A couple of month ago, we took our BMW 328i Luxury Line to the track, where we concluded that while the Luxury Line is a better luxury car than the previous 3-series, it lacks the driver involvement and communication we've come to expect in the 3. We wondered whether the issue was exclusive to the Luxury Line or affected all 328i models, so to find out we decided to compare our Four Seasons 328i Luxury Line to a 328i Sport Line. We grabbed our helmets and pointed the two cars to Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan.
I think we should have gone with a Sport Line car.
The early verdict: "I'm happy to report that BMW hasn't totally ruined the new 3-series," said senior web editor Phil Floraday, adding: "using Sport+ mode [which is exclusive to the Sport Line, and tunes throttle, steering, traction/stability control, and suspension settings] took almost all of the wallow out of the 328i."
Part of the reason the Sport Line turned, stopped, and gripped so well? Its tires: whereas our Luxury Line's standard tires are 225/18-inch Goodyear EfficientGrips, the Sport Line uses identically sized Pirelli Cinturato P7s at all four corners. The same tires that led Floraday to criticize the Mini Cooper S Countryman All4's ride (he compared it to a hayride wagon, unfavorably) got nothing but love this time around: "The Sport Line car's tires were much, much better," he wrote. "They really gave me a lot of confidence in the steering and kept the back end hooked up. It also had a lot better bite during braking." Assistant editor David Zenlea was briefer: he returned to the paddock on track day, set down his helmet, and said "Wow. There's a lot more grip on the Sport Line than the Luxury." Not only did the Pirellis outperform the Goodyears, they also emerged unscathed, while a few laps around the track took their toll on the EfficientGrips, and we drove the car home with a couple of chunks missing from the 18-inch tires.
The BMW's adaptive M suspension, a $900 option on top of the $2500 Sport Line, earned its fair share of praise as well. "The Sport Line has those characteristic 3-series traits," said senior editor Eric Tingwall. "It has a neutral chassis, and great handling. It's really controllable and predictable, and you can incite oversteer at will. The Luxury Line has the same great chassis, but it's missing BMW's signature feel." Road test editor Chris Nelson remarked that "the Sport Line feels a lot more planted," and echoed Tingwall's comment that the car is "more predictable."
There was only one question we had to answer about the sport suspension, and it was whether or not the optional setup would be uncomfortable during daily driving. It was a valid worry -- our last Four Seasons BMW 3-series had a sport suspension and received its fair share of complaints. But we found the 328i Sport Line's ride and comfort to our liking. Here's Floraday again: "I didn't cringe at all while the run-flats went over multiple road imperfections, and the harshness that used to characterize the sport suspension experience was nowhere to be found," he said.
Floraday summed up the experience thusly: "after driving the Sport Line car, I think we should have gone with that one for our Four Seasons test."
It appears BMW has been listening to similar comments, as it has made a subtle change for 2013: the Adaptive M Suspension we loved on the Sport Line model, which was previously only available on the Sport Line, is now available on all Lines. It's part of a $1000 Dynamic Handling Package that also includes active steering. While we're not sure the DHP would make a Luxury Line as good as a Sport Line, it's certainly a step in the right direction.
With the question of Sport versus Luxury answered (at least for the leadfoots in the office), we've handed over the keys to Joe Lorio and Jamie Kitman, in New York. We'll see if the Luxury Line's soft suspension earns more compliments there.