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      02-05-2012, 02:21 AM   #1

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2012 F30 3 series review - The Gazette


My apologies. This wont be the standard, authoritative road test expected from your resident loud-mouth shnook. You know, the one where after exhaustive combing of the media kit, not to mention a kilometre or two behind the wheel I definitively state that, yea or nay, this car is the cats meow. Instead, this evaluation will be filled with the ifs, ands and buts of the possible and probable as I grapple with both the car BMW will be immediately offering, what it will offer in the future and what it all means for the brand in the long run.

I hardly need to remind you that the 3 Series is BMWs bread and butter. Yes, in recent years, the company has diversified into Sports Activity Vehicles (its semi-pretentious name for SUVs), fortified its larger cars (such as the 5 and 7 Series) as well as started an entire new entry-level line (the 1 Series). But it still remains that whither goes the 3 goes BMW.

Almost as obvious is that the 3, like the rest of the BMW lineup, is undergoing significant changes. As complex as the automotive world may be, these influences can be summed up in two simple categories: one represented by BMWs recent (and now defunct) Joy marketing campaign that saw the company trying to broaden its audience, and the other forced upon it by governments legislating increasingly stringent fuel economy standards. The latter has seen BMW drop its traditional high-revving engines in favour of turbocharging when seeking more power (i.e., in topline trims and M-badged models), while the former still sees BMW paying as much attention to comfort and comportment as it does to the handling and steering for which it is legendary.

Indeed, the 328i I recently tested is a perfect example of both influences. Immediately recognizable as a BMW 3 Series despite its styling revisions, under the hood is yet another of BMWs increasingly ubiquitous N20 turbocharged four-cylinders. Already tested in the X1 and more recently in the up-market 5 Series, the four-banger punches well above its weight, its measly 2.0 litres pumping out a boast-worthy 241 horsepower and an even more impressive 258 pound-feet of torque. Compared with the naturally aspirated 3.0L in-line six it replaces in all cars with the 28 suffix, thats a gain of 11 hp and 58 lb-ft of torque respectively.

It shows. The new 328i four-cylinder is actually one second faster to 100 kilometres an hour than the previous 328i six. Most noticeable is the surfeit of low-end power, the combination of the turbo fours abundant torque and the new eight-speed automatic transmission making the new 328i feel much more robust. Launch is forceful (BMW Canada claims a creditable 6.3 seconds to 100 km/h) and, when passing on the highway, the 2.0L feels twice as large. No need for high revs or gnashing of valves, the 328i scoots past traffic with ease. And did I mention that Transport Canada rates the new 328 at 6.8 L/100 km overall, a 22% improvement over the outgoing model?

On the other hand (and did I not promise a whole passel of buts), the four does not feel as smooth or as sporty as the replaced in-line six. Its difficult to express with words the concept of a faster car being less sporty, but BMW in-line sixes are happy little engines, just bursting with eagerness to rev their hearts out. Meanwhile, the new four, while displaying some enthusiasm for the entire process, is never quite as happy. Nor does it sound as good. Thats not so much a condemnation of the new N20 engine as reiterating that BMWs in-line six is still one of the sweetest-sounding engines in the biz.

BMW is betting that most who shop the 328i simply wont care. In its quest to broaden its clientele, the spinning propeller company quickly determined that not everyone shopping in its showrooms is an enthusiast. Indeed, the vast majority are just looking for a luxury car. For them, the loss of two pistons and the resultant somniferous exhaust note will not be noticed. That theyre getting more horsepower with at least the promise of better fuel economy is far more important.

The same can be said of the 328is comportment. Each successive generation of 3 Series has focused on improving the cars already-stellar handling. No mass-market four-door sedan has ever compared with the compact BMWs road holding. Plus, its steering precision is legendary and the balance between ride and handling is almost magical.

Whats obvious is that, in broadening its audience (for the 328i, at least), BMW has tilted that balance to the ride side of the equation. Not that the new 328i handles worse than the old car or worse than any of its competition, for that matter only the obviousness that, in redesigning the 328i, its applied its prodigious talent to optimum bump absorption rather than maximum grip. Indeed, no other compact sedan can romp over a set of train tracks with quite the aplomb of the new 328i; the sharp-edged tracks might as well be a minor frost heave so assiduously does the cars dampers absorb their impact.

As laudable as that is, however, it does not fit in with BMWs reputation as a performance sedan non-pareil. For that, one has to move from the $43,600 328i (up $2,100 despite two less pistons) to the $51,200 335i, which sports, among other things, two extra pistons. BMW says the 3.0L with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft scoots to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds. This, if youve been paying attention, is just 0.6 seconds quicker than the four-banger. It feels like more. Perhaps BMW switched stopwatches. Or perhaps Im just a diehard six-cylinder fan, but it feels more powerful than the numbers would indicate. Theres something languid about the way a turbocharged BMW in-line six makes power, cresting early but then revving so sweetly that youd swear it could go on forever. Drive the 328i by itself and there is nothing wrong with it. Drive the two back to back and theres no comparison.

