Although the BMW 328i was hardly growing stale by the time September rolled around, we decided to get a fresh perspective on this controversial car by handing it over to our East Coast counterparts, senior editor Joe Lorio and New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman. Not surprisingly, their lists of pros and cons about the BMW largely mirrored our list in Ann Arbor.
New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman grabbed the keys to the 328i and quickly embarked on a ten-day, 1700-mile trip that took him through at least eight states throughout the Midwest and Northeast. On one trip between New York and Maine he averaged 34.3 mpg, but his jaunt from Detroit to New York netted him 37.1 mpg. He called that performance "absolutely sick," something we're used to hearing about BMXs, not BMWs.
Kitman also liked the road manners, at least on long stretches of highway. "The 3-series soaks up the miles hungrily yet in a relaxing fashion," he said. "You might even say it's primarily suited for highway use, as it's not particularly joyous to drive around town. Funny, considering that its four-cylinder engine and stop/start seem to anticipate a semi-urban lifestyle."
The last part came after Kitman took the 328i to that most urban of areas, New York City, where the car's chic, city slicker exterior was let down by its automatic stop/start technology. "The thing shuts off just as a light is changing," he wrote, "and pushing the clutch back in doesn't necessarily start it on the first try. Altogether, it's not a particularly smooth affair." Almost right on cue, Kitman echoed many of the negative comments in our notebooks here in Ann Arbor: "The whole driving experience around town can be unsettling, and this new car -- in part through its new electric steering and larger size -- adds a measure of mystery and ponderousness to the experience."
Then again, the 3-series' penchant for going around corners did please Kitman...if only for a moment. "Every once in a while I'd be in a corner on the power in just the right way and the chassis would set and I'd go -- oh, that's it! Then I'd lose the sensation again."
Next up was senior editor Joe Lorio, who was the first of us to drive the new 3-series last fall. He spent some time reflecting on his experience with the car at its press launch versus living with it day-to-day. "I've been mulling over the fact that I don't like this 328i as much as I did the 328i at the launch event," he wrote. "First of all, the cars at the launch were equipped with the automatic, and now that I've driven the manual, with its long clutch travel, I'd say the eight-speed autobox is definitely my preference. I think another issue is that those cars were Sport Line models, with the adaptive M suspension, whereas this is the Luxury Line version. In comfort mode, the Luxury Line steering is way over-boosted and just feels sloppy on center; you have to call up sport mode to tighten things up. The annoying part is that the car defaults to comfort mode every time you turn it on. Why can't it remember where it was when it was shut off? "
Speaking of shutting off, Lorio had no issue with the functionality of the auto stop/start system, but agreed that it's not at all smooth on restart. He did, however, praise the head-up display, calling it "an underrated feature," as well as the trick new top-view parking camera system, which uses front, rear, and side mirror-mounted cameras to project a simulated aerial view on the center screen.
It's about time for the 328i to return to the home office, which means one thing: it's time for another long road trip. If past notebook entries are any guide, whoever ferries the 328i back to Ann Arbor will find it a bit ponderous until he/she hits the highway, at which point it should be smooth sailing all the way.