36 M3. Of course, if that isn’t enough for you, the 3.0-liter inline six is again available with TwinPower turbocharging as well. Offered as the 335i, that engine accelerates the car to 60 in 5.4 seconds
Helping achieve even greater efficiencies is BMW’s new eight-speed automatic transmission. Fast shifting and exceptionally smooth, its range of ratios is broad enough to endow relaxed cruising, high fuel efficiency, and strong response. Yet, they are also spaced rather closely so the ideal gear you need for the task at hand is readily accessible. Additionally, the eight-speed automatic transmission permits manual shifting so you can engage the road on your own terms. If you’re the sort who prefers an even more sporty character, there’s a sport version of the eight-speed fitted to 3 Series cars with Sport Line and M Sport packages. Naturally, a slick shifting six-speed manual transmission is available as well.
Speaking of packages, for this generation of the 3 Series, BMW is offering three iterations of the car. Labeled Sport Line, Luxury Line and Modern Line, each of the packages emphasize a specific aspect of the car’s personality through its equipment and décor. As you might imagine, the Sport Line carries sport seats and a more aggressive-looking interior, featuring gloss black trim where the other models employ wood. Outside the car, all of what would usually be chrome trim, save the exhaust tips, is also finished in gloss black. The Luxury Line, while still offering strong performance, emphasizes the graceful beauty of the car in a more classic sense. High gloss wood-trim accents the interior décor along with chrome. The Modern Line features satin aluminum trim, a lighter colored dash top and a dark oyster colored steering wheel. Rather than contrasting heavily as in the other trim lines, the interior colors of the Modern Line blend.
Additionally, each of the trim lines has a specific treatment for its key.
Underway, all of the 3 Series’ elements fuse into a driving experience unmatched by any other car. The fluidity of a BMW automobile in motion is the key reason the BMW display at any auto show you visit is always crawling with people. The front engine /rear drive layout, the 50:50 front to rear weight distribution, and the presciently responsive throttle, steering and brake responses imbue an extraordinary degree of confidence and athleticism. Combine all of that with the exceptionally quiet and smooth (there’s that word again) ride of the car and you’ll frequently find yourself traveling 20 to 25 miles per hour faster than it feels like you are.
The configuration of the interior lends itself specifically to the act of driving, with its primary controls canted toward the driver. The BMW’s seating position, control accessibility and outward visibility are reflective of the consciousness of people who consider driving a passion, rather than a chore. With this newest 3-Series car, the company has elevated that attitude to newer heights with more performance, more luxury, more personal tech, and a more thoroughly satisfying experience overall.
There’s a higher level of standard equipment too. This includes a 6.5-inch monitor in the center stack, as well as iDrive, Bluetooth connectivity for both phones and audio, an interface for USB audio sources and iPods, the eight-speed automatic transmission, automatic start/stop, BMW’s Dynamic Driving Control with its fuel saving ECO PRO Mode, and Brake Energy Regeneration.
Pricing for the 328i starts at $35,795, while the 335i starts at $43,295.