My 335i tester was also equipped with the sport suspension, which tidied up its handling quite nicely. But and this is the if part of equation I mentioned earlier theres some question as to whether this option (Adaptive M sport suspension to be exact) will be coming to Canada. While both the 328 and 335 will be offered with a more basic M Sport package, the adaptive version adds adjustable damping to the basic systems 10-millimetre lower ride height and stiffer springs. According to BMW Canada, however, the Adaptive Ms sport setting is almost identical to the optional suspension that will be offered here. BMWs new electrically boosted, rack-and-pinion-based Variable Sport Steering was also part of the 335i testers benefits and is also recommended. I get that some might not appreciate the difference in steering feel and road holding, but this is where BMW truly shines. The automaker may have some competition when it comes to coddling passengers with the cushiest ride, but it has no equal when it is allowed to focus on building the best-handling performance sedans on the planet.

In the end, those looking for a specific, concrete conclusion will have to deal with a bit of ambiguity. If youre a performance purist, you may lament that BMW is now playing in the same turbo-four entry-level luxury sedan market that Audi and Mercedes have been in for so long. On the other hand, BMW still offers for a higher price tag all that six-cylinder/handling goodness enthusiasts have always craved.

If this is just an indication BMW is being more inclusive without losing sight of its core values, then its a smart move. However, if it thinks, since 75% of its 3 Series sales now come from four-cylinder owners, that it can shuck all this performance/handling nonsense, it would be good to remember that history is littered with the remains of companies that abandoned their core values. BMW needs the 328i and 335i in equal measure. (You knew I was going to get to the final piece of the puzzle eventually.)
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      02-05-2012, 03:59 AM   #2
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thanx, interesting writeup, different than others.
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      02-05-2012, 11:06 AM   #3
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I think the engine comparison is really useful...
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      02-05-2012, 12:24 PM   #4
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Good Job on giving the justification and rational behind the big push on the 328i!

but for OP and i we dont really care since we are still going for the 335i :P and even M5 for OP! LOL
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      02-05-2012, 03:23 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by 09BlkSapphire View Post
http://www.montrealgazette.com/cars/...521/story.htmlIn its quest to broaden its clientele, the spinning propeller company quickly determined that not everyone shopping in its showrooms is an enthusiast.
What spinning propeller company is the 'journalist' talking about. I trust that he is NOT referring to BMW. He needs to research his history before making such incorrect statements.

If he is referring to the BMW blue and white logo - actually he is - the logo does not and has NEVER represented any spinning propeller. It is the Bavarian colours. That's it. But us BMW enthusiasts know that, don't we.
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      03-10-2012, 07:45 AM   #6
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Great review.

No doubt they'll find many buyers for a 4 cyl 3er. But I will not be one of them. Shame that this year's 335 wasn't labeled 328, with a bigger bump-up for the high-end 3.
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      03-10-2012, 08:35 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by David325Australia View Post

If he is referring to the BMW blue and white logo - actually he is - the logo does not and has NEVER represented any spinning propeller.
It used to be, but history has been corrected during the past few yrs.
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      03-10-2012, 09:48 AM   #8

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I didn't know this but here's the scoop. BMW did associate the logo with a propeller once in a 1929 illustration, but that was 12 years after the logo had already been in existence. So it's difficult to say that the logo was inspired by a propeller and there's no concrete evidence to say that it was. I didn't know that. Below is a good explanation video:

Check this video out: http://www.bmwcoop.com/2010/06/09/sh...-the-bmw-logo/
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      03-10-2012, 11:05 AM   #9

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Nice review. Highlights some of the major choices a new buyer must make regarding the character of the car and the engine.

Recent Roundel raised some similar issues especially regarding the lack of smoothness in the 4 banger stop/start technology.
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      03-10-2012, 12:55 PM   #10
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I drived both 328i and 335i in the same day and it is not so big difference when you compare acceleration. The 335i have better exhaust sound but thats it, nothing more special with the engine.

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      03-10-2012, 01:34 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Nero7 View Post
I drived both 328i and 335i in the same day and it is not so big difference when you compare acceleration. The 335i have better exhaust sound but thats it, nothing more special with the engine.
Well in my book, 50% of the engine experience is about feel and sound. A big thing for me. Of course if I didn't own many Bimmer before, it would be different. As it is for me the N20 is of no interest, whatever the numbers.
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