2008 328 New Car Test Drive
The BMW 3 Series comprises a range of sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons, with different engines, a wide variety of options, and a spread of $35,000 from the bottom to the top of the line. Yet from the least expensive 328i sedan to the ultra-high performance M3 (reviewed separately), all 3 Series cars put an emphasis on one thing: Sporty driving dynamics that appeal to enthusiast drivers.
For 2008, BMW matches its xDrive all-wheel drive system with its 300-horsepower, twin-turbo six-cylinder engine for the first time in the 3 Series, introducing the 335xi sedan and coupe. The 3 Series also offers paddle shifters on the steering wheel with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. And with introduction of the new 1 Series coupe, the 3 Series cars are no longer the smallest in BMW's North American lineup.
All 3 Series models share mechanical components and similarly compact exterior dimensions. Differences lie in body style or exterior design, though the coupe and convertible have belts for four passengers rather than five. All are a blast to drive.
BMW sells more manual transmissions in this class than any manufacturer, and that probably says something about the type of drivers choosing the 3. These are rear-drive cars, though all-wheel drive is available, and even the optional automatic transmission is tuned for crisp, sporty shifting. Handling response is sharp and precise, and braking capability is best in class. The base engine in the 328s, BMW's trademark 3.0-liter straight six, is more than powerful enough for brisk acceleration and a sinfully good time. The upgrade twin-turbo six in the 335s is one of the most viscerally satisfying engines in production.
The four-door 3 Series sedan is most familiar, and among the most passenger friendly. The Sports Wagon adds substantial cargo space and utility. It's great for couples or families who often bring the dog, though it isn't available with the twin-turbo engine.
The 328i and 335i Convertibles might be the sexiest 3s, with their fully automatic, one-button folding hardtop. With the top up, the convertible is nearly as solid and quiet as the coupe. The tradeoff, aside from the substantial price increase, is that the convertible seats four and has very little trunk space.
The two-door 3 Series coupes are the sportiest. The firmer sport suspension, optional with other body styles, comes standard on the coupe, and these are the lightest cars in the line. They seat four, like the convertible, but they'll appeal to those who want sporting capability something like a sports car's but need a reasonable back seat and decent-sized trunk.
The emphasis on sporty driving shouldn't put anyone off. Even with the firmest suspension, the ride in all 3 Series models remains reasonably supple. There's room inside for young families or four adults for a night out, in well-designed, nicely finished interiors.
The 3 Series offer gizmos you'd expect in larger, full-on luxury sedans. Those powerful engines are also efficient, and EPA mileage ratings go as high as 28 mpg Highway. Exterior dimensions for all models are relatively compact, making them good cars for crowded city centers. All are distinctively styled and clearly recognizable as BMWs, which should get you a good valet spot, depending on the places you frequent.
All 3 Series models have a full array of airbags, with good scores in government and insurance-industry crash tests. Available all-wheel-drive adds extra security in foul weather. All models feature the electronic wizardry that has become BMW's stock-in-trade over the last decade, including one of the auto industry's most complex stability-control systems.
Some competitors offer more room, more power, better mileage or maybe better interiors for less money. But aside from subjective price-value analysis, the noteworthy hitch in the 3 Series is the downside of the electronic gizmos. There are long-time fans who'll tell you that the basic appeal of their favorite Bimmer is getting mucked up with too much annoying stuff.
With that in mind, the bottom line remains. The 3 Series cars accelerate, turn and stop with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense. These cars still define sports sedan (or coupe or wagon), and they remain the target for every luxury car brand from Acura to Volvo.
The 2008 BMW 3 Series includes four-door sedans, wagons, two-door coupes and convertibles in 10 distinct models, not counting the extra- powerful M3s. All the standard 3 Series cars are powered by BMW's familiar inline six-cylinder engine, and all-wheel drive is available. It's really a choice of body style and engine power.
Model designations are consistent across the body styles and standard equipment is similar, though the coupes and convertibles include a few more features in the base price. Minimally, all 3 Series cars come with automatic climate and headlight control, a climate-controlled center console, heated windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD and BMW's self-braking Dynamic Cruise Control. Wheel size varies from 16 to 18 inches. All offer a choice of aluminum or different wood interior trims, with vinyl upholstery and a six-speed manual transmission standard. BMW's six-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,325) is optional on all models.
The rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger BMW 328i sedan ($32,400) is powered by a 230-hp 3.0-liter inline six. The 328xi sedan ($34,600) adds BMW's x-Drive permanent all-wheel drive system, noted by the x-designation on all 3 Series models so equipped.
The 335i sedan ($38,700) and 335xi sedan ($39.300) feature a turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter six, delivering 300 horsepower. The 335 models also add features, including power front seats with memory and BMW's Logic 7 audio upgrade.
The 328i Sports Wagon ($34,300) and 328xi Sports Wagon ($36,100) offer more load-carrying potential and versatility than the sedan, with a rear tailgate and rear window that can be opened separately. The wagon is not offered with the turbocharged engine.
The 3 Series coupe is available in four versions: 328i ($35,600), 328xi ($37,400), 335i ($41,200) and 335xi ($43,000). The slinky coupe has two doors, a two-place rear seat and a slightly smaller trunk than the sedan, with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension that's optional on other body styles.
The 3 Series Convertible offers a retracting metal hard top that opens and closes with the touch of a button, and either engine: 328i ($43,500) and 335i ($49,500). The convertible seats four, like the coupe, but it's not offered with all-wheel drive.
Options are plentiful, though most are grouped in three packages. The Premium Package ($1,650-$3,350, depending on model) adds Dakota leather upholstery and a number of conveniences, including Bluetooth cellular phone interface, power folding side mirrors, a digital compass in the rear-view mirror and hardware for BMW Assist, the telemetric package that provides safety, convenience and concierge services. The Cold Weather Package ($600-$1,000) adds electrically heated seats, high-intensity headlight washers and a split-folding rear seat with ski sack.
The Sport Package ($500-$1,800) includes sporting suspension calibrations tuned by BMW's M performance division for the sedan, wagon and convertible, more heavily bolstered sports seats and a wheel-performance tire upgrade.
BMW's Active Steering system ($1,400) and radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,400) are available as stand-alone options on all 3 Series variants, as is a DVD-based navigation system ($2,100). Sirius satellite radio hardware ($595), the Logic 7 stereo ($1,250) and most of the features in the three packages are available as stand-alone options.
Safety features include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags. The convertibles add knee airbags that help keep front passengers from sliding under the seat belts.
Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid collisions, include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when it's raining.