Review: The 2013 BMW 328i Series, not quite the sporty 3 Series we were expecting
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  • Review 2013 BMW 3 Series Front 3/4 View
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  • Review 2013 BMW 3 Series Front Angle View

I remember reading once, in another fairly recent review of a BMW, that the person critiquing the car was bold enough to say: “BMW is the new Mercedes-Benz.” Now, I’m not going to name who specifically, but being a German car enthusiast at heart and a lover of both brands, my denial set in: “WTF, how can anyone say anything so blasphemous?”

Blasphemous, because there has always been a definitive line that separated the Three-Pointed Star from the Roundel. Their differentiations in corporate philosophy are obvious and there is no way in hell anyone could confuse the two. For either of them to be used in the same sentence other than comparing how vastly different they are—despite being direct rivals—is as sacrilegious as saying that “Microsoft is the new Apple.”

Though having driven the latest F10 5-Series, my denial slowly began turning into an epiphany as I thoroughly noted that the new F10 5-Series has lost some of its hard edge. To me, I concluded the 5-Series we tested felt way too much like a 7-Series and not enough like a 3-Series, as always has been. And without the sporting edge of a BMW, which has distinguished the brand from its direct competitors for almost a half a century, how can one expect the car to march to the beat of its own drum when you remove the key component that made the claims to fame in the first place?

2013 BMW 328i Specifications:

  • Style: Sedan.
  • Seating Capacity: 5.
  • Base Price: $36,500.
  • Price as Tested: $53,320.
  • Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder TwinPower Turbo – 240-hp and 255 lb-ft of torque between 1,250 and 4,800 rpm.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic.
  • 0 to 60 mph: 5.8 seconds.
  • Top Speed: 155 mph.
  • Curb Weight: 3,360 lbs.
  • Fuel-economy: 23/33 mpg (city/highway).

That said, prior to the release of the new and current F30 BMW 3-Series, I expressed grim worry, hoping that BMW wouldn’t soften the 3-Series like it had done with the 5- and 7-Series. It’s quite the worry too, because we’re talking about a car that has defined one of the top selling segments of all time, something only a very few others have equally been able to accomplish. For over 30 years, the 3-Series has won the affection of automotive journalists and countless auto enthusiasts all over the world for its impeccable balance of everything that makes a great saloon car.

But as manufacturers became more susceptible to the ever tightening CAFE requirements and the demands of car buyers have shifted, automakers have been forced to conform. The 3-Series as a result has gotten bigger, heavier, faster, more luxurious and expensive than the original engineers could have ever imagined. Does the F30 3-Series have what it takes to carry on its legacy amid some of the tightest competition we’ve ever seen? Or has the industry’s standard followed the way of its more expensive brethren? Well, let’s find out.

Review: 2013 BMW 328i - Exterior

Exterior:

At first glance, I admittedly thought that the 2013 328i Luxury Line that we received for testing was a 5-Series from just sheer size and presence when compared to the previous generation 3-Series, the Bangle-butted E90. Much like BMW’s design history of the past, the 7-Series was always the car to define BMW’s design language, which then transcended into virtually everything below it. That’s very visible with our 328i tester, though I wish they made the F30 more distinguishable from the 5-Series, especially from the rear. The F30 3-Series’ current styling isn’t a bad thing since the point was to move the 3-Series more up-market. But there have always been distinct differences separating the 3-Series from any of BMW’s other four-door sedans. This time around, it’s not as blatant. Sure, the F30 is much better proportioned and more handsome than the bulbous E90 it succeeds; however, as a whole, the F30 still just looks like a heavily revised and facelifted E90.

Measuring in with a wheelbase that’s at 110.6 inches, the F30 gains nearly an extra two inches over the E90’s wheelbase. Overall length grows by 3.8 inches to 182 in total, versus the E90’s 178.2, and width virtually remains the same at 71.3 inches. And to better illustrate its proportions, the F30 3-Series sedan is roughly the same size as the E39 5-Series of the 1996-2003, except the F30 is four inches shorter in length. Curb weight checks in at a pretty porky 3,410lbs. For comparative purposes of how heavy cars have gotten, my W124 E320 Coupe from 1994 weighed 3,550lbs. The world’s first official BMW 3-Series, the E21, weighed around 2,600lbs even in US form.

