"I'm surprised how much grip these things have in the slush."
It could have been the eggnog, or the Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday spirit, or the extended vacation time. Whatever it was, there was a noticeable warming effect on the comments in BMW 328i's logbook in December. As the winds whipped Ann Arbor and the temperature dropped, a number of things about the black sport sedan endeared it to us.
It begins with the little button above the engine on/off switch that disables the automatic stop/start system -- BMW's first on a 3-series. We laud the idea of stop/start for its frugal intentions, but most of us hate it in action due to shuddery stops and starts, not to mention the way it makes the gearstick dance. One side effect of the recent cold snap, during which morning temperatures hovered somewhere between the freezing point and single digits, was noted by copy editor Rusty Blackwell, who found that "stop/start doesn't activate much, if at all, in the cold December temperatures." With Mother Nature pushing the stop/start defeat button for us, we didn't have to push the button ourselves.
That isn't to say that the engine is flawless in the cold, as Blackwell relates: "The engine's noisy idle made my four-year-old nervous to walk behind the sputtering, idling 3-series." Between the raspy, wheezy intake/exhaust noise, the direct-injection noise, and what sounds like the timing chain dinging around the engine bay, the N20 turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 seems to be about as grumpy in the morning as we are. Thankfully, the heated seats are up to the job of thawing us out, and the automatic HVAC warms up quickly, even when the still-broken coolant sensor claims the engine is ice-cold.
Once the car warmed up, we turned our thoughts and senses elsewhere. With ice and snow covering Michigan's roads, we ditched the expensive, brittle, chattery Goodyear EfficientGrip tires from the summer and opted for a set of Pirelli Sottozero Serie II winter tires at a cost of $830.88. Worth it? That's a yes: we quickly noticed how well the tires took to the road conditions, whether they were cold/dry, slushy, or snow-covered; a few of us even suggested that the new winter tires were better than the old all-seasons. That's a credit to the Pirellis, which are designed more like seasonal tires than simple winter ones. Pirelli says that the tread compound is designed for a wide range of temperatures, and the tread patterns are engineered for both lateral grip and maximum snow grip thanks to additional biting edges. Road test editor Chris Nelson notes that the Sottozeros seem to deliver as advertised: "The Pirellis aren't that aggressive, so they don't add lots of road noise, but they still have a lot of grip in the slush."
Although the 328i received some praise over the holiday, we still started the new year the same way we ended the last: wondering what, if any, other 3-series model we would have preferred. Those of us who drove the 328i Sport Line back to back with our Four Seasons 328i Luxury Line months ago maintain we should have purchased that package. Others fault the manual transmission in the Luxury Line car and say equipping it with the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission would have fixed everything. Still others, like Nelson, think that a different engine would have transformed the car: "After driving the 335i at last year's Automobile of the Year testing week, I have to say our model lacks the emotion of that sport sedan."
Then again, after he spent his holiday break driving the 328i to Toronto, Nelson warmed up to our Four Seasons BMW in its role as a luxury cruiser. "It is one damn fine luxury sedan," he wrote, adding, "it's not harsh and it doesn't lack charm; it's actually quite charming, quite lovely."
In any case, our Luxury Line 328i's time with us is dwindling. For its sake -- and the sake of positive notebook comments -- we hope the temperatures stay low.