2012 BMW 328i HD Video Review

Fusing performance, practicality, and prestige, the BMW 3-Series is one of the most envied cars in the automotive industry.  If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, nearly every auto manufacturer on the planet has been sending BMW love letters for the past 37 years in the form of cars that slavishly copy the design cues of the 3.

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But it’s not about the look; it’s about the experience.

For 2012 there’s an all-new one.  In case the competition is  wondering, nope, they did not mess it up.  That’s not to say that Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Infiniti don’t have contenders.  But let’s face it, no other car in its class has the bullet proof pedigree, history or reputation.

It’s BMWs most important car.  Proof?  Consider this- they make 9 distinct different models and even though 3 Series is not the most affordable, it’s by far the most popular.  The sedan model alone snags 25 percent of the brand’s entire US sales.

The World Hasn’t Stood Still

Neither has the 328i (or it’s more powerful sibling the 335i).  Generation 6 is different from the outgoing car.  It’s bigger (3.6 inches longer, 1.6 inches wider), more fuel efficient, and lighter by nearly 90 pounds (thank you high strength steel).

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Overall, it feels more mature now and in tune with what people are looking for in a premium sport sedan- conservative good looks, decent fuel economy, and badge cache.  Wrap those attributes up with a fun-to-drive ribbon and you have a winning package.

Some will accuse the 3 Series of becoming too big and there’s a point to be made there.  It’s now creeping toward what used to be 5-Series territory.  Is the 1 Series is too small for mainstream American tastes?  If so, it leaves a slight void in the lineup.  Most buyers will find the 3’s extra room welcome though.

The 3 gets a 4

Generation six gets more power.  328s are powered a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with twin scroll turbocharging.  It pumps out 240 horsepower @5,000 RPM and 255 lb-ft of torque from 1,250 to 4,800 RPM.  It drinks premium fuel and with direct injection it has a bit of a diesel grumble to it.  The throaty sound and silky smooth operation of the outgoing inline-six will be missed but the performance dynamics are intact.

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Gear changes are made with an eight-speed automatic.  Move the unique joystick forward for reverse, back for drive.  Manual mode?  Of course, though my Modern Line test car has no steering wheel paddle shifters. The new powertrain improves fuel economy to an impressive EPA rated 23 city, 33 highway (the outgoing model managed only 28). The manual transmission is a six-speed.

Less mass and more power is a good thing.  0-60 happens in 5.9 seconds according to BMW.  There’s no turbo lag and with max torque available early in the power band, deep power is available right off the line.

Handle This

The 3 Series has always been about handling and the 328i is terrific.  It is different from the outgoing model though.  Steering effort is lighter and it seems like there’s less road feel than before, probably due to electric power steering.   p90087238_highres  The well-balanced chassis dynamics and the firm-but-never-harsh ride quality are exceptional.  It’s a BMW.  It’s a 3 Series.  What do you expect?

Like most modern cars, the transmission is programmed to aggressively up-shift for better fuel economy.  That’s fixable with the push of a button.  Drive modes such as SPORT and SPORT + change the throttle response, transmission mapping and degree of stability control. There’s even a fuel-efficient ECO PRO mode to eek out better gas mileage.  One of its features is a speed limiter.  The upcoming M-Sport will add adaptive suspension.

Even though it’s necessary to keep in step with fuel efficiency requirements these days, the 328i remains great fun on a curvy country road.  Road noise is just right for this kind of vehicle and excellent disc brakes at all corners mean you’ll never miss a scenic view, or hit a deer, if one or the other pops out unexpectedly.

Hey, The Engine Just Stopped

That was my response shortly after jumping into the 328 to run some errands the moment it was delivered to my office.  I didn’t realize that BMW has added Auto Start-Stop technology and having the engine shut down at a major intersection in downtown Seattle is an exhilarating way to find out.  Fortunately, the surprise caused me to take my foot off the brake and it instantly restarted.