Review: 2013 BMW 328i - Interior

Interior:

Of course, the increase in size on the outside translates into more room on the inside. The F30 3-Series certainly feels as big as it looks on the outside. The most important consideration for the new F30 3-Series is the growth in rear seating, which is a vast improvement over the previous generation. I had no problem fitting my 5’11 figure in the back reasonably comfortably like I was in a 5-Series. It was much more of a challenge for me to sit in the back of the E90. Thanks to BMW’s unique interior design and the return of the driver-oriented dash up front, the F30 3er also felt to be much more airy than the E90. Adding to that perspective was BMW’s choice to reduce the overall height of the instrument cluster. Resultantly, it sits lower than the previous generation, again adding to the larger-feeling-greenhouse effect. Ergonomics and materials are still typically Teutonic and German, meaning solid, high quality, and easy to use. One thing that I did find peculiar was the placement of the wide navigation screen, which is propped up on top of the dashboard as if it were retractable. It unfortunately is not and the overall look of it makes seem like the screen was a forgotten afterthought and just messes with the fluidity of the design in my mind.

Review: 2013 BMW 328i - Performance

Performance:

Now for the more interesting stuff. For the first time in North America since the E36 318 series from 1992-1996, BMW is offering a four-cylinder for its bread and butter model. The unit is internally coded as the N20. It has a dual-over-head-cam setup, displaces 2.0L and thanks to forced-induction provided by a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection, BMW’s traditional Double-VANOS variable valve timing and Valvetronic variable valve lift, this four-banger bangs out a grand total of 241hp peaking at 6500RPM and 258 lb-ft of torque topping out at 4800RPM. Most of the torque is available at 1250RPM while the redline is pegged at a nice and high 7000RPM. The previous E90’s sensational N53 naturally aspirated straight-six that the N20 replaces for the base 328i produced 228hp and 199 lb-ft of torque.

The N20 is mated to ZF’s new eight-speed automatic, which by usual nature has been well-tuned to the four-banger’s powerband. Altogether, it allows the 2013 328i to sprint from zero to 60 in just 5.8 seconds, according to BMW’s factory numbers for a top run limited to 130 mph. Flooring the 328i from the get-go, combined with Germany’s tendency to delay throttle inputs, yielded a bit of turbo lag. But it didn’t take much for the turbocharger to spool up as it did so real quickly and very willingly, allowing for an acceleration experience that was very much like the last generation’s 3.0L straight-six powered E90 328i, just not as eclectic. What was seriously lacking however, was the gloriously sonorous engine and exhaust notes of BMW’s superiorly balanced six-cylinder. The 328i’s four-banger was only barely audible below its midrange and just audible enough when the valvetrain opens up all of the hatches at wide-open throttle. The absence of a truly inspiring exhaust and engine note surely does chisel away at the 3-Series’ defining character.

Handling is where it continues to fall even more slightly. BMW stayed true to fit a nice and thick steering wheel to give the driver the idea that you’re in a sports sedan. Despite our tester’s 328i Luxury Trim option, it was equipped with the 3er’s Dynamic Handling Package, which just meant the addition of variable steering and Adaptive M-Suspension. But the first hard crank of that thick steering wheel during a very sharply banked on-ramp on the New Jersey Turnpike certainly announced that the F30 328i’s electrically-assisted steering gave away with some feel, weighting, and tightness when compared to the last generation’s hydraulic setup. Though oddly enough, BMW’s steering is still widely cited as the superior of the bunch in this segment. It is typically accurate and the progression in the build-up of effort, feedback, and weight is still the best out of any electrically assisted setup I’ve felt as of recent. Though enthusiasts, like myself, would find that it just doesn’t compare to the heavier, tighter, and more connected feel and feedback as the previous generation 3er.

That same sharply-banked and curved on-ramp also revealed a hell of a lot more roly poly action than I was expecting for a BMW 3er. Because our tester came with the aforementioned Dynamic Handling Package, I had the 328i setup for balls out Sport+ mode with the gear shifter in the manual position to hold the gears. But much like the 5-Series we previously tested, which also had a very similar dynamic handling package, the system in the 328i generated very little difference when switching between any of the modes in terms of handling. The chassis is BMW-traditional in the way that it is clearly stiff and perfectly balanced like the E90 it succeeds with more than acceptable amounts of communication. The result is still a driving experience that gives you the inspiring confidence to push the F30 328i to its utmost limits with the ability to even make you feel very heroic beyond its limits without much effort and fear. The brakes had good feel and grab, but push the 328i hard for more than a quick carve on an on-ramp and they will begin to exhibit fade. Relatively speaking, the F30 3-Series just can’t compare to the tight, hunkered down, sports car-like feeling of the previous generation. I’m not saying that the F30 328i’s body motions are out of control, because they are far from out of control. It just feels too softly sprung, isolated and undulating to be the sort of BMW that all of us have come to love, appreciate, and go head-over-heels for.

