Our long-term 2012 BMW 328i racked up miles fairly quickly, but shortly after visiting our local dealership for servicing, BMW called to get its baby back. So, with just under 10,000 miles on our German sedan, we took it for one last drive and reflected on the roughly 6,000 miles we spent behind the wheel.
Over time, every car ownership experience invariably becomes peppered with high and low points. Let's start by reflecting on the positive aspects of our nearly 5-month span with the BMW 328i.
Perhaps the most immediately identifiable aspect we enjoyed about the 328i was its clear sense of purpose and identity. Climb inside its black and silver-trimmed interior and this Bimmer clearly conveys its decades-old lineage alongside contemporary design cues. While its signature white-on-black analog gauges continue a thread from the past, techy details such as the wide multimedia screen and BMW Apps remind you that this familiar 4-door is fully and completely wired.
We also appreciated the 328i's driving dynamics, thanks in part to its accurate steering, communicative handling and steady flow of power. Our car's manual transmission proved to be surprisingly easy to live with, and though 3-pedal setups are a dying breed aimed at the most dedicated driving enthusiasts, the 3-series' light clutch and smooth shifter made a surprisingly strong case for itself. Though our tester didn't quite offer the intuitive handling we experienced at the car's press drive, we attribute that to its being a preproduction version bound for the crusher -- a theory confirmed by how nicely our service loaner drove in comparison.
Though the primary focus of our long-term tests is evaluating how a car functions, there's no escaping the intangible aspects of how a car makes you feel. In that regard, the BMW delivered on every stereotype about its brand cachet and image. Especially in cities like Los Angeles, where 3-Series BMWs have dime-a-dozen ubiquity, driving the 328i never seemed snobby. Rather, our white-on-black BMW gave off a purposeful vibe, conveying an image that seemed harmonious with everything positive we've come to associate with the German manufacturer. Even better was its fuel economy, which tended to range between 23 miles per gallon and 29 mpg during fairly aggressive driving, lending credence to its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate of 33 mpg on the highway. Those fuel economy figures are impressive, considering this car claims a 0-to-60 miles per hour time of 5.9 seconds.
Unless you're wealthy enough not to care about how you spend your dough, price is crucial in how you perceive a car's merits day to day. We might have felt comfortable with the 2012 BMW 328i's $46,420 sticker price had it been lavishly appointed, but our loaner fell short on the value scale -- especially when weighing its equipment list against its MSRP. Sure, we enjoyed goodies such as the leather, keyless entry and moonroof (part of the $3,600 Premium Package), as well as the head-up display and navigation system (part and parcel of the $2,550 Technology Package). More notable, however, were the items conspicuously absent from this somewhat heavily optioned sedan -- such as a backup camera, which was replaced with a simplified sonar-like depiction of obstacles. Without one of BMW's Modern, Sport or Luxury trim finishes, our tester's interior felt stark and devoid of personality, while its cheap-feeling plastic trim didn't do it any favors, either.
Driving the 328i was generally a fun and fulfilling experience, though a few of the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine's traits irked us. For starters (pun intended), the car's auto stop/start functionality isn't quite ready for prime time, as it shakes the car strongly when it comes to life at stoplights. Low-end torque is also rather anemic; it demands heavy throttle if you're trying to get somewhere in a hurry. And finally, if you're accustomed to the robust-sounding idle of a red-blooded sports sedan, the diesel-like clatter of the 328i's direct injection system might make you pine for the days of low-tech hot rods.
The Bottom Line
Following our long-term test, did the BMW 328i's merits warrant its nearly $47,000 price tag? In short, that depends on your priorities.
Years ago, when BMW 3-series cars unequivocally ruled the sports sedan roost, they were the only choice for buyers seeking a driver-focused 4-door. Nowadays, because of heightened competition from the Audi A4 and Lexus IS, the choice isn't necessarily easy. Mix in new kids on the block such as the Cadillac ATS and Mercedes-Benz CLA, and the good ol' reliable Bimmer is suddenly facing an uphill battle. If you crave a rewarding driving dynamic, it's hard to beat the 328i -- especially for brand loyalists who appreciate how BMW tunes its chassis and handling parameters. If you lean toward luxury, creature comforts and value, you may want to look elsewhere. In short, the BMW 328i stays focused on its roots as a practical and driver-focused sedan, while its pricing makes this a purchase that's easier to justify to brand loyalists than to open-minded shoppers.