New Car Review: 2012 BMW 328i

White BMW 328i 3/4 view parked in country setting
The 2012 BMW 328i.

Automotive history is littered with small cars that packed on the inches and pounds until they were no longer small. In a sense, it's already happened with the 3-Series BMW, or else we wouldn't have had a 1-Series going on five years now.

So further enlargement of the 3 in its latest generation might not seem like such a good thing on paper. But this is not The Ultimate Reading Machine. So we drive.

Rear 3/4 view of white BMW 328i parked in country setting
Rear three-quarters view of the 2012 BMW 328i.

Sorry. What were we saying?

You have to be very, very good at building cars to make the car bigger, put a four-cylinder where literally generations of drivers have come to expect a six, and still have a terrific driving experience.

BMW is very, very good at building cars. Sure, the four doesn't quite have the zing of the best sixes in the world (which is what BMW built)...but it doesn't feel like anybody else's four, either. It's 2.0 liters, 16 valves, dual overhead cam, an aluminum block, Twin-Power Turbo and variable valve timing. And the upside (a big part of why BMW is switching to fours) is fuel economy...an EPA estimated 23 city/34 highway. In a week of some seriously awful stop-and-go rush hour commutes, we averaged 27.6, which is better than what we've seen in some lesser economy cars.

Handling? It's darn near a cliche, but it's true, so here goes: The car is like an extension of your brain. Think "I want to go......there", turn the wheel just so and....you're there. Zero delay, a slop factor of nil. Simple, precise response.

In a world of $27,000 uplevel Accords and Camrys, $34,900 for this kind of precision and quality is by no means out of line. And it comes with Driving Dynamics Control, Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, Dynamic Brake Control, Cornering Brake Control, tire pressure monitoring, halogen high and low beam headlights and halogen free-form front foglights, a three-spoke, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth, iDrive with a 6 and a half inch color display, automatic climate control, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, an AM/FM/CD/mp3 audio system with HD Radio, iPod and USB adapter, 17 inch light alloy wheels with run-flat all season tires and a full complement of active and passive safety features.

The 2012 BMW 328i optional Sport Line interior in Dakota Coral Red/Black.

Options? You can get 'em, and our test vehicle had 'em. Including the Dakota Coral Red/Black leather interior you see above ($1,450). Then there's the Sport Line Package...Sports leather steering wheel, an upgrade to 18 inch light alloy wheels, door mirror caps in black, sport seats, brushed aluminum trim, high-gloss black trim highlights and an anthracite headliner ($2,500). The Adaptive M Suspension is $900.

There's also a moonroof ($1,050), split fold-down rear seat ($475), heated front seats ($500), satellite radio with a one-year subscription ($350) and BMW Assist with enhanced Bluetooth and USB ($650).
Add on the $895 destination charge and you're at $43,670.

Now, that close to 45K, I have trouble making the bargain...and even the value analogy. It's all neat stuff and if you want it and can afford it, great. But some judicious cherry-picking of the options list (Red interior: Maybe. Sport Line Package: Maybe. Adaptive M Suspension: Definitely.....) can keep you on this side of $40,000, which is good value. And buying it box stock for $34,900...well, that's a stone cold deal.