Ask a true automobile enthusiast about his favourite cars, and the 3-Series would probably feature in the list. And rightly so, because BMW’s base sedan offers what many pricier cars can only aspire for – a feeling of automotive nirvana every time you floor the throttle.
The last generation 3-Series was simply brilliant to drive, and expectations from the new version were high. Thankfully, the F30 3-Series, which hit Indian shores in 2012 didn’t disappoint, and it quickly cemented its place amongst the best driving luxury saloons. But three years down a lot has changed, with new entrants in the market threatening the 3-Series’ position. So does the Bimmer still have what it takes to smother its rivals? We spent a weekend with the 328i Sport line and it left us with little doubt.
For starters, the 3-Series still looks as good as it did when it was launched. BMW has followed much of the familial styling scheme with the 3, and the car does resemble its big brother, the 5-Series, from some angles. The front is aggressively styled with a long swooping hood, menacing Xenon head lamps and a wider kidney grille with 8 slats in Black high-gloss. The hood is nicely sculpted and incredibly muscular, and the car has strong character lines running from the bonnet to the tail lamps, giving it an unmistakable presence. The 3-Series has short overhangs, a long nose and a short boot lid, giving it a coupe like stance. The 18″ alloys, the tail pipe tip in Black Chrome and the low slung profile further add to the whole visual package, making the 328i Sport line a drool worthy petrol.
The sportiness carries over into the interiors, with firm body hugging electrically adjustable front sport seats in black Dakota leather that come with contrasting red stitching. The black high gloss dashboard has Coral red matt finishers running across and subtle chrome trims around the central console (watch the vine video). It’s a familiar BMW dash design, with a spot of sporty aggression.
The angled dash gives the driver better access and the fuss free instrument cluster throws up all the vehicle information that you would ever need. Outside temperature, time, trip distance, trip speed, fuel efficiency, distance to empty, and more.
The central console has the iDrive system with navigation and a fixed 22.3cm color display that looks like a pop up. There is dual zone climate control, a DVD drive with integrated hard drive and radio & music controls. The USB/AUX/ Bluetooth unit is placed under the central armrest and the space also works as a mini storage compartment. An excellent Harmon Kardon sound system, a sunroof and a sports leather steering wheel are the other frills that make the interiors quite a sweet place to be in. There is also the Park Distance Control and a Rear View Camera – a must for crowded city traffic and tight parking spots. Stowage around the cabin is adequate and offers no reason for complaint.
The sunroof has a manual sliding shade and the front seats come with manual headrest adjustments. But all out electronic for both would have been most definitely preferred. The multi function steering wheel is nice and grippy, and comes with phone & voice command controls and a speed limiter. The cruise control function is missing. But then, you are more likely to be pushing this one to the limits, rather than ambling along lazily. So not likely to miss this one much, although having it wouldn’t hurt either. The horn is a tough tackle. Its a tad difficult to engage unless you use the force of your palm. Clearly, it has been engineered around big fisted Germans with more power in each finger than an average fist. Another pleasant miss is electronic parking brakes; a standard in most top end cars these days. This one retains the good ol’ handbrake, just in case you are in a mood to slide in sideways or shamelessly take that impromptu 180 degree turn.
The new 3-Series has substantially grown in size, and passengers at the back have much more legroom available to stretch about. Keep this a four seater and things stay comfortable. A fifth adult becomes a bit of a squeeze, more so due to the high transmission tunnel running across the centre. Boot space is adequate at 480ltrs.
The 3-Series has always been about what’s under the hood, and the 328i Sport line doesn’t disappoint. Powering this top of the line variant is a new turbocharged 1997cc inline four engine, which produces an astonishing 241bhp and 350Nm of torque. BMW really deserves some praise for this engine, simply because squeezing out 241bhp from a four cylinder isn’t easy. This one produces 50bhp and 100Nm of torque more than the outgoing engine, which was an inline six.
The engine is mated to the 8-speed sports automatic transmission, and it provides a driving experience that is thrilling to say the least – responsive, agile and very spirited. Floor the throttle, throw it around corners or push it hard, and the 328i Sport line responds to every challenge. The car flies from 0-100 km/h in 5.9 secs with no turbo lag whatsoever, and the menacing exhaust notes that reverberate inside the cabin above 4500 rpm sets your pulse racing. This is a behind-the-wheel experience that is hard to match in any other car this size.
The transmission in the 328i Sport line works perfectly in sync to provide lightning fast shifts across the RPM range. There are manual paddle shifters for enhanced driver control and a head up display that ensures you stay focussed on the road at high speeds. The most engaging drive mode is of course the manual Sport+ mode, and the car feels dynamically faultless even at speeds of up to 200 km/h. The steering responds to quick reflexes and the low slung seating position in this car with 157mm clearance gives a ground hugging confidence around bends and corners that feels supremely secure. The suspension is stiff and and the ride is hard, but this one is precise and sharp to the point. And the excellent driving position, sporty seats and responsive steering all add up for that thrilling race car like drive experience.
BMW Efficient Dynamics works behind the scene with automatic Start/ Stop function and Brake Energy Regeneration, and you can see the effect on fuel economy on the iDrive system in real time. But in spite of all the wizardry, we returned an abysmally low fuel consumption of 7.6 km/l during our drive.
Safety features in the 328i Sport line are top notch. It comes with six airbags, ABS, cornering brake control, dynamic stability & traction control, electronic vehicle immobilizer and crash sensor, side impact protection and run flat tires. But the wild performer that this one is, you would be advised to buy adequate insurance before stepping in.
All said, the 328i Sport line is an absolutely delightful set of wheels that does complete justice to its lineage. Compact, performance oriented and oozing in style, this is a gem of a vehicle that demonstrates how much performance the folks at BMW can extract out of a car this size. BMW has always been known to produce excellent diesel engines, but the sheer liveliness of a BMW petrol engine is something else altogether. You’d be completely satisfied if you go for any diesel powered 3-Series, but if you do get a chance to get behind the wheels of this one, don’t miss it for the world. Simply allow this feisty, flamboyant and free spirited Bimmer to take you on a roller coaster ride with the controls firmly in your grip.
Watch the video here: