February 27, 2013, 9:47 pm
Here's the full online review:
PhotosVideoBase MSRP price range: $32,550 - $68,750 HighsFuel economy, handling, ride, acceleration, transmission, fit and finish, reliability. LowsEngine clatter at startup, controls, abrupt start/stop system, shift lever. See our user reviewsAlready own it? Write a reviewCar Type: Compact sports sedansCR overall score What's this? 86 958673
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Road Testsedan 328i 4-cyl
By almost any important measure the new BMW 3 Series is an excellent car. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 328i we tested makes the car quick yet frugal, achieving 28 mpg overall. Ride comfort, a cabin quiet, and interior fit and finish are all impressive. Even the tight rear seats have picked up a little breathing room. Steering feel is less tactile than previous models, though, and some controls remain needlessly complicated. Our main peeves concerned the engine idle, which sounds rough at startup; and the newly introduced stop/start system, which operates too abruptly. Even if the new 3 Series is slightly less driver-focused, it still delivers a very satisfying and balanced overall driving experience. A hybrid sedan based on the six-cylinder turbo is new for 2013.
The Driving Experience
Ride comfort and noise: The new 3 Series rides very comfortably, with its well-tuned suspension blunting nearly every bump in the road. The highway ride is rock solid, supple, and controlled. Little road or wind noise is allowed inside the quiet cabin, but there's just no disguising the fact that the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine is notably noisier than any of the famous inline six-cylinder engines it replaced.
Handling: In everyday driving, the 328i feels taut and agile, tackling tight corners with hardly any body lean and quick turn-in response. Compared with previous generations, the steering now feels more assisted and less precise on-center. Selecting Sport mode doesn't remedy that but gives the wheel a little more heft.
The 328i comes alive when pushed hard, and it proved both secure and very enjoyable at our track. The stability control allows just enough rear end slide to easily adjust the cornering line, and driving enthusiasts can shut off the ESC altogether for more spirited driving. It posted a high speed through our avoidance maneuver, showing lots of grip and balance behavior, thus instilling confidence.
Powertrain: Acceleration times are very impressive considering the mere 2.0-liter displacement of our car's 240-hp base turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Acceleration feels punchy at mid to high revs but a little lackluster at low revs. A turbocharged six-cylinder is available in the 335i.
The eight-speed automatic is very smooth and responsive, shifting imperceptibly. A six-speed manual is available. A mode selector, with EcoPro, Comfort, and Sport settings, makes a noticeable difference, changing throttle response and shift points for maximum fuel economy or maximum response. In the default Comfort mode, we averaged 28 mpg. The rather fiddly electronic shift lever has a manual-override feature that works easily.
Despite this powertrain's impressive performance and fuel economy, it's not perfect. At idle and low speeds the engine makes an audible clatter, almost like a diesel. More annoying was the fuel-saving stop/start system, which frequently shuts off the engine at idle, restarting when you release the brake. The car shakes a bit when the engine shuts off and then shudders when it restarts. That feature saves fuel -- we found it gained one mpg in our city-driving cycle -- but its coarseness was unwelcome. Thankfully, it can be shut off.
Braking: Overall performance was very good, with short stops on both wet and dry pavement.
Headlights: The low-beam halogen lights don't provide enough forward visibility to allow the driver time to see, react and brake for objects in the road. The high beams have very good forward visibility and intensity.
Inside The Cabin
Driving position: Most drivers can get comfortably situated behind the wheel. There's plenty of leg- and head room, and a well-placed dead-pedal left footrest. The center tunnel intrudes a bit at shin level, though. Taller drivers' knees may feel cramped. The tilt and telescope steering wheel, while helpful, is stiff to adjust and can partly block the view to the gauges. Oddly, the shoulder-belt anchor doesn't adjust for height. We think that any $40,000 car should have a standard backup camera, but here it's optional. Even without it, though, the view out is very good. Roof pillars are thin and windows are large.
Seat comfort and access: The front seats are well-padded, with firm support that holds up on long trips. Power lumbar adjustment provides good lower-back support. Our Luxury model has the standard seats, which are fairly flat and have modest bolstering, but they provide enough lateral support for routine driving. Seats with more pronounced bolsters come in the Sport trim line.
The rear seats are well-shaped and supportive for two adults but the bottom cushion is a bit low and leg room is just OK. Access posed no special problems front or rear into the low-slung car.
Controls and gauges: Most gauges are clear, the climate system uses simple buttons, and the large center dashboard screen is easy to read, but speedometer labeling is in coarse 10 mph increments, making it hard to know exactly how fast you're going.
Despite improvements, such as hard keys for some radio and most climate functions, the iDrive multi-controller system remains confusing. You still have to dive into the menus for manual station tuning or for selecting satellite radio.
Another feature we've never liked is the counterintuitive shift lever, which requires the driver to push the shifter forward from park to engage reverse. You must also press one button to shift into gear and another to park. The wiper and turn signal stalks instantly return to center, making it hard to cancel an input or figure out the wiper setting you're using, but the rain sensing feature works well minimizing the need to fiddle. The power lock button is in the center dashboard; we'd prefer it on the doors.
An integrated iPod interface uses the iDrive controller to move through song menus. Voice commands can work some functions, but you cannot, for instance, pick a specific song by voice. Bluetooth hands-free phone capability comes standard, but we couldn't always pair our phones successfully.
Interior fit and finish: Cabin furnishings are first-rate, with many padded surfaces and copious chrome and burl walnut trim. The textured leather seats have attractive decorative stitching and you'll find soft low-pile carpeting underfoot. We noted a slight gap behind the door pulls and a large one next to the glove box door.
Cabin storage and cargo room: Cabin storage is modest with a small bin under the armrest. The trunk can hold two large suitcases and a duffel. Folding the optional 60/40-spilt folding seatbacks makes more cargo space. No jack or spare tire is included, since the stock tires are run-flats.
Safety belts: The front safety belts have pretensioners. Belts in all positions have force limiters.
Air bags: Front-, side-, and head-protecting curtain air bags are standard; front occupants have knee bags as well. If sensors detect a child-sized occupant in the front passenger seat, they disable that position's air bags.
Head restraints: Power-adjustable active head restraints in front are tall enough to protect adults even when they're lowered. Rear outboard restraints are adjustable and tall enough to protect adults even when lowered as well. The center-rear restraint must be flipped up to protect adults.
Crash-avoidance systems: Stability and traction control, and antilock brakes are standard. Lane-departure and blind-spot detection systems are available.
Driving with kids: LATCH anchors can be hard to access but provide a secure fit. Some rear-facing child seats can be difficult to secure in the outbaor rear seats using safety belts. The parcel shelf has three top-tether anchors.
We expect reliability to be much better than average, according to our latest subscriber survey.
Tested model: 2012 328i sedan, 2.0-liter 4-cyl. turbo, 8-speed automatic
Major options: Luxury line (18" wheels, walnut trim), heated steering wheel and seats, folding rear seat, moonroof, power front seats with lumbar, satellite radio.
This road test applies to the current model year of this vehicle.
Full Track Report
Road tests as published in Consumer Reports magazine
2012 328i sedan, 2.0-liter 4-cyl. turbo, 8-speed automatic
2008 328i sedan, 3.0-liter 6-cyl., 6-speed automatic
2008 328i convertible, 3.0-liter 6-cyl., 6-speed automatic
2006 325xi wagon AWD, 3.0-liter 6-cyl., 6-speed automatic
2006 325i sedan, 3.0-liter 6-cyl., 6-speed automatic
2004 M3 coupe, 3.2-liter 6-cyl., 6-speed manual