Test Drive: 2009 BMW 328i xDrive car test drives luxury cars bmw
Test Drive: 2009 BMW 328i xDrive car test drives luxury cars bmw
2009 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

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2009 BMW 3 Series Owner Reviews

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2009 BMW 3 Series

Ottawa, Ontario – Through its more than 30 years on the market, the BMW 3 Series has established itself as the car to which other entry-level sport sedans aspire. And despite the constant improvements that have been made to its competitors – particularly Japanese models whose prices handily undercut BMW’s, not to mention those of Audi and Mercedes-Benz – the 3 Series remains, by far, the best-selling luxury sport sedan in Canada.

For 2009, BMW gives its volume seller a gentle facelift, its first since this fifth-generation model was introduced in 2006. Another change is how BMW designates its all-wheel drive models. Where my tester used to be known simply as the 328xi, it’s now called the 328i xDrive, as BMW works to create an identity for its all-wheel drive system, much as Audi has done with its well-known quattro system.

In the 3 Series, xDrive routes all power to the rear wheels until they start to slip; when that happens, as much as half the engine’s torque can be sent to the fronts. The system’s benefits are most obvious in snowy weather, where it reacts quickly to provide traction. In dry conditions, of course, its operation is more subtle and shines through best when accelerating out of a corner. Where a rear-wheel drive 328i would try to spin the inside rear tire in that situation, only to be stifled by the traction control system, this car’s front wheels get in the game and help pull the car through.

That pull is provided by the 3.0-litre, inline six-cylinder that powers all 328i models. With 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, this car is outclassed in the numbers game by competitors like the 328-hp G37x and the 305-hp Acura TL SH-AWD (to name a couple). In fact, even many six-cylinder family cars have more power than the 328i.

Test Drive: 2009 BMW 328i xDrive car test drives luxury cars bmw
Test Drive: 2009 BMW 328i xDrive car test drives luxury cars bmw
2009 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

Okay, so the 328i won’t always come first in the Red Light Grand Prix. But I came up with one benefit of this car’s more leisurely acceleration: more time to listen to the engine work in hard acceleration.

BMW makes some of the best manual transmissions in the industry, but my tester was fitted with a six-speed automatic, a $1,600 extra in this car. (The 3 Series is one of few sport sedans that lets buyers pair every available engine – three, in this case – with a manual transmission.)

It’s tough to get excited about an automatic, and this one is less exciting than those offered elsewhere. Its six speeds are enough, for sure, but again, Infiniti has trumps in the numbers game, with its seven-speed (though any more than six is overkill), and Infiniti’s also has a trick rev-match downshift feature that comes into play when you use the manual shift function.

Still, the BMW tranny works as smoothly as any automatic you’ll find in the class. In full auto mode, it downshifts promptly in response to prods of the throttle, and if its manual shift mode is less sophisticated than you’ll find elsewhere, it works well enough to satisfy the few drivers likely to use it regularly.

Test Drive: 2009 BMW 328i xDrive car test drives luxury cars bmw
2009 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

Throttle response from a stop is lazy, though, no doubt a result of tuning the engine’s electronics for smoother acceleration and lower fuel consumption. That’s fine, but the throttle becomes abruptly more responsive once the transmission shifts into second gear, which, by contrast, makes the car feel jumpy.

The 328i xDrive’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption ratings are 11.9/7.8 L/100 km (city/highway) with the automatic transmission. I averaged 10.8 L/100 km in a combination of city driving and one very hurried, very early morning run from Ottawa to Kingston. That’s not terrible for the kind of driving I did, but I suspect (as James Bergeron did after his Day-by-Day Review of this car) that fuel consumption will improve as the car accumulates more clicks on its clock and the engine breaks in fully. Our tester had less than 1,000 kilometres on it when we picked it up from BMW.