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Auto Start-Stop essentially acts sort of like a hybrid, though the car must come to a complete stop for a second or two before the engine shuts down.  In addition to lifting off the brake, a tug of the steering wheel does the trick too, which is great when you want the engine running for whatever reason. The system can easily be turned off.

The restart in particular has more of a jolt than expected in a well-engineered German sport sedan.  So it’s not completely annoying in stop and go traffic, it won’t shut off again until the car reaches 10 miles per hour.

It’s to know how much gas it will save over the lifetime of the car but it could ease an owner’s conscience a bit if they were choosing between this and a hybrid, which by the way, BMW will offer up soon.

Choose Your Look Fred

The 3 Series is available in different “lines” such as Sport Line and Luxury Line, which changes the ambience of the cabin.  My tester is the Modern Line and it gets unique trim in the way of oyster colored gauges and key fob.   P90081947  The irony of the “modern” designation is that the deeply grooved timber trim looks like something Fred Flintstone would have in his car.  Think very well done chainsaw art.  It is always the first thing noticed by passengers and is universally questioned.  May I suggest the Luxury Line?  Perhaps the Sport?

Other than that, the cabin materials are of the premium grade.  The instrument panel is soft touch and aluminum trim is elegantly applied.  Leather seats, which are not overly bolstered, are very comfortable, supportive and heated.  Lightly brush the radio buttons and there’s a preview of the station on the large LCD display before you commit.  The steering wheel is heated.  The Bavarians have nailed this stuff.

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The same, much to my surprise, can be said about iDrive.  Either they’ve improved the user interface or I’m just getting used to the knob and surrounding dedicated button operation.  Overall it’s pretty intuitive and consistent.  Yes, it has been maligned in the past.  Don’t be afraid.  Give it a chance.

Optional cameras on the exterior can create different angles to help drivers navigate tight situation.  A bird’s eye view that looks like a helicopter is looking down on the car fascinates passengers.  It’s much like the effect Infiniti has used for the past few years.  A dock in the shallow center console holds an iPhone allowing the use of apps.  The large screen can also display a set of sport gauges, that are very cool (my video of it didn’t turn out so hot, sorry).

Evil Twin is Comfy

The 3 Series has never really known for a roomy back seat but the fifth generation had decent space and number six offers up a smidge more.  I’m 5’9” and sitting behind me, Evil Twin is comfortable in the nicely contoured seats.  There’s certainly enough knee and foot room for an average adult and there are bun warmers, air vents and a power port to charge his phone.  A folding armrest adds comfort and a place to put a Coke.

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The driveshaft is a bit intrusive, but that’s the price to pay for rear-wheel drive driving dynamics.  But those in back didn’t pay for the car, did they?  There are belts for three, keep it two and those passengers shouldn’t grouse.

Speaking of Price…

The starting price of $35,800 (including destination) isn’t bad, but it quickly rises past 40-something equipped the way people expect a car these days.  Nearly fully loaded, my tester is 50K.  Ouch.   At that price there’s no ventilation or thigh extension feature in the seats, steering wheel paddle shifters, or panoramic roof glass.

Other gripes?  328i needs two pushes of the ignition button to turn it completely off.  It’s easy to leave the car with the engine shut down but left in accessory mode.  Ask me how I know…  I’m not too crazy about cocking the door release twice to get out either but that’s common on European cars.

One of the things you’re paying for with any BMW is service and maintenance.  All of it is included for four years or 50,000 miles which helps to keep the budget in check.  Kinda.  Sorta.  This is not an inexpensive car.

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Baggage is Not Always a Bad Thing

Sport sedans are much more useful than pure sports cars because of their ability to carry passengers and cargo.  The 3’s boot is not bad.  There are some nice touches, I love the elastic strap on the side that keeps things in place, and there’s a power port and bag hooks.  No spare tire though.  BMW likes run-flats which can be very expensive to replace and hard to find of your in the middle of nowhere.

