It's fall in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that the wind is picking up and the leaves are changing. Our opinions of the BMW 328i? Not so much.
The BMW began its month still on the East Coast, with senior editor Joe Lorio and New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman, both of whom admitted that they like the car's luxurious, soft ride but find the lack of sportiness (in our Luxury Line model) a little disconcerting in a car we've long referred to as "The Ultimate Driving Machine."
Kitman, like many of us, recognized that the car is perfectly comfortable on long stretches of highway, but its performance on the crowded, hectic streets of New York City left him a bit cold. "Sometimes theengine and the gearbox hook up with the chassis just right, but other times it just feels clunky to me," he wrote, "so I've taken to calling it The Penultimate Driving Machine." Senior editor Joe Lorio took issue with the clutch's high engagement point, which requires a lot of practice and can actually force the driver to change his/her seating position. "I struggled with the clutch take-up in the 328i -- which is odd, because I had no problem at all in the 335i," he wrote.
That 335i in question was a red Sport Line example, one of the twenty-eight cars we brought to our annual Automobile of the Year testing in western Michigan. There was little question whether the more powerful, sportier 335i Sport Line would outshine the 328i Luxury -- it did -- but what surprised many was how much more we preferred the old 3-series, as represented by a 2013 BMW X1. The X1, you'll recall, sits atop the last-generation 3-series platform, but adds the 2.0-liter turbo four from the current 328i and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Crucially, all-wheel-drive versions like our xDrive28i use the old 3-series' hydraulic steering rack, and that's what got associate web editor Donny Nordlicht's attention.
"In the X1, the steering is delightfully weighted on-center, and builds off-center in a natural manner -- it almost feels like a part of the driver," he said. "In the 328i the electric power steering system distances the driver from the road. Pavement imperfections aren't transmitted as clearly (if at all), the weight feels artificial, and the physical steering wheel is too thin and too big." Even so, the 3-series continues to rack up the miles...comfortably. "It's far from thrilling, no doubt, but this car is luxurious," wrote road test editor Chris Nelson after driving the BMW from New York back to Ann Arbor.
Nelson's ride back to Michigan was mostly uneventful, but along the way he encountered a now-familiar electrical gremlin with the cooling system. For months now, we've noticed that the car intermittently complains of having low coolant (via a message on the infotainment screen), even though the reservoir is adequately filled. We first checked with BMW of Ann Arbor about the issue back at the end of July (at 15,221 miles) and were told that there were no issues with the cooling system. During the 328i's second visit to the dealer (for scheduled maintenance, at the end of October), the service technicians simply topped off the fluids and proclaimed it good to go, saying that the techs couldn't replicate the issue (no road tests were performed during either visit)."The low coolant light was supposedly due to low coolant, but I ain't buying it," said Nelson. It's an issue that has us considering a new coolant level sensor...and a new BMW service center. "This is the dealership that marked our tire condition as 'good' on a multi-point inspection sheet...after our track-day adventures took chunks out of them," Nelson added.
On the plus side, however, the scheduled maintenance (lube/oil/filter, tire rotation, fluids check) was complimentary (a part of BMW's free scheduled maintenance scheme). But we'd like to get this coolant level warning situation figured out once and for all.