Manufacturers are downsizing engines in a quest for more miles per gallon and in anticipation of ever-tightening fuel economy regulations. It’s important to keep that in mind when checking out BMW’s 320i sedan because its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder emphasizes economy over performance.
By TOM STRONGMAN
BMW is known for athletic, agile and fun-to-drive cars, and the company has done a fair job of maintaining the car’s character and getting decent performance out of the base engine’s 180 horsepower. That is 60 less than the 328i.
The turbocharged engine lacks the strong acceleration one associates with a sports sedan, but it goes about its business with reasonable élan, and fuel economy is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on the highway. For most drivers in real-world situations, that is an acceptable trade-off, particularly given the car’s $32,750 base price. Good fuel economy and sharp handling at an affordable price is a combination worthy of consideration.
The all-wheel-drive 320i xDrive starts at $34,750, and that is the model I would choose given our winter weather. BMW’s xDrive still lets the car have a sporty, rear-wheel drive feel on dry pavement, yet it adds four-wheel grip when you encounter a wet or snow-covered road.
The 320i’s turbo four-cylinder delivers 60 horses less than the one in the 328i. The loss is not as dramatic as one might think because the 180-horse engine moves from a stop to 50 miles an hour without feeling sluggish. Acceleration at higher speeds is where the greater power of the 328i is obvious.
The Auto Start-Stop function shuts off the engine to save fuel at a stop, but I find it annoying because restarts are a bit rough. The default setting is on, but the driver can turn it off each time the car is started.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is the ideal partner for this engine. The lower gears help acceleration from a stop and higher gears let the engine relax for cruising.
A six-speed manual is also offered but the automatic is so good that I can’t see why anyone would choose the stick.
The test car, from BMW’s press fleet, was equipped with the optional sport package that included 18-inch wheels, sport seats, sport suspension and the sport steering wheel. The ride is tuned to deliver flatter cornering and better high-speed stability without sacrificing daily driving comfort, and it is a good compromise. The 320i BMW brakes are exemplary.
The interior of the 320i is straightforward. Deeply contoured front bucket seats are among the best around, and they have a wide range of adjustment to fit nearly any person. The back seat legroom is not overly generous but the trunk is spacious.
The instrument panel has large, simple gauges in a pod behind the steering wheel. A 6.5-inch color flat screen at the top of the center stack displays information for audio and navigation, when so equipped. The iDrive system uses a console-mounted knob to control the audio, navigation and the Bluetooth hands-free telephone. The system has been refined to the point it is much easier to use than early versions.
The base price of the test car was $32,750. The sticker price was $37,750.
Four years or 50,000 miles. BMW also has a no-cost maintenance program that covers inspections, oil changes, brake pads, brake discs and wiper blades for four years or 50,000 miles.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org