At five packs of TP, the new 3 doesn’t hold any more bundles than the previous generation, though there is some extra space.  I’ll rate the 2012 at five and a half.  The 40/20/40 split back seat is very flexible, great for carrying skis or two-by-fours.  Admittedly, very few 328i owners will use their cars to build a deck.

No More Bangle

The new set of clothes is more grown up, purposeful and conservative.  That’s fine, my opinion is that the 3 Series has always looked best when drawn with an understated pen.  The 2012 has been completely de-Bangled.  I like the furrowed brow and the way the headlamp trim leads into the twin-kidney grille.  Of course it wouldn’t be a BMW without the Hoffmeister Kink on the C pillar.

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As you probably know there is also a more powerful 335i.  It gets a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder with TwinPower turbo technology that makes 300 horsepower.  It starts at around 43 grand.  In case you’re wondering, BMWs own specs say the 335i is a half second quicker in the 0-60 department.  I haven’t driven it yet but the armchair engineer in me wonders how handling is changed by putting more weight in the nose.  The 328i has a 50-50 balance, the 335 only slightly off at about 51-49.

Ultimately, 328’s larger size and fuel efficiency mission give it a different dynamic than the previous generation. It ‘s still fun in the corners but feels more mature now.  The competition has turned up the heat on the 3-Series for years now, that’s good for us consumers.  In the end, the BMW 328i remains an impressive car, one that stays current with the times.  Let the envy continue.

FULL GALLERY BELOW. INTERIOR SHOTS ARE NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MODERN LINE MODEL FEATURED ON VIDEO. ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY BMW.

29 Comments

  1. dost328 says:

    Hi Tom,

    Like some other F30 owners around the world, I am too, experiencing some rust buildup problem (location-Turkey) underside of the front seat pans / plates of my brand new 2012 328i … What a shame …I spent 62 K Euros (due to extremely high import taxes !) and got a rusty car ?
    How do you comment on that ? And also, do you have any suggestions ?

    Thanks,

    • TV says:

      Sorry to hear that dost328. Actually, this is the first I’ve heard of the problem. If this is something that people have been seeing worldwide, I have to believe BMW would stand behind it. Have you talked with your dealer (who should be taking very good care of you after plunking down 62K)? Obviously that’s very unusual.

      • dost328 says:

        Hi Tom,

        Yes, I have talked to the dealer and filed a complaint at the mean time…There are several other people around me facing the same rust issues and an annoying steering wheel vibration at around 50 mph. We are all waiting for a response and/or solution…

        Thanks for the reply and your interest,

  2. MikeInCLT says:

    Question for ya TV. Found your website for the 328i review and somehow spent all night watching the last 2 years of reviews. I might have a problem :)

    I have a few sedans on my short list for lease next year and the 328i is on my list. I really like all the new technology in the 3 series and iDrive but I recently purchased a new iPhone 5 with the new “lightning” connector at the bottom. Do you know if this makes the dock in the BMW incompatible? Also, what features does the 328i leverage through a Bluetooth link and what features need the iPhone ‘hard-wired’ to the car’s entertainment system?

    Also quick ranking question. Which cars would you say have quietest cabin; 328i, a4, or limited Sonata (I know it’s a weird list).

    Mike

    • TV says:

      Hey Mike,

      I’ll go in order-

      Personally I think watching all my reviews is a good thing. It certainly explains the spike in my views….

      Don’t know about the iPhone compatibility. I’ve decided I need to order one to start checking that. Sorry. You might bring one in to the BMW dealership to see what happens. Or check to see if they know anything.

      If I remember correctly, you get phone compatibility and streaming Bluetooth audio. Can’t remember off the top of my head if you get Pandora or stuff like that.

      The BMW and A4 are about par, both quieter than Sonata. You might also look at the Cadillac ATS (which I get tomorrow) and the Buick Verano Turbo or Regal Turbo if you want quiet and power. You might laugh but the Buicks are great cars.

