"[The engine] really does feel like it belongs in a BMW."
Our BMW 328i Luxury returns to the manufacturer in just a few days. If you thought that its impending departure and an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" attitude would cause our final logbook updates to be saccharine, you'd be wrong: the BMW's strengths and weaknesses were as clear as ever during the past month.
It probably didn't help that the temperatures bounced from "wow, it's cold" to "uncovered extremities may fall off." We weren't happy about the single-digit (and occasionally sub-zero) thermometer readings, but the 328i's N20 turbocharged four-cylinder engine liked it even less. "I fired up the 328i this morning, and it sounded like the car was wearing an i and not a d on the back," wrote associate web editor Evan McCausland. "The turbo four is clattery and cantankerous when starting in extreme cold." It's enough to make us wonder what the forthcoming 3-series diesel will sound like in similar conditions.
But once the car (and the heated seats, and the automatic climate control) warmed up, it performed well. "It may not make the sweet noises of a BMW I-6, but this engine is still one of the best-sounding turbo fours on the market," associate web editor Donny Nordlicht declared. "It has plenty of power, too. It's fun to wring out and to drive hard.
"It really does feel like it came from BMW," he added. "It feels like it belongs in a BMW."
While the engine was a good choice, the transmission -probably wasn't. We've been grumbling for months that the clutch pedal has too much travel and the gearstick throws are has too long. By the end of the test, many of us felt that skipping the third pedal -- something we don't often recommend -- would have been a better option. "This manual transmission is a great piece of evidence in the case against having a manual just for the sake of having three pedals," wrote senior web editor Phil Floraday. "It's just not much fun to row these gears." Nordlicht also observed that "the center console clearly wasn't designed for a manual transmission, because you will knock into anything in the cupholders when you shift into gears one, three, or five. Also, reverse is either too easy to engage or nearly impossible."
So, perhaps the perfect 3-series is a 328i with the eight-speed automatic transmission. Or perhaps it's not a 3-series at all. "Remember," wrote Nordlicht, "for roughly 10 grand less than our 328i, you can get an X1 with the same content and the driving dynamics we've known and loved about BMWs. Ten grand. Sit with that thought for a minute." He also noted that, for the money, it's difficult to make a case of driving dynamics over cars like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class or the Volvo S60.
So, why buy one at all? Well, most of us agree that the 3-series (despite our nitpicking) is a better all-around performer than ever before -- a luxury sedan with good looks, a very good engine, and a great brand name. That's a good thing for BMW, but for those of us who have lauded the 3-series for its unfailing dynamic prowess, this 328i leaves something to be desired. "This is among the most sensible 3-series I've ever driven," wrote Floraday, but he added, "that might be why it's not so endearing to me."