The new F30-chassis 328i is the first U.S.-market 3-series to be sold with a four-cylinder engine in fourteen years. In that time, the in-line six-cylinder engine and the 3-series have become nearly inseparable, and many of us here at Automobile Magazine wondered if the iconic 3er would lose the magic with its new engine.
We've put 8132 miles on our Four Seasons BMW 328i and already taken it on one cross-country road trip, and we're ready to render a verdict: no, the magic isn't lost at all.
The 3-series' year with us began in February on the West Coast, when senior editor Jason Cammisa took delivery of our black 328i at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. After using the 328i as his daily driver and putting about 2000 miles on the odometer, he made his decision. "I'm going to quietly hand the crown to the best turbocharged four-cylinder from Volkswagen's 2.0T to BMW's N20," he said. Considering the 2.0T's high regard around the office -- it powers the two-time Automobile of the Year VW GTI -- Cammisa's comment holds extra weight.
We love the N20 first and foremost for its power: the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is rated at 240 hp and 255 lb-ft. It's a marked improvement from the previous 328i's 230 hp and 200 lb-ft, even though the new engine has two fewer cylinders and one less liter of displacement. The engine's smooth, powerful nature scored positive logbook comments almost immediately: "On the highway, the 328i exhibits nice response," said copy editor Rusty Blackwell. "Thanks, turbocharger."
It would seem that for the 3-series, normal aspiration is dead; long live forced induction.
Late in February, Cammisa passed the keys to creative director Kelly Murphy, who promptly drove the black Bimmer roughly 2500 miles back to our office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. By the time the 3-series reached the Great Lake State, the 328i indicated an average of 34 mpg, exactly in line with the car's EPA highway fuel economy estimates -- an impressive figure for a 240-hp car.
The 328i promises both good power and good fuel economy, but it does come with one drawback. The 328i's engine may be muted most of the time, but staffers complained that it makes a clattery noise at idle. "I was startled by the raspy engine note the first time I got in the car," said deputy editor Joe DeMatio, "and for a split second I thought I was in a diesel."
Once the car is in motion, the clatter goes away and is replaced with a smoother note, but the turbo four can't match the sonorous quality of the six-cylinder engine it replaces. "There is simply no replacement for the sound, texture, and character of the BMW six-cylinder engine," DeMatio wrote.
There's also the issue of the dancing gear stick: our manual-transmission-equipped 328i comes standard with a start/stop system that cuts the engine at idle and restarts it when the clutch pedal is pushed. This makes for an interesting interior feature: "The shifter wiggles back and forth quite a lot as the engine cranks, which is especially annoying if you're in the process of selecting first gear," wrote associate web editor Jake Holmes. Drivers can easily defeat the start/stop system, however, by pressing a button above the ignition on/off button.
There is another fix to the 328i's wiggling gear stick: purchase the 335i, which has a more-balanced 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine and isn't afflicted with the same issue. Then again, a comparably equipped 335i costs exactly $3725 more than our 328i and returns about four fewer miles to the gallon in mixed driving.
For now, it would seem that our choice of engine was a good one, and the 328i's power and efficiency more than make up for the issues of noise, vibration, and harshness. "I'll certainly tolerate the clattery engine note for the 33-plus mpg we're currently getting on winter tires," wrote senior web editor Phil Floraday. "Audi used to be number one in my book for efficient powertrains that were fun to drive. BMW is winning now."