The reward to the softer sprung suspension however is a very compliant and composed ride. Bumps were absorbed far better than the outgoing E90 3-Series, but the impact harshness was surprisingly rough for the 328i. New Jersey’s potholes and severely worn roads seemed to crash through the 328i much more than the soft suspension would suggest. The result added to the perspective that the F30 328i had lost some of its overall premium feel. Highway cruising as expected is a breeze and very Germanic thanks to the standards of the world-renowned Autobahn. But even highway cruising revealed the F30’s cushy suspension, especially when the road became uneven with more body pitch and swaying than before. But despite this, the F30’s direction of travel always remained rock solid.

Review: 2013 BMW 328i - Overall

Overall:

Our 2013 328i Luxury Line tester starts off at a base price of $36,500, while the previous 328i started at $34,600. With all of our options and packages checking in as the $950 Cold Weather Package, the $3,100 Technology Package, the $1,000 Dynamic Handling Package, and the $3,100 Premium Package, the total price came up to be just a little short of $50k large at $48,195. And that’s pretty pricey for 3-Series, especially with just a four-cylinder.

Altogether, I don’t walk away fully disappointed with the 3-Series. Nor do I doubt that it still has the most fun factor out of anything else in the compact (well, not really anymore) luxury segment. But all of us at egmCarTech agreed that the F30 328i just didn’t feel as special as the BMWs that we’ve all come to love. Average buyers will certainly get what they’re expecting, but enthusiasts will have a hard time recognizing this car as a true BMW as well. Granted, we only drove the F30 328i Luxury Line. And of course, full judgment is still being withheld when comparing the F30 3-Series to the Audi A4, the newly updated Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the aging Lexus IS, and the Cadillac ATS-which I seriously ache to drive-because I have yet to comprehensively drive any of the latter. I have driven the S60 R-Design, which Volvo claims to be their answer to the BMW 3-Series. And by far, the 3-Series is much more fun to drive than the Volvo.

If I were asked if I would buy the F30 3-Series, it would definitely be on the top of my list of considerations. However, because the driving experience just simply didn’t meet my expectations of the infamous Ultimate Driving Machine, I’d give the difficult competition more of a second thought than I ever would have in previous times. Without the hard sporting edge of the previous generation E90 3-Series, there doesn’t seem to be the same appeal that led BMW into the pages of unabashed victory. I can’t help but think of that sacrilegious statement and how it’s becoming more of a truth than I could have ever imagined. Every bit of me wants to deny this reality, but this reality is here and it’s going to stay for the near future. BMW is perhaps becoming the “new Mercedes-Benz” in the way that BMWs have softened up to the point of just becoming too luxurious. That’s because BMW wasn’t always known for luxury as it was for being an amazing driving car in a package that’s as practical as any other direct competition.

In the midst of sales wars currently driving automakers to produce more cars than ever in history, you can tell the F30 3-Series was built to more of a “cookie-cutter standard” to meet the demands of increased sales. As a result, some of the defining character has disappeared along with it. Though I will relinquish my full judgment on the F30 3-Series because I have yet to drive the more powerful six-cylinder powered 335i Sport Line, complete with a six-speed manual. It would be the driving enthusiasts’ top pick for being the sportiest and fastest of the entire 3-Series sedans—that is, until the new M3 is introduced. And to even console myself a little more against that blasphemous statement, I do remember saying as a kid that the world would be a much better place if there were more Roundel’s on the road.

BMW provided the vehicle for this review.

- By: Chris Chin

All Photos Copyright egmCarTech © Omar Rana.


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  • Pat

    i have to agree with Chris here on these new BMWs. They are just downright to soft now… i really hope BMW is listening to the media and its customers and goes back to doing what they do best.

  • mkco

    I definitely concur with this review. My present car’s lease is up in October and I was strongly considering getting back to BMW — I’d owned two 3′s before. But the car just doesn’t have the “BMW feel” anymore, particularly in its steering. I used to lust after BMW…now it’s just another luxury car.

  • Titan Tiwana

    dude go and drive a 3 series sport before making a stupid review like this.
    you can’t drive a ‘luxury’ version of the 3 and say it isn’t sporty…that is precisely why bmw called it the 3 series luxury…amateur!