      Best of luck with your shopping! Let me know how it all works out. TV

  3. vaderprime923 says:

    would you recommend buying an E46 3 series? I want to learn to drive a drivers car and the price is good now.

  4. Rookie.Rider says:

    Tom,

    You’ve mentioned in the past that four cylinder engines are rather course. I share your opinion, having owned a lot of four cylinder cars in the past. I prefer my inline 6 cylinder engine in a Trailblazer. I was wondering if the 328′s 4-cylinder is harsh. If it’s just a matter of a few miles per gallon, I would prefer more cylinders. What is your opinion on this engine issue?

    • TV says:

      I find the BMWs 4 pretty smooth, my only complaint is on re-start with the auto-stop. It’s more course than I would expect from a car this well engineered. Other than that I think a Trailblazer driver would like this a lot. Welcome to the site man! TV

  5. juan mazzei says:

    Hey Tom, is there any sign of the new F30 coupe coming up??

  6. kenwenzel says:

    Reading the comments and answers I get a feeling I know where my hat is. Also the validation issue, if you get past the “I WANT A ____”, to what is the best value, sometimes the validation disappears when the $ comes into play. Noticing the comment about 3 series and RR Evoque, it appears the Evoque may have some competition from the Ford Escape that’s about to be delivered. Not sure how the interiors will compare, but the drivetrain appears to be the same, as does the overall size. I am sure you will be able to see out of the Escape better, but I doubt it will look as cool as the RR.

  7. Smeg says:

    At 50 bills I’d be buying an S4. The only issue I have with dropping 50 grand on a Bimmer, Benz, or Audi is that my experience with all three is they break down more than I want, which either costs too much to fix or inconveniences me too much (if under warranty). At some point I bought a second car (a Ford) to be sure I had something that always started and then I finally got rid of the Bimmer because I got in the habit of mostly using the Ford, and then never found the desire to replace the lux car again.

    • motorstreet says:

      I never had a single problem with my BMW. It was totaled after 5 years, but it seemed extremely reliable when I had it.

      I would take a look at the Volvo S60 R-Design and Hyundai Genesis 5.0 at $50k too.

  8. fatbaldandhappy says:

    I’m a little surprised with all the comments dogging the outgoing 3 series looks. The sedan never grabbed me, but the current 3 coupe is beautiful in my opinion- long smooth lines with a hint of aggression in the sport package. This new iteration is definitely a looker both inside and out. Can’t wait to see the coupe. Under 6 seconds from a twin scroll 4 cylinder? Wow! What are the chances of a diesel hybrid? 40+ mpg, 700 mile range, 400 lb/ft torque, and a big chain to yank out pesky tree stumps as a weekend side business. I have always wondered why no one has done a diesel hybrid? Seems like nirvana for economy and performance.

    • TV says:

      Agreed, the coupe is a beautiful car. I really like that car.

      Two reasons for the lack of a diesel hybrid are 1) price (diesels are more expensive than standard ICEs, THEN add the extra battery and electric powertrain. 2) Diesels have their advantage with low-end torque, the same as electric motors. Therefore, the powerband of the diesel is not used to its advantage in a hybrid system and it’s efficiency is not as high, especially for the cost.

    • motorstreet says:

      Peugeot has a diesel Hybrid in Europe in their 3008 Crossover. It has 200hp, AWD, and it’s rated at 60mpg.

  9. Ken says:

    I stopped buying BMW ever since Chris Bangle messed up everything for me, specially the ugly double hump camel back dash board. After I went Audi, I never looked back, but I really like the new BMW exterior and interior design directions. I might consider another bimmer when I need to update my car again. Most of the people buy bimmer for the performance or the badge (come to LA, you will see what I am saying). I buy cars mostly for the looks, because I am not going to do a 90 mph cornering in the middle of Los Angeles. I will take a new KIA Optima over any Banglized bimmers any day, but I have to say I am really impressed by the new 5, 6 and now the new 3.

