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      11-16-2011, 07:28 PM   #1
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Post Automobile Magazine F30 328i First Drive Review: Maintains 3-Series Character

Automobile Magazine F30 328i First Drive Review: Maintains 3-Series Character

Automobile Magazine was also among the first group of the automotive press to drive the F30 3 series. Their verdict? They were relieved to experience that the overall character of the 3-series has been maintained in this latest form.

Highlights below:

Of the U.S.-market cars, the 328i with the eight-speed automatic is the version that BMW had on hand for us to try. A Sport Line model in Melbourne red, it was also brimming with all the equipment thats new to the 3-series, including the adaptive M suspension (an option exclusive to the Sport Line), variable sport steering, and a phalanx of electronics: a head-up display, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, a rear-view camera with surround view, and hands-free trunk opening.
Our first drive took us through some stop-and-go suburban driving before we got out into the countryside, where a long series of two-lane switchbacks delivered us to Montserrat, and then on to our hotel. The 2.0-liter four doesnt have quite the sophisticated thrum of a straight six at start up, but the engine boasts a trick flywheel and two counter rotating balance shafts that help make it quite smooth at idle. Run it up the tach and it emits a satisfying growl. With an additional 60 pound-feet of torque compared to the old six, it also moves the 328i with verve. The car zips from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds (factory figures), which is a full second quicker than the previous 328i with its six-speed automatic. Paired with the manual, the turbo four is even quicker, reaching 60 mph in 5.7 seconds (0.6 second quicker than before). With peak torque coming in at a low, 1250 rpm, the car is energetic right off the line, and the boost is beautifully integrated.
Standard on the new 3-series is a drive mode rocker switch, to toggle among four settings: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport-plus. Eco Pro is part of BMWs Efficient Dynamics push, and it reduces the drag on the engine by running systems such as the air conditioning and the seat heaters at less than full capacity. Thats fine, but it also remaps the throttle to kill engine responsiveness, and it tries to coach you by showing little nagging icons on the dash, suggesting that you slow down and let off the gas. We quickly grew tired of Eco Pro.

Switching between Comfort and Sport also alters throttle mapping and transmission shift strategy, as well as steering effort and damper firmness (with the optional adaptive suspension). Sport-plus is the same as Sport, but switches the stability control to dynamic mode. Steering effort in Comfort mode is a little lighter than the BMW norm, so we preferred Sport. In either mode, however, the variable sport steering provided a little too variable over the fast switchbacks, providing more lock than we thought wed asked for. Overall, though, its nowhere near as weird as BMWs active steering (which it replaces), but wed still skip it.
We have no such reservations about the suspension, which exhibits all the athleticism weve come to expect here. That was particularly in evidence over five rainy laps of the Circuit de Catalunya, where the new 3 really came into its own. The steering, which we had been thinking was a bit less communicative than the delightfully informative system in the previous car, here conveyed plenty of info about the front tires tenuous relationship with the wet tarmac. The chassis balance (weight distribution is 50:50) was also evident, helping us on the slick circuit to keep the car in the narrow band between front-end push and power oversteer. The dynamic stability control permits generous drift angles before pulling in the reins. It also can be switched off completely by holding down the DTC button; as ever, the 3-series lets go in a controlled manner and is easy to gather up. Even on the track, however, we could not discern much of a difference in firmness between the adaptive suspension in Comfort mode and in Sport. It may be that the changes in damping rates are only evident over bad pavement, and we didnt encounter much of that in Spain. Nothing that we did find suggested that Sport mode would be unduly harsh, but the roads back home will be a better test of that.

Overall, our first drive shows the latest 3-series to have suffered hardly at all for the cause of greater efficiency. Yes, some aspects of the 3-series have been altered, and others have been improved, but that the overall character of the car has been maintained. And thats a relief.

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