  • Pat

    i test drove all of them… the sport luxury and modern are just trim levels not different suspension or handling setups…they all drive the same… of course unless you pick the 335i…loser

  • mkco

    I did drive the Sport Line in Sport+ mode. The steering did feel better than the base car, but wasn’t up to the level of my ’07 E90. (Which, by the way, wasn’t up to the level of my ’04 E46…do we see a trend here?)

  • THizzle7XU

    Ya, you still bought the latest model.

  • THizzle7XU

    So which is it? The 2013 model or the 2012? If you can’t get the basics right, what else can you trust about the review?

  • Bimmer Fan

    Definitely agree with this review. I have had multiple 3-series over the past 12 years, but I am struggling to buy into this one!

  • mkco

    No…didn’t. And won’t.

  • rock solid

    Got the new 3 with Sport Finish and it came with the M suspension. Definitely a much, much sportier feel than the Luxury or Modern Line options. Don’t get it either why you would test a Luxury line and complain about sportiness. Compared to all rivals in this class, BMW is by far the most responsive and sportiest car around. But you are aching to drive a Cadillac. Seriously?

  • jj

    I have a 2007 3351 automatic which is under lease. FANTASTIC car, performace !!! I have test driven the 2013 328 x drive and the 335 x drive sport models. Beautiful cars on the inside all the bells and whistles. I do not know what BMW is doing but these cars do not hold a candle to my 2007. My previous car was a Mercedes, I decided 5 years ago on BMW the “Ultimate Driving Machine” which I am very happy with. I am trying to see the benefits of the newer car but for me there are non. Steering, brakes, performance are not what I am used to. Yes for the first timer who doesn’t know maybe. But to spend 60k on a 4 banger turbo is crazy. BMW are simular to Apple. ARROGANT.The critics are right on the money when it comes to these cars. They are not what they used to be.

  • Dan

    I finally got my 328i with M suspension, sport line, fully loaded. I have owned the previous two 328i models and without a doubt the new 2013 is hands downthe best sports sedan on the market. The engine is fantastic, extremely responsive and in sport mode, you are off the line like a drag racer. On top of that the car looks absolutely amazing. I really do not see a competitor thy even comes close in this class.

  • Alyona

    I wanted to get a Mercedes C250 but ended up getting BMW 328i 2013. I don’t regret it. Absolutely love the car even though I was always a Mercedes fan.

    It handles the curbs very well (it’s huge especially for those who resides in LA). It smooth and fast on highways. It gives you an option to chose either you want sport/economy or comfortable style of drive, just by pressing a button. The navigation system is pretty awesome and the size of the screen impress. Oh and it does save your gas by automatically shutting of in traffic or every time you make a stop. You can turn that option off if you want.

    I completely changed my opinion about BMW.

  • Fido

    If you are looking at the Luxury Line…of course it will be a softer ride. Try the Sport Line. Much better handling….as expected.

  • bigwaves

    As a person that started with a 2002 and have owned many of the 3 series incarnations, i total agree with this review. I have had a loaner (2013 328) for a month and i am not impressed at all. The engine note is embarrassing and the lack of steering feedback are my two major complaints. It feels very Japanese than German. Like you i will take a look at the 335 and most likely a s5. All great things must come to an end – after 30 years and more than a million bmw miles driven, it is sad to see where BMW has landed.

  • Andrew Norsk

    I have owned or leased 4 bmw 3 series for half my life now. I now have the 2013 3 series, sport model and I think this review does not go far enough. The stiff sporty ride is gone. The steering is soft, and no longer athletic and tight. The car has lost it’s German DNA somehow. The gear shift is absolutely Japanese, and very counter intuitive. I asked the dealership what had happened and they said it was the younger generation’s demands that have influenced the car’s direction. Well I am only 40 (wait until you are my age and tell me that you are old), and I remember what a real BMW felt like. I experienced it. Perhaps BMW should not be pandering to children who are used to a video game controller, and cater to their real consumer – grown up car drivers. It’s up to BMW to show the children how a real car drives and not the other way around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roshni.thakur.7 Roshni Thakur

    real bottom line, as opposed to the one on the
    window sticker? It’s a blast to drive

  • Noblesse Oblige

    I just drove a loaner brand new 3 series for the day. The worst thing about ths car is the 4-banger. It sounds and feels like the 4 cylinder it is, a huge step down from the silky turbine-like 6s l have owned and loved. Power isn’t enough. It is refinement and sophisticatioln that matter and have marked the BMW. It is lost here.

