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      07-08-2012, 01:51 PM   #1
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Post BIMMERPOST REVIEW: 2013 328i Touring (F31)

BIMMERPOST REVIEW: 2013 328i Touring (F31)

A nice car is one way to draw attention. But what does it take to be instantly noticed by the general public? Emotional styling and exotic engine sound might be a good recipe. Then again, it’s sometimes cars far from flashy that cause the most attention. BMW invited us to test one of these cars, the all-new F31 3 Series Touring. But let’s start from the beginning.

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A few months after the introduction of the F30 3 Series Sedan, BMW updates another iconic 3 Series to F model code status. The 5th generation 3 Series Touring, internally dubbed F31 adopts the new styling and chassis of its sedan brethren. The new touring is 97 mm longer than its predecessor - the E91. Rear space has been improved significantly with 17mm more knee room and 9mm more head room for the rear passengers. While the Audi A4 Avant and the Mercedes C-Class T Model offer 490 liters and 485 liters of cargo space, respectively, the F31 tops them at 495 liters of equipment. Make use of the folding rear seats and this number increases to 1500 liters. This extra space helps BMW earn the trophy for best-in-class cargo space, a first for BMW. The rear seats are individually fold-able in a 40/20/40 configuration. To ease access to all this space, the tail gate is now automatically actuated on all models. The optional comfort access system allows the trunk to open without the touch of a single button, but at the risk of looking silly kicking your car's behind to open the trunk.

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I’ve mentioned some cars’ ability to draw attention at the beginning. Unlike in the U.S., tourings/estate versions are widely popular in Germany and many other European countries. They’re roomier and more usable than sedans but also more agile and nimble than SUVs. The attention this car drew during my test drive was still a surprise. At some point, there was a crowd of guys surrounding the car. As it turns out, these middle-aged guys were all current F10 5 Series drivers, and they all were really impressed by the F31. They loved the design, and they considered it to be big enough for their needs. In other words, the F31 made for the most mature and most upscale 3 Series Touring ever. The front end design is similar to the F30, including the new trademark feature of the headlights connecting to the grilles. The side view makes for a long and sleek silhouette while the rear view is typical BMW with a muscular look. There’s not a single design cue about this car I don’t like, it’s flawless.

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BMW brought the 328i Touring for our first drive. As some might know already, I’m a huge fan of this engine, and it doesn’t disappoint in the F31. 245hp and 350Nm (258ft-lbs) are plenty to work with, all coming from the N20 2.0-liter Twin-power turbo engine. Yes, it’s neither as refined nor as throaty as the N52 found in the old 328i, but it makes up for this with usability that’s a notch or three better. Coupled with the amazing 8-speed sport automatic transmission, there’s always enough torque and enough power to get going. This side of 100mph, I never felt that this car could use more power. During my test drive, I averaged about 9 liters per 100 km (26 mpg) which isn’t too bad either.

So let’s talk about handling. Generally, a Touring makes most sense if it combines the aesthetics and agility of a sedan with the added usability of a larger boot; and the F31 328i makes perfect sense in this regard. There’s virtually no difference in handling and agility compared to the F30 328i sedan – this car just feels right. When pushed hard, the F31’s balance makes for a very clear and crisp line. Much like the F30, the F31 has a tendency to understeer when the corner turns out to be tighter than anticipated.

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As with any late BMW model, there are four different modes to select from, namely Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ - the latter of which also activates DTC mode and gives DSC a bit more leeway. Throttle mapping, damper settings and steering effort vary depending on these modes. Speaking of which, there was a bit of a mystery around the steering. Contrary to my earlier drives in several F30 328i models, this F31 328i test car surprisingly lacked both in steering feedback and overall feel. The mystery was soon solved by a friendly BMW employee who acknowledged that the adaptive sports steering was missing on this test car, and this makes for a huge difference. I highly recommend the adaptive sports steering for this reason alone.

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Other available options include all the bells and whistles familiar to the F30, including Head-up display, lane departure warning, lane change assist, and speed limit info. As I’ve said before, the head-up display is a must-have feature. The other options work well for the most part but are a matter of personal preference.

Let's not forget the new Navigation Professional system (full details now announced). You don’t notice any differences at first sight as the iDrive controller and the display have been taken over from the previous navigation system. The differences lie underneath. The previous unit worked based on saved images that were called up by the system on request. Load times and overall operation were acceptable but not as instant as some might have wished for. The new unit has improved a lot in this regard. New hardware allows for a true rendering of the graphics and maps. It’s so powerful that zooming in and out of maps has no lag at all. The graphics are now also making full use of the high resolution display. In a nutshell, everything looks clearer, brighter and more detailed. Think of this jump as BMW’s equivalent of Apple introducing Retina displays. First models to get this new version of the navigation system (besides the F31), are the F01 7 Series LCI, the F10 5 Series, and the F30 Active Hybrid 3. Other F30 models will follow later this year.

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The F31 3 Series Touring will hit European dealer showroom floors on Sept 22, 2012. U.S. customers will have to wait until March 2013 for the F31 328i. The good news is that xDrive and M Sport Package will be available at the U.S. launch. The bad news is no manual transmission and no 335i for now. BMW would love to offer more models but, as history has taught, they don’t expect to sell too many units of the F31 in the U.S. However, if the market proves them wrong and demands for more, they are ready to offer another model, be it a 335i or a Diesel version.

3 Series Touring (F31) Press Conference

328i Touring Sport Line

M Sport 3 Series Touring (F31)