Not long into our Four Seasons test of a Luxury Line 328i, I realized that the correct powertrain setup for this car would include the eight-speed automatic, not the six-speed manual. Never mind dispensing with the the vague, spongy action of the manual transmission's clutch pedal and the long-throw shift linkage. Instead consider that the eight-speed automatic is well matched to the N20 four-cylinder engine. You never find yourself down on power and the shifts are always smooth. The automatic is a better fit for a sport sedan that errs on the side of luxury.
This M Sport model doesn't completely address all the issues we had with the Four Seasons car, yet the suspension is much firmer and the steering feels more direct. However, neither the chassis nor the steering is as communicative as in past 3-series cars. In the case of the chassis, this is a good thing (you won't rattle your fillings loose), but the steering still feels artificial, even if the effort level in the M Sport has a more heft than our Luxury Line did.
Would the 328i M Sport have been the better choice for our long-term car? I don't think so. We probably would have complained about the firm suspension after a few months, plus the high-performance tires are loud at speeds over 20 mph. Also the price tag of an M Sport 3er would have exceeded the even the already high) $49,870 cost of our 328i Luxury Line by around $4000, similarly equipped.
Still, all this doesn't mean we'd be stuck choosing between a rock and a softly sprung place, since the BMW Sport Line that splits the difference between the M Sport and Luxury Line.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
There's a reason that our Four Seasons BMW 328i Luxury Line met unfavorable reviews during its year with us, despite being a great luxury sedan. And it's this: we know that the BMW 3 Series is capable of greatness. It's not enough for a mid-size sedan with the Roundel to be comfortable and quick; it must also excite the driver. While the BMW 328i M Sport automatic isn't without flaw, it is exciting -- and that's good.
Let's start with the transmission. It's BMW's adaptation of the ZF-built 8HP automatic, and it's nearly perfect. Just ease into the throttle pedal and the programming keeps the revs below 2500 rpm; mash it to the floor and the car will shift up just shy of redline. Mated to the 8HP, the 328i's turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline-4 feels sharper and more responsive than ever.
The steering is equally improved. BMW engineers haven't quite matched the hefty effort level and precise action of the tiller for the last 3 Series, but this electric-assist rack-and-pinion setup with speed-sensitive variable action comes very close. The effort is heavy when you want it (back roads) and light when you don't (parking lots), and it always inspires plenty of confidence. But the M Sport's most important upgrade is the suspension. During cornering and quick directional changes, the tighter control of body roll means that you won't have to wait a tick after turning the wheel for the car to settle into a corner.
The important thing to note here is that these M Sport options -- including the transmission and the $1000 dynamic handling package -- are available on every 328i, regardless of trim level. This is good, because while the M Sport package looks good (especially that M6-inspired steering wheel), the $1350 premium over a Sport Line is money you could spend elsewhere. You know, like buying the dynamic handling package.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor