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| A better daily driver, is it still the ultimate driving machine? |
by Colum Wood
Larger, more comfortable and more fuel efficient, the latest generation BMW 3-Series is a better daily driver, but is it still the ultimate driving machine?
Thatís not a question that can be accurately measured on the street and so we set out to our usual test track to run the German sport sedan through its paces.
Rather than the obviously exciting 335i with its turbocharged six-cylinder, we chose the more calm, efficient and less expensive 328i model. To be fair, however, though our tester might have been equipped with the less-potent engine, it was otherwise fully kitted out, with a suite of options that left few lavish items absent.
Missing only the M Sport goodies our Sport Line model came equipped with the upgraded suspension and 225/45/18 performance tires, not to mention a traditional six-speed manual transmission with those perfectly placed pedals for heel-toe action. M-badging aside, a more track-ready 3 Series there isnít.
SPORT LINE MODEL LOOKS THE PART
Outside the car looks the part with its Melbourne red paint contrasting with gloss black accents and even a black chrome exhaust. Inside the sporty theme continues with Sport seats (featuring adjustable side bolsters) coated in black leather with red stitching, while a thick-rimmed black steering wheel with red stitching fits nicely in the hands. Additional accents include custom Sport Line doorsills and gloss black accents on the dash.
At $2,500 above the base $26,500 328i, this is exactly how weíd outfit our 3 Series. Itís hard to argue that from customization to overall quality, the new 3 is remarkably improved when it comes to the cabin.
Exit the pits and put the power down the front straight and it certainly doesnít feel like an entry-level engine. Even more surprising, it doesnít feel like a 4-cylinder.
For 2012, gone is the 3.0-liter straight-six in favor of a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Power is down slightly to 240 hp at 5000 rpm while torque rises considerably to 260 lb-ft between 1250 rpm and 4800 rpm.
Without traffic, curbs or the long arm of the law, a racetrack has an amazing way of dulling the sensation of speed. After all, youíd never screech the tires through a corner at 60 mph in the real world, but on a track itís certainly not unheard of. And yet the 328i still feels fast, and it is, with a 0-60 time of just 5.7 seconds.
That low torque is handy for exiting corners, although what really makes the engine a joy is that peak thrust stays on strong until just 200 rpm short of max power, meaning that the consistency of power delivery is nearly perfect Ė something you almost never get in a turbocharged car.
Switch back to the street for a moment and the same engine has plenty of low torque for daily driving while the 4-cylinder engine is surprisingly refined on the highway. On the road is when youíll also appreciate the 4 bangerís fuel economy, which is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, a dramatic increase over last yearís model and well-above rivals like the Mercedes C250.
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