2012 BMW 328i Sedan Manual – First Drive Review

BMW won’t say “for competitive reasons” how many manual-transmission 3-series it sells in the United States. It’s not as many as in Europe, where 3-series sedans are sold in great numbers with small gasoline and turbo-diesel engines paired with manuals, but enough are moved here to keep a six-speed manual on the order sheet as a no-cost option. In the States, the least expensive of the new F30-generation 3-series is the 328i sedan, equipped with BMW’s new N20 turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder and starting at $35,795. That’s a saving of $7500 compared with the 2012 turbo six-cylinder 335i sedan.

BMW was chasing fuel economy with its 3-series overhaul, and the 328i manual reviewed here scores toward the top of the class—23 mpg city and 34 mpg highway—in EPA testing. The optional eight-speed auto—as a no-cost option or a $500 “sport” auto option with paddles and sport and manual shift modes—does even better at 24/36. Considering the small size of the all-aluminum 2.0-liter engine and how tall the gearing is in the double-overdrive manual—first gear is good up to 42 mph, the electronically limited 130-mph base top speed is reached by fourth (the Sport goes 155)—the 328i is still a fairly lively, if perhaps not quite ultimate, driving machine.

The 240-hp four, which replaces the 230-hp six in last year’s 328i sedan, has such flat torque delivery that it behaves more like a modern diesel. Peak torque of 255 lb-ft arrives at 1250 rpm and stays level to 4800, so the 328i steams forward with a surge of acceleration almost from idle. BMW quotes a 0-to-60-mph time of 5.7 seconds, which, if accurate, isn’t much slower than the 5.3 seconds we just recorded with a new 335i manual (BMW quotes 5.4 on that car). For reference, a 2009 328i manual sedan we tested hit the mark in 5.9 seconds.

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