Still World Class
Frank S. Washington, Sat, 21 Jan 2012 03:39:36 PST
CHICAGO -It's been six years since BMW's 3 Series was redesigned and the compact car still ranks as one of the world's best automobiles.
I drove the 2011 328i here from Detroit. It was a stripped down model, well, for a BMW, and that allowed me to really appreciate what makes a Bimmer so special - the engine.
My test car was powered by an inline six cylinder normally aspirated engine that made 230 horsepower and 200 foot-pounds of torque. The car had the standard six-speed manual transmission and that engine was as smooth as a summertime breeze. By that I mean there was no engine friction that I could hear or feel.
BMW said the 328i could get from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. I have absolutely no reason to doubt those numbers. Just a touch on the accelerator and my test car sped ahead as the speedometer topped 90 mph. And I noted that very little wind or road noise found its way into the passenger cabin.
Granted, I was on an Interstate Highway which is about as pristine as a road can get in this country. But even after I got on the Windy City's rough and tumble neighborhood streets, the quiet of the passenger cabin was like another world.
And handling was a non event. Getting the 328i to go anywhere I wanted, whether turning a corner, quickly changing lanes on the Dan Ryan Expressway, or parking was like maneuvering through fog. There was no resistance.
It was awfully comfortable inside that car as well. BMW, for the most part, has stuck with horizontal instrument layouts. The interior seemed expansive in the front though head and leg room were a little close in the rear seat area. Still, sitting in the 328i was awfully relaxing.
The car had BMW's value package: iPod and USB adapter, keyless entry, push button start and stop and burl walnut wood trim. My only quibble was the iPod adapter. I could never get my iPod to shuffle songs using the radio controls.
As usual, I'm sure it was something I was doing wrong but I shouldn't need to get out the owner's manual to operate what amounts to the radio. I ended up converting the adapter to its auxiliary mode and rolled on down the road to the shuffling assortment of music on my iPod.
Speaking of rolling, the fuel efficiency for the 328i was not bad especially when gasoline prices hovered around four bucks a gallon in Michigan and Indiana and approached five bucks in Illinois. My test vehicle was rated at 18/28 in city and highway driving.
BMW said on the highway that fuel efficiency could climb to as much a 33 mpg depending on the driver. I had the cruise control on a good bit of time and ended up using a half a tank of gasoline to get here and a matching half a tank to return.
The sport package consisted of 17-inch alloy wheels, a fat leather covered steering wheel, a sport suspension and sport seats. Years ago I read that BMW excels in its seat design and that was true of the sport seats of the 328i
At times my seat felt like it had inflatable side bladders to hold me in place during my aggressive cornering. It didn't but the sensation was a testament to the BMW designers and engineers responsible for its seats.
As sporty as my BMW 328i was I think it would work well as a workhorse. In other words, the car does well as an everyday driver that is reasonably economical to drive. Add in that it can also be a lot of fun to drive gets street credibility because of its styling and says that its driver is cool and it's hard to beat BMW's 328i.
Getting all that for $36,575 is not bad either.