We've still got a bunch of talking points to cover with our long-term 2012 BMW 328i loaner (like road trip dynamics, fuel economy figures and day-to-day usability, to name a few), but first let's talk about the most important interface you'll experience in any car: the interior.

Most new-car buyers size up their options based on curb appeal (i.e., what the neighbors will think of that shiny new ride), but you can't see much sheet metal from behind the driver's seat, and it doesn't take long for an interior to take on a polarizing effect. That ill-placed armrest, for instance, can really grate on you during long drives...but, conversely, just the right seat design can make the miles melt by.

How does the 2012 BMW 328i fare in the crucial area of cabin design?

DNA That's Ergonomically German, Through and Through

Despite its sophisticated technology, the BMW 3-series manages to exude a back-to-basics simplicity that relies on a few core competencies: intuitive ergonomics and stark functionality. Sure, those iDrive menus can get pretty deep, but the way the b328i's interior is laid out places the driver in an ideal ergonomic relationship with the controls. The gear shift lever never leads to awkward arm postures, the seats relate unobtrusively to the dashboard and windshield, and center stack controls seem arranged with thoughtful minimalism in mind. On those merits alone, the 328i manages to tap into BMW's rich heritage while reaching into the future with forward-thinking technology, such as their advanced cell phone connectivity and the usual bells and whistles, like satellite-based traffic reporting and fuel economy coaching software.

On the other hand, our 328i long-termer is not entirely free of shortcomings...

The Missing Package

As mentioned in our first long-term update, we didn't have the luxury of spec'ing out our 328i, which rang in at a not-inconsiderable $46,420. You'd have thought our tester would be luxuriously appointed at that price, but since it wasn't equipped a trim option like Sport ($2,500), Luxury ($2,100), Modern ($2,100) or M Sport ($3,850), the interior was clad in a somewhat bland black-on-black design, with the only visual bright spots being light-colored dashboard trim, which unfortunately is finished in plastic--pretty disappointing stuff at this price point. So while visibility out the greenhouse is clear and the navigation screen offers a wide, pleasant view of the electronics controls, the look and feel of that plastic trim brings down the impression of the interior quite a bit. At least the seats are comfortable, if a bit firm, and the Bimmer's various buttons and dials feel weighty and substantial.

When Function Trumps Form

Perhaps it's because so many automakers have invested in novel interior materials such as carbon fiber and bare aluminum that our long term 328i feels a bit aesthetically underequipped on the inside, but when it comes down to the bottom line, this Bimmer at least delivers strong functionality during day-to-day driving. Everything is where you expect it to be, the split-folding rear seats work with the capacious trunk to enable plenty of cargo hauling space, and that earnest, purposeful design comes through as clearly as it does in earlier and heroically lauded 3-series cars.

In that sense, the 328i achieves the difficult task of maintaining history while moving forward, but on the other hand...well, gosh, that plastic interior trim is really annoying. At the end of the day, there's plenty to like about our 328i, but it's still the little things that get in the way of falling completely in love with everything this German sedan has to offer.

author photo

Basem Wasef is an automotive journalist, author, and photographer with two coffee table books under his belt, and is a regular contributor to Popular Mechanics, Robb Report, and Maxim among others. When Basem isn't traveling the globe testing vehicles, he enjoys calling Los Angeles home.

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