Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Rival from within. Driving the F30 328i

Recently, i had the joy of being behind the wheel of BMW's latest flagship 3 series, the multi-talented 335i, and although a really accomplished driving machine, i was left pondering at the end of my drive whether it's smaller brother, the 328i could be a better proposition for the local buyer. With the prices of local cars ever escalating, a difference of 2 cylinders also brings about a difference of over S$40,000 between the two cars and a tax difference of just over S$1000 each year. In my opinion, that's quite a sum money. With that in mind, does the smaller engined 328i deliver more bang-per-buck? Some BMW purists will by now have scoffed at the idea of a 4-cylindered engine powering a car with a 328i badge at the rear, "it's not a real BMW" they'd say. Well, short of going on and on with regards to BMW's illustrious history with 4-bangers, (they even have a 4 cylindered office block!) let me just say, they are wrong. They might have a point on the engine losing it's zinging soulful voice (perhaps they have a point here), but here are the cold hard facts. A crowd favourite, the E46 328i, pushes out a paltry 190bhp and 280Nm's of torque, even the range topping non-M 330i delivered to us 228 horses and 300Nm's of juice. 0-100 was achieved in 7 and 6.5 seconds respectively. The previous generation's 328i, a great car by any standard, similarly gave us 228 horses, but torque tapered off to 270Nm's. We need to look to the last of the line E90 330i to bump up the power stakes to 272bhp and 320Nm's of torques. The latest 328i? A car some people might say isn't deserving of the 328i badge? 245bhp and 350Nm's of momentum generating power. Easily eclipsing the previous 328i in any Top Trump showdown and at the same time, drinking less fuel. That's progress. Visually, there are some key differences between the range topping "Sport line" 335i and the "Luxury line" 328i other then the wheels. With plenty of chrome trim complimenting our test car's lovely shade of blue, the 335i on the other hand, would have most of the chrome areas replaced with gloss black accents for a more aggressive and "sporty" outlook. To be honest, if you prefer the blackened off look on the "Sport line", a trip to your friendly neighbourhood vinyl shop will sort you out. As it is, preference for whichever "line" you like is entirely up to you. Personally, i'd go with some delicious aftermarket goodies if i really want to stand out from the crowd. More difference are discovered when you get inside. The 335i comes with a sweet set of sports seats which hug and cuddle you when you throw the car into corners. The 328i, again, gets "luxury" seats which although lovely to sit in and to be honest, do a pretty good job of holding you in, just doesn't look as "cool". One option i wish the 328i had would be the fantastic heads-up display which comes standard on the range topper. Once you've driven and got used to a car with HUD, you just can't go back. It becomes so instinctive you wonder why it took so long for car manufacturers to come up with it. Now we come to what i think matters the most, the differences in how these two cars drive. Let's take a look at the numbers again, the 328i packs in 245 horses and 350Nm's while weighing in at 1,530kilos. It's more expensive big brother, delivers 306 horses and a juicy 400Nm's of torque. It weighs in at 1.595kilos. The 328i has less power but weighs 65 kilos less, and i'm guessing most of the weight loss is up ahead, just between the front wheels. Is the weight loss noticeable? It sure is, in a straight line, the 328i hits the 100kmh mark in 6.1 seconds. 0.6 seconds off the 335i, which in reality is pretty much a dead heat. The lighter car is also that bit more agile and chuckable throughout the twisties, response in changing direction occurs with more immediacy and no sense of balance being loss even with some pretty abrupt arm twisting moves. It somewhat drives according to how you want it to drive, if you give it small linear inputs, it can easily flow over crest and corners, grab the steering wheel with more gusto though and the 328i responds with some passengers in the back complaining of motion sickness. On a dry track with the traction control turned on, the car pretty much sticks to the surface, bring it up a notch to "Sport" mode allows for some very slight slip but does little to hamper the intervention of the car's artificial brain. You do notice a difference in driving style between the two cars though. With the bigger engined car, you brake hard and dive into corners and as the curves straighten out, so does your right foot, burying deeper into the carpet. Safe in the knowledge that 400Nm's of torque will slingshot you into the next bend as fast as your courage brings you. Inside the 328i though, you sort of need to work harder, concentrate that little bit more, try to carry that little bit more speed into each bend. Avoid mashing the throttle for a hard kickdown though because beyond 5000rpm, the engine's smaller displacement makes itself heard and becomes slightly strained and you sort of wonder where all the power went. Keep it within it's punchy midrange mark between 3000-5000rpm and let the torque do all the work. With the 335i, hitting the high notes on it's 6-pot engine brings out a zingy soulful voice which easily catapults you into the horizon with just a twitch of your right foot. The 328i although blessed with a strong set of midrange pipes, doesn't seem to enjoy being pushed all the way up it's rev range. But in the real world, on public roads, how many times does your needle ever meet the redline mark anyway? In conclusion, with the 328i, you sort of get the feeling that yes, you need to work slightly harder to keep up if ever a 335i decides to play ball, but as is with everything else, doesn't it feel that bit more rewarding in the end? Especially if that reward comes along with S$40,000 saved in your bank account?


Ford He'eia said...

Sounds like the 328i is a much better deal. With gas prices going up, a V4 is going to be a plus except for the select few who are die hard enthusiasts.

Louis Soon said...

Yes, the 328i is the better value for $$$ proposition. Not a V4 though, is a iL4. Thanks for reading and visiting my blog! :)

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