  10. vwmatt33 says:

    As a lifelong VW/Audi guy I have to say I’m very very Impressed with the 4 cylinder model in sport guise. I priced on up with a manual tranny and I was around $40k. Not bad. In about 3 and a half years I will be shopping this model for sure. Tom, I do wish you had Tee shirts for sale!! I’d buy one for sure!!

    • TV says:

      Hey, I’d like one too! The guy who does my graphics is very talented. I need to farm that out, I can’t even get to the post office to get the hats I need to send.

      It’s too much work because if someone orders the wrong size it’s has to be exchanged and all. I have great respect for those in retail.

  11. superocean says:

    TV,
    Where did you film the shots of driving by the lake/water/river? 2:12 Never miss a view. Also what neighborhood was shown in the video. I like the area where you filmed those homes. Is that on the east side near Sammamish?

    Raghu4026,
    When you drive the RR Evoque, try driving the X3 and Audi q5 as those are somewhat similar. Also, on your accord tires make a big difference in noise on the accord. Michelins are way more quiet than Bridgestones or other makes.

    • TV says:

      The road shots are up near Dirt Fish Rally School and the house shots are that new community near Exit 25 off I-90 (forget the name of the town that was created there).

      Awfully pretty, no? This is not a vacation, I live here.

      For those who aren’t familiar with the Seattle area, those road shots are just a half hour trip from downtown. There’s a statistic that at one time 60% of all car commercials were shot in Washington state because of our diverse scenery, (forrest, mountains, urban, suburban, rain forrest, dessert, water, snow, farmland, ect). Pretty sure it’s down a bit though…

  12. spidey1968 says:

    I’m personally not sold on the textured interior wood surface but good for BMW for trying something different. The rest of the car is so much better looking than previous versions. Here in Chicago, I seem to notice more 335′s on the road. This may change with the 328 getting such good reviews.

  13. raghu4026 says:

    Hey Tom,

    Here’s a question for you. As you said, a loaded 328i costs $50k, without AWD. On the other hand, a loaded Range Rover Evoque too costs $50k with a much better AWD and a lot of tech/fancy features. Which one would you suggest?

    Raghu

    • TV says:

      Good question raghu. Most people would put it against an Audi A4 but Evoque would be thinking outside the box (so to speak). Ultimately, it comes down to what people want for their 50K and how willing they are to consider various transportation options. Evoque is fun to drive but not as much as the 3. 3 isn’t as practical as the RR can be.

      Most buyers have a tough time getting out of their comfort zone (either body style or brand). You would be surprised at the amount of people who think they are doing research but are really looking for validation, not information. In short, they already know what they want, they just want to confirm their feelings. Humans are even more complex than cars.

      • raghu4026 says:

        Well said Tom, in my scenario, am looking for something that’s quiet and luxurious. I currently own a Honda Accord and its a long drive buster, its so noisy on CA free-ways, I feel am sitting inside an aircraft. I am not sure if a BMW will fit into that criteria. Planning to test drive an Evoque shortly

      • bob4116 says:

        TV,

        I liked your comment about validation. How true that can be! However, I was lucky enough to move past that position, and I got there by taking my son with me while test driving vehicles. He made some comments that really opened my eyes, and made me review my long-held attitudes. My wife jumped on the bandwagon as well, helping me to see past my attitudes about “foreign” cars.

        For years, I’ve shunned sedans. If it didn’t have a hatch on the back, I wasn’t that interested. And, while I’ve admired the looks and features of the products of many “foreign” manufacturers, I could never pull the trigger on one.

        Well, we just purchased two Honda Civics. An EX-L for me, and an EX as a third vehicle for the boys (replacing a 2000 Olds Intrigue which is STILL running well). Talk about getting out of one’s comfort zone!!! So far, I’m loving it, but time will tell.

  14. raschmidt says:

    The new BMW’s are much better looking, I think they’re understated like the E39 and E36 were. The performance on the 328i sounds really impressive, not really having to sacrifice for fuel economy.