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

Test Drive: 2012 BMW 328i Sport
Test Drive: 2012 BMW 335i Luxury

Manufacturer’s web site
BMW Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2012 BMW 3 Series

In some ways, BMW has become synonymous with inline six-cylinder engines, these Bavarians being among the last carmakers to use this particular engine layout. But in 2012, with the weight of expectations of improved fuel economy heavy on its engineers’ minds, the company has begun using its first four-cylinder engine since the late 1990s.

It’s not that a premium car can’t have four-cylinder power; Audi’s been using it in its A4 since 1996. But this is BMW, which might as well have started calling itself We Build Awesome Six-Cylinders a couple of decades ago.

The new engine is a turbocharged 2.0 L that first saw the light of day in the X1 crossover introduced last year (as a 2012 model), and then in the Z4 roadster. Any BMW whose model designation includes the number 28 now gets this motor in place of a non-turbo 3.0 L six-cylinder.

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

So, our 3 Series test car’s 328i model name is familiar, but the engine at its heart is less so. Most buyers couldn’t care less whether the 328i (which is probably the most popular version of the 3 Series) has a four-, six-, or 20-cylinder engine, as long as it makes the car go the way a small luxury sedan should and gets reasonable gas mileage.

Some 3 Series shoppers, however, will miss the old six’s flawlessly smooth operation and fantastic mechanical soundtrack. The new four sounds good, and runs smoothly. It makes 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, increases of 11 and a big 60, respectively, compared to the 2011 model’s sixer. The buyers who do care what’s under the hood of their 3 Series will like the power – all that torque happens from as low as 1,250 rpm – but they may miss the wonderful sounds of the old six. This engine’s extra torque is more pleasing to the backside, but is less engaging to the ears; a Volkswagen Jetta GLI, with its own (less-potent) 2.0 L turbo motor, makes a more enticing aural accompaniment.

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

An entry-level 320i model uses the turbo four too, but tuned for 181 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.

Also new to the 3 Series is an auto start/stop function that shuts the engine down when the car is stopped. Look for this to become a very common feature very soon (Kia is rolling out the same thing in its cars); if this BMW was any example, we can expect this sort of thing to get better, too, especially in $50,000-plus German sport sedans. My wife wondered why the car was stalling; later in the week, a friend of hers along for a ride asked if it was me “doing that” every time I stopped the car. There’s probably no way to make such a thing totally transparent, but many owners will appreciate the start/stop defeat button just above the ignition switch.

Also new here is an eight-speed automatic transmission. Eight gear ratios in a transmission begins to stretch the definitions of reasonable and necessary (six is enough), but if you want mechanical transparency, this ZF-built box is a model of it. Most of the time, the rise and fall of the engine note was the only thing giving away how much shifting was going on. Ratio excess or not, you can’t fault a transmission that spins the engine at just 1,500 rpm at 120 km/h.

You may be alarmed to know that the automatic is now standard spec in the 3 Series (a majority of buyers, even of a “driver’s” car like this, choose the self-shifter), but the usual six-speed manual is a no-cost option.

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