2009 328 New Car Test Drive
The BMW 3 Series cars accelerate, turn and stop with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense. The 3 Series sedans define sports sedan and remain the target for every luxury car brand from Acura to Volvo.
The 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. All models share mechanical components and similarly compact exterior dimensions. Differences lie in body style or exterior design, though the coupe and convertible seat four passengers while sedan and wagon seat five. We all like the top models, but we also recommend the less-expensive 328 models. They have as much power as most drivers will ever need, and they deliver the same inherent goodness as the 335s and most of the key features.
For 2009, BMW 3 Series gets a new version of that love/hate device known as BMW iDrive, the mouse-like interface the driver can use to adjust nearly everything inside the car. The sedans have been freshened with exterior styling updates and small interior refinements.
For 2009, BMW has introduced the 335d sedan, with a new-age diesel engine that's as clean as any of its gasoline counterparts. Despite its improved fuel economy, it retains the sporting character that has long defined the 3 Series line.
BMW sells more manual transmissions in this class than any manufacturer, and that probably says something about the type of drivers choosing the 3. Even the optional automatic transmission is tuned for crisp, sporty shifting. These are rear-wheel-drive cars, though all-wheel drive is available. 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 335i 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 a fully automatic, one-button folding hardtop.
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 powerful engines are also efficient, and EPA mileage ratings go as high as 36 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. All offer gizmos you'd expect in larger, full-on luxury sedans, though we wouldn't recommend some of BMW's high-tech options such as Active Cruise Control, except to technology buffs.
Few cars in this class can match the 3 Series for its overall balance of high-technology, rationality and most significantly, performance and driving pleasure. 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 its many 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.
The 2009 BMW 3 Series includes four-door sedans, two-door coupes, wagons and convertibles in 11 distinct models, without counting the extra-powerful M3s. Most are powered by BMW's familiar 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, and all-wheel drive is available. A diesel-powered sedan is new this year.
All 3 Series variants come standard 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. A six-speed manual transmission standard, a six-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,325) is optional. 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.
The BMW 328i sedan ($33,600) is powered by a 230-hp 3.0-liter inline six. The 328i xDrive sedan ($35,600) adds BMW's xDrive permanent all-wheel drive system, noted by the x-designation on all 3 Series models so equipped.
The BMW 335i sedan ($40,300) and 335i xDrive sedan ($42,300) 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 BMW 335d sedan ($43,900) is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel six in the same inline configuration. It generates 265 horsepower and a whopping 425 lb-ft of torque, and at 23 city, 36 highway, it delivers the highest EPA mileage ratings of any 3 Series model. It also qualifies for a federal tax credit of roughly $900.
The 328i Sports Wagon ($35,400) and 328i xDrive Sports Wagon ($37,400) 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 ($36,500), 328xi ($38,400), 335i ($42,200) and 335i xDrive ($44,100). The shapely 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 features a retracting metal hard top that opens and closes with the touch of a button and comes in 328i ($44,300) and 335i ($50,400) versions. The convertible seats four, like the coupe, but it's not offered with all-wheel drive.
Options include the Premium Package which adds Dakota leather upholstery, Bluetooth cellular phone interface, power folding side mirrors, a digital compass in the rear-view mirror and hardware for BMW Assist. The Telemetric package provides safety, convenience and concierge services. The Cold Weather Package adds electrically heated seats, a heated steering wheel, high-intensity headlight washers and a split-folding rear seat with ski sack. The Sport Package 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. Radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,400) and hard-drive navigation system ($2,100) are available as stand-alone options. Sirius satellite radio hardware ($595), the Logic 7 stereo upgrade ($875) and other features are available individually.
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.