  • RCM

    I also concur with this review. Like MKCO, I am due to replace my 3 Series next spring (Never keep a BMW past the warranty). I’ve owned a string of 3 Series since 1998, replacing them every few years. I have had the 2013 as a loaner and as a test-drive at a BMW event, and -whatever this car is- the F30 328i isn’t a BMW. In a sort of double-negative-sentence kind of way, the fact that the F30 328i isn’t a BMW means that the next car I buy won’t be a BMW.

    For me, this car feels like a video game simulator. This is particularly annoying since BMW has always been about direct connection between the car, the driver, and the road. Well, that ain’t so on this car. The steering is artificial, and the ‘change-yer-suspension-with-a-button!’ adds to the impression of fakeness rather than baked-in-the-design’ goodness. I also dislike the little pilot’s checklist of things to be done before driving away.

    You have to unlock the door with the fob and the push a start button while your foot is on the brake pedal. Then push another button to stop the engine from dying at every light. Then you push a button on the screen to tell the lawyers you won’t sue BMW. Then you do a weird little thing with the shifter to release the parking brake. Now you’re pretty much ready to start the simulation, er, drive away.

    Now you have to select your driving mode. The steering in normal mode feels like an old Buick. Sloppy with no feel. Throttle tip in is OK though, but you have turbo lag and that old ‘electric motor torque’ of the straight six is absent. Push the button for Sport and the steering is OK, but the throttle tip-in is abrupt. I have no idea what ECO mode does, and why is it there is a Sports Sedan anyway? You don’t drive a sports sedan to save the planet.

    In summary, it seems to me that in searching to be the car for every man (with the 1,3,4,5,6,7,8, X1, ad naseum line-up) BMW has abandoned that thing that set them apart. Fair warning BMW: in attempting to become everything to everyone, you are becoming…. nothing. You still have the name, but then Cadillac and Lincoln kept their names long after they quit being Cadillac’s and Lincoln’s.

  • Purvesh Khona

    Owned 535i before and after five years decided to move to 550i. Took 550i for test drive and boy was I disappointed. I made the exact same comment to the dealer that 550i feels like benz, it has lost its ultimate driving machine edge. I have decided to skip this car completely and look at sports cars itself – cayman S is on my top of list now!

  • Bill Pantaleo

    If nobody else noticed, BMW is gradually bringing each line upmarket. If you still want the feel of the E46 and earlier, buy a 1 series. The current 3 series is the 5 series of yesteryear in almost every way.

  • Bill Pantaleo

    I am OK with this BTW.

  • Brent Hutfless

    I’ve got just over 11k miles on my 2013 328i Luxury line. It’s even a near twin in color palates to the car reviewed here. I was hoping to land in a 335i but there was not a single 335 (or 535 for that matter) on the lot at the time, but I thoroughly liked the one I drove home – even if it was light a couple of cylinders.
    I traded in a 2010 Camaro on the deal – two doors was fun until the kids got too big for the backseat. I wasn’t looking for another sports car but a good handling sedan that was comfortable, feature rich, and could get out of its own way. I got that and much more.
    Many long time aficionados of every marque pang for the days of old, when engines were better, cars were lighter, and everything felt more connected to the road. Yes it’s a sad commentary on engines in general that the 2 liter sounds like a diesel, but it’ll still trounce the outgoing 328 at every stoplight while serving up more backseat room and more technology, all while getting better mileage. Yes, the steering is numb and the chassis isn’t stiff enough to remind me of my dental work every time I hit pavement, but this is still a great car that goes exactly where I point it, and can still make me smile when I hit the skinny pedal. It’s been a long time since a 4-holer did that for me.

    Bash the F30 if you want, but remember that the E90 and E46 before it had detractors as well. If you can find a better performing car in this class, by all means, buy it and be content.

  • Plesg

    You wont be struggling if you get the M Sport and drive it in Sport or Sport Plus mode. If you are coming from E90/E92 models you MUST buy the M Sport option, for obvious reasons do NOT buy modern or luxury line. I just purchased my F30 328 M Sport Black (standard 19 inch wheels in Australia) and when you put it in sport mode the steering hardens and the ride is fantastic, equal to or better handling than my E90 and faster than my E90! I still have and drive the E90 both great cars and yes they are different, both fantastic.

  • plesg

    Should have mentioned my E90 was non M Sport 330i

  • http://www.fleetavenue.com.au Andre Villalba

    It’s no sports car, but it is the best-selling range for BMW in the Asia-Pacific region. There is a very good reason behind it as well. The BMW 3 series is excellently built and provides a great sense of luxury and comfort in your drive. For the sensible drive around the city or long distance.