By Samuel Ee
The BMW 3 Series with a four-cylinder engine used to be the entry-level alternative. Not anymore.
The German luxury carmaker is still famous for its silky straight-six engine but it is now the four-cylinder engine with forced induction that literally powers the sixth generation of its popular compact sedan.
The 320i and 328i use the same basic turbocharged unit but different levels of tuning result in a different output for each variant. In the 320i, the power and torque produced are 184 hp and 270 Nm respectively. But in the 328i, these are boosted to a whopping 245 hp and 350 Nm. All these from just 1,997 cc.
Under hard acceleration, the 328i's turbocharged four-cylinder may sound vaguely agricultural compared with the creamy note of an inline six-cylinder engine. But in terms of performance, it is a dynamo.
Maximum torque is available from just 1,250 rpm and turbo lag is rarely discernible. As for the elasticity, it is eye-popping. Kickdown on the gas pedal while cruising and the 328i's response is blinding quick, thanks in part to the superb eight-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain feels like it could even tow a truck.
But perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the new BMW 328i is the sedan's balance. The 3 Series has always had perfect balance with 50:50 front/rear weight distribution. But the new 328i's precise steering and well-calibrated suspension are even more impressive.
The four-cylinder 3 Series makes do without the variable damping of the six-cylinder versions but the suspension set-up successfully combines comfort with handling. The ride can still be a bit firm, especially for those in the back, but it is not uncomfortable.
The handling, on the other hand, is undeniably accomplished, with the 328i's wider front and rear track (up 37 mm and 48 mm respectively) further boosting confidence in high-speed corners. There are four driving modes - Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ with reduced traction control. In Sport, the electric power steering gets more heft to increase high-speed confidence. The assistance is reduced in Comfort and the steering lightened up considerably. But it remains unerringly quick, unlike some other systems.
|Price:$240,800 (with COE)
Engine: 1,997cc turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Max Power: 245 hp @ 5,000-6,500 rpm
Max Torque: 350 Nm @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
0-100kmh: 6.1 secs
Top speed: 250 kmh
CO2 emissions: 147 g/km
Distributor: Distributor Performance Motors 6319 0100
As with most cars, the latest generation of the 3 Series has grown in size and no six-footer in the back can complain about leg and toe room although the usual wide transmission tunnel still skewers the centre rear seat. The 3 Series is 93 mm longer at 4,624 mm, with its wheelbase extended by 50 mm to 2,810 mm.
The cabin is also aesthetically improved, with BMW finally relinquishing its dull black setpiece centre console for a dashboard accented with colour and funkily applied trim. The result is a refreshingly attractive but highly functional interior.
With its latest aesthetic and dynamic enhancements, the new BMW 3 Series has raised the bar. There is no denying it remains the best compact sedan in its class.
This article was first published in The Business Times.