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Motoring: Beamin' down the road in the BMW 328i

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 15th, 2012

Since 1975, one of the bestselling entry-level luxury cars on the planet has been the BMW 3 Series. It manages to be successful because it offers most of the style, space and even the pace of much bigger luxury cars, but in a more compact, affordable package.

For 2012, BMW has launched a new 3 Series, so does this car carry on from where the last one left off, or has it gone in a new direction?

From a styling point of view, it sends a mixed signal. While the rear-three-quarter view reminds me of the current 5 Series sedan, the front end is much sleeker, and seems to be inspired by the BMW Z4. It took me some time to warm up to this new design, but the more I see it, the more I like it. It is certainly more striking to behold than the current Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Open the door and things only get better. The fit and finish is superb everywhere you look and touch; the cabin is very spacious, both in the front and the back; and you get almost all the gadgets you get in bigger Beemers.

New to the 3 Series, you can choose from three different trim levels, and each has its own style. There is the Sport Line, which has blacked-out grilles and black and red contrasting on the dashboard with matching stitching on the seats and steering wheel. There is the Luxury Line, which features high-gloss chrome and wood trim, giving a feeling of luxury. Then there is what they call the Modern Line, which features satin aluminum trim and with the use of contrasting trim surfaces, gives this a very... umm… modern look.

My tester had the Sport Line trim with the Premium Package (alarm system, comfort access, rear view camera, etc.), plus Park Distance Control and Metallic Paint. So while a new 328i starts at $43,600, my tester was worth $51,000.

Open its massive bonnet and you'll find a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. But before you shrug this off as an overpriced entry-level luxury car, let me tell you this fourcylinder motor has a Twin-Scroll turbo charger. This motor is small, but it is also powerful since it produces 240 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque. Put your foot down and zero to 100 km/h is dispatched in 5.8 seconds, and top speed (in the Sport Line package) is limited to 250 km/h. This is a swift car.

Part of the reason for its swiftness is thanks to its brand-new eight-speed automatic gearbox. While a six-speed manual is still offered, the big news is the automatic, which, thanks to its eight gears, makes this a very rapid car. Not only does it shift gears very quickly, it also shifts gears very smoothly. Even when pushing hard, the shifts are precise, quick and smooth, so no fear or spilling your coffee if you're having a sip during shifts. This is a great car to be in.

This is also a very fuel-efficient car. My week's average of city and highway driving was just 7.1 litres/100 km. That makes it more fuel efficient than some hybrid sedans I've driven and is even more economical than the Mini Roadster I tested a few months ago. Part of the reason for its fuel sipping is its Eco-Pro mode, which configures the car's engine speed and gearing for optimal fuel efficiency. It works very well and saves you gas. What doesn't work very well is its Engine Start-Stop feature. In theory, it is supposed to shut the engine off when you come to a stop and restart it again when you take your foot off the brake pedal. It does do that, but it is jerky and very annoying in traffic jams or in neighborhoods. Good thing there is a way to shut this feature off.

While being comfortable and efficient is good, what put the 3 Series on the map was its ability to thrill. This is a small-ish luxury car that has always been fun to drive, especially on twisty roads. I have always been a fan of the 3 Series for just this reason, and I'm happy to say I'll continue to be a fan, because this rear-wheel drive sedan (all-wheel drive models also an option) can still really entertain you when the roads look like a bowl of spaghetti. Thanks to its perfect weight balance and a chassis and suspension setup by the best engineers in the business, it handles better than you think it does. All this ability while still offering a comfortable ride — I'm in.

You now can also get in at a very affordable level. The base 3 Series is the 320i, which starts at $35,900. The one I tested, a 328i starts at $43,600 (as mentioned before), while the current range topper, the 335i (the only six-cylinder version on offer) is yours from $51,200.

To be honest, when I first got in this car and saw the "as tested" price tag, I wasn't convinced. After roughly an hour's drive, I was already on my way to seeing its worth. After a week of driving, I am convinced where my money would go, if I ever have that type of outlay to spend on a car.
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