Ray Ho – 11/30/2016
I walked past a sea of BMWs in the parking lot trying to locate my test car, a silver 2016 BMW 328i with lots of trimmings. It is increasingly difficult to identify car models now that they tend to look homogeneous, which almost make the incoming Administration appear more diverse. No, not really, but that is not the point. The point is that car manufactures are adhering to their corporate design template. The goal is for onlookers to instantly recognize their brand of cars with just a quick glance. Therefore car models within the same nameplate tend to be similar designs but at different scales. Unfortunately, as a result, you will not likely to tell apart a Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan from an E-Class sedan or even a S-Class sedan without a measuring tape.
I stopped next to my ride. Without taking out the “key” fab from my pocket, I touched the door handle and the door automatically unlocked. If I recall correctly, we used to require actually inserting the key in the key hole and manually turn it counterclockwise to unlock the doors. Even the more fortunate folks would still have to press the “Disarm” button on their aftermarket Clifford alarms to gain entry. I guess we have come a long way. I proceeded to pull the door handle, slid into the leather seat, and pressed the START/STOP button then I was ready to go. I looked around. Time has really changed. I just have to accept the fact that the Nakamichi tape deck is long gone. But at least this car still has a CD player. What’s next, cars that drive themselves? Oh wait.
The interior is typical BMW flair. However, unlike the incoming Administration, most of the appointments make sense. It feels rich (ok bad example). Everything laid out ergonomically. The fit and finish is comparable to other luxury brands. The steering wheel is the appropriate size and feels great. Hold on; are those soon-to-be-obsoleted mechanical analog gauges?
The ride is not harsh. The relatively low road noise is masked by the decent stereo. By far the best sound comes from the powerful engine. The steering wheel is nicely weighted though not exceedingly communicative. The paddle shifters response quickly and smoothly. Accelerating from standing still or at slow speed results in slight yet noticeable turbo lag. The car feels a little heavy and even sways quite a bit under hard corners. Yet it is still very sure footed. Considering it only has a 240HP 4 cylinder engine, it is extremely fast and you hardly feel the speed. Luckily there are very capable brakes to keep you out of trouble. I toggled between the different drive modes (ECO Pro, Comfort (default), Sport and Sport+) and found myself always coming back to Sport+. I cannot imagine you would stay on ECO Pro for very long unless you enjoy driving a Prius. The only reason the ECO Pro mode even exist is to meet government MPG regulations. It would be more useful if we could force the car to stay at the ECO Pro mode when handing the “key” to the valet attendants or teenage drivers.
During my “pit stop” I walked around the vehicle. The somewhat dated halo daytime running lights still look cool. The trunk is spacious. The overall car is not particularly attractive especially when comparing to competitions like the Jaguar XE or even the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It also appears to be big dimensionally. Sadly just like their drivers, cars are growing in size. Do you know that the 3 series started out as a compact car?
Driving home at night, I wasn’t too fond of the white LED accent lighting. It is far too bright and does not match the overall ambient. It would be better to extend the signature BMW red/amber color for the accent lights. The adaptive headlights cover very wide angles but the beams are not uniform. May be my test car was not aligned correctly as the lights look very spotty. The lights also swivel with a slight twitch of the steering wheel, which could be a minor annoyance as the moving light beams are very obvious. The LCD display is on the small side but serves its purpose. Did I mention the engine sounds incredible?
Overall, the BMW 328i is a well-balanced performance car. But others manufactures are catching up, at least in the luxury department. During a recent trip to the LA Auto show, I encountered an economy Kia Forte hatchback that is well appointed and actually came equipped with a rear vent for the backseat passengers. I suppose the rear vents will be put into good use this winter by blowing lots of hot air, not unlike the incoming Administration.
The BMW 328i combines luxury, performance with everyday practicality. Also considering its legendary heritage, reliability, cost of ownership and resale value, no wonder the BMW 328i has managed to come out on top year after year against its rivals. Despite increasing competition, I agree with many experts that the BMW 328i is still at the pinnacle of its segment and will remain the benchmark for now. At least when it comes to picking the performance car benchmark, the system appears not rigged. So a re-count is not required.