2012 BMW 328i Modern
2012 BMW 328i Modern
2012 BMW 328i Modern. Click image to enlarge

The combination of eight-speed transmission and the four-cylinder engine conspire to lower the 328i’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption estimates to 8.0 L/100 km in the city test cycle and 5.3 L/100 km on the highway; both figures are big improvements over the 2011 328i’s 11.0 L/100 city and 6.9 L/100 km highway estimates. The U.S. EPA’s more realistic figures for this new car and engine – 10.2 and 7.1 – are more in line with my experience, which showed an average of 8.6 L/100 km in a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving.

New to the 3 Series is a driver-selectable “Eco-Pro” fuel-saving drive mode that dials back throttle response, calls for the transmission to upshift early and often, and coaches the driver (fairly unobtrusively, which is nice) on how to drive efficiently. It also rewards such thrifty driving by displaying how many kilometres have been added to the car’s range on the current tank of gas.

When you’re done saving the world, choose Sport mode, and enjoy a quicker steering ratio, increased engine responsiveness and a sport transmission calibration that holds lower gears. (I originally, mistakenly, wrote that sport mode also firmed up the ride, but the seat of my pants lied to me.)

BMW claims a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 6.3 seconds for the 328i fitted with the eight-speed auto, against the 7.3-second sprint for a 2011 328i with its available six-speed automatic.

2012 BMW 328i Modern
2012 BMW 328i Modern
2012 BMW 328i Modern
2012 BMW 328i Modern. Click image to enlarge

The way the 328i goes over the road is pure BMW. The ride is comfortable and well-controlled, and firms up nicely with the chassis set to sport mode; the steering delivers decent road feel to the driver’s hands, and it handles with the high-speed confidence expected from a Bimmer.

What’s less BMW-ish is what you see and feel inside the car when you’re not busy driving it. Take the iDrive display, perched on top of the dash like an afterthought. The screen that serves a similar function in the Cadillac CTS lowers out of sight when it’s not needed.

Swing the door closed after getting in, and it shuts with a cheap-sounding “thwung,” rather than the solid “whump” we’ve come to expect. I’d accept the less-solid sounding body if BMW had found a way to make this car significantly lighter, but the 2012 328i with automatic gearbox is actually 15 kg heavier than its outgoing equivalent.

Hop in the back seat and turn on one of the maplights; the entire headliner moves under the pressure of your finger on the button. (Apply enough pressure – it doesn’t take much – and you can deflect the headliner by an inch and a half, like it’s not fixed to anything.)

I’m not a BMW apologist, but I have no fundamental problem with the idea of a four-cylinder Bimmer. This engine is a good fit in the 3 Series, but if I may play devil’s advocate, I’d suggest a Volkswagen Jetta GLI as a solid alternative to this car. With a starting price of less than $30,000, it undercuts even the 320i by about eight grand and provides almost as much driving pleasure. Its engine – also a turbo 2.0 L – is less powerful than the 328i’s, but sounds better, and certainly more like the motor in a small performance-oriented sedan should.

Pricing for the 328i starts at $43,600. My tester, painted Havana Metallic with black Dakota leather inside, included BMW’s Premium, Executive and Apps packages to my tester, as well as satellite radio, metallic paint and BMW Assist, inflating the as-tested MSRP to $51,100, not including freight and taxes.

My sticking point with the 3 Series is not mechanical, but tied to its trim, which takes a step down compared to the 2011 model. This car looks like a BMW, and drives like one, but it just doesn’t feel like a BMW, and that, at least to me, is where it misses the mark.

Pricing: 2012 BMW 328i Modern
  • Base price: $43,600
  • Options: $7,500 (Premium Package (alarm system, comfort access, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, through-loading system, rear park distance control, navigation), $3,500; Executive Package (universal remote control, back-up camera, lumbar support, upgraded sound system), $1,600; BMW Apps Package (smartphone integration, BMW apps), $300; satellite radio, $450; metallic paint, $800; BMW Assist with extended Bluetooth, $850)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,995
  • Price as tested: $53,195

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 BMW 3 Series

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    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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