BMW 328i (1999)

  BMW 328i (1999)

When contemplating BMW's new 328i, two thoughts immediately come to mind:

1. This is a very well built car. In fact, we would have to consider it amagnificent vehicle.

B. This is a very fast car, with an impressive engine.

The 328i is a premium small sedan. We've liked the 328i in the past,particularly the last generation, which was designed around 1991. The new328i is supposed to be slightly bigger inside and outside. Inside, it'shard to tell the difference. The back seat feels a little less cramped, butit's still not what you'd call spacious. It strikes us as being a littlemore refined: a little more rounded...a little smoother...a little quieter.It competes with the likes of the Audi A6, Volvo S70, Lexus ES300, InfinitiI 30, Mazda Millenia S, Acura 3.2 TL and the new Lincoln LS.

Driving Experience

This is a car that's really designed around the driver. The drivingposition is comfortable, it's easy to get in and out, and the engine isgreat. In fact, the driving experience is perhaps the single best attributeof the 328i. The 328i has the ultimate sporty engine, with a sweettransmission/engine combination--as Barbara would say, "It's like butta."And its quiet and smooth even way up into the revs. This car makes gettingaway from the tollbooths fun. The shifter and clutch are smooth as silk.The clutch was occasionally a little bit grabby, and even in fifth gear thecar accelerates.

The 328i has a lot of power. Tommy found himself driving faster than henormally does--which is to say, over 35 mph. The 328i made him want todrive faster...and, in fact, he had a couple of close calls. Fortunately,Bugsy Lawlor took the car away from him before he tried to wrap himselfaround a falafel stand.

It's hard to find much wrong here. The car corners beautifully. It feelslike it's been tweaked a little more for comfort than the last "3" series,but not by much. Handling is good, braking is superb, cornering ismagnificent and acceleration is plenty good--more than you need, in fact.(The 323i, with a smaller engine, should be just fine for most drivers, inour humble opinion.) The headlights on the 328i are excellent. The highbeams lit up everything, spectacularly so.

Reliability

One possible concern: It's hard to say how the 328i will perform in lousyweather. Historically, BMWs have been absolutely awful in the rain andsnow, but the 328i has optional traction control, which should help. Howmuch better the new 328i will be in bad weather is hard to know. We need tosee for ourselves before we comment.

Ergonomics

The 328i has a German-style comfort--that is, a firm, Spartan comfort--ascompared with soft, American-style comfort. The 328i is a long way frombeing uncomfortable, but you do feel the road. Our Producer, Dougie Berman,took a long ride in it and considers the 328i to be very comfortable. Theseats are excellent and include an adjustable lumbar support that may bethe best we've seen in a long time. The lumbar support can be movedvertically in addition to being adjusted for horizontal depth. There's evena very nice armrest on the driver's right side.

We would rate the back seat as being only okay--it's slightly less crampedthan the old 328i but still kind of tight. If you have long legs, you'renot going to be comfortable back there for more than a few minutes. Wewould not recommend the 328i if you tend to carry three or four peoplearound a fair amount of the time--unless you work for the circus. All inall, however, the 328i is very nicely appointed.

Everything is pretty much where you would want it to be in the 328i.Overall, the ergonomics are not bad...which is pretty good, consideringthat the 328i is a product of Germany.

Because the 328i is a driver's car, it's not a vehicle for schleppingappliances around town. The overall storage volume is adequate, and the328i has a decent-sized trunk for a small car. The rear seat, however, doesnot fold down. There's a cute little compartment in front of theshifter--perfect for the cell phone we know you have if you drive a BMW.

styling

The 328i looks very nice. We were split on whether we liked the stylingbetter than the previous "3" series. But, no matter how you slice it, it'sa nice-looking car. Tom thinks there's something slightly more "genericlooking" about this edition of the 328i. Put it this way: The newMitsubishi Gallant just came out...and it looks very similar to the 328i.When was the last time a BMW was confused with a Mitsubishi?

Maintenance

The 328i is not a service-friendly car. We recommend you get it serviced bythe dealer or a BMW specialist. Like all BMWs, parts costs and dealershiplabor will be expensive. The drive train is extremely well engineered andmanufactured, however, and should go well over 100,000 miles. All the same,given the cost of those repairs you *will* need, we'd suggest you buy anextended warranty if you can afford it.

Overall comments

The car is very solid and safe feeling. Is it a good deal? Probably notwith the larger engine. Our test car cost $35,000. That's a lot. The 323i(with a perfectly nice 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine) might be a betterdeal. If we had to choose, we'd opt for the 323I for about $27,000.

If you're in your 30s or 40s, making some money, have to drive a fairamount, and want to treat yourself to something more exciting than therun-of-the-mill Accord or Camry that your wife or husband wants you to buy...then theBMW 328i might be just the right little reward for all your hard work.Besides, think how great you'll look pulling into the office for the firsttime in a new 328i. And, if you often find yourself driving downwell-paved, deserted country roads at 7 a.m.--well, then, don't thinktwice. Sell some of those mutual funds and go for it.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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