The snow was falling steadily in Waterbury, Conn., and we were wondering whether the BMW 328i that was to be delivered that morning would be able to navigate treacherous roads that afternoon. The last 3 Series we’d driven had rear-wheel drive. And the last sporty German rear-drive car we’d driven in a snowstorm actually failed to reach the top of a mildly steep hill on Interstate 84 east of Waterbury and had to be towed.
But the Alpine White 328i was BMW’s new Gran Turismo model, and the xDrive all-wheel-drive system is standard equipment at this trim level. The 328i GT handled the slippery conditions with absolute assurance. We wouldn’t have felt more secure in a burly SUV or 4×4 pickup truck.
The 328i GT is a new model designed to compete with upscale crossover sedans. Superficially, it has the look of a conventional 3 Series sedan, and it includes all the mechanical features, superior handling and creature comforts that make the entry-level 3 Series BMW’s top seller. But the longer wheelbase and hatchback design add significantly to cargo room and overall versatility, and xDrive enhances security in wet or slippery road conditions. This model therefore fills a narrow niche between the 328i wagon and the X3, a compact SUV.
Some critics say the benefits of the longer wheelbase diminish the athleticism the 3-Series is known for, but we didn’t drive the 328i GT aggressively enough to notice a difference. The electric power steering did feel lighter than we remembered from BMWs we’ve driven in the past that were equipped with hydraulic steering. At times, we found ourselves wishing for a little more resistance.
The 328i GT’s base price is $41,450. Standard equipment includes a 4-cylinder, turbocharged 241-horsepower engine with 8-speed automatic transmission. If you want BMW’s legendary Six, you’ll have to upgrade to the 335i GT, which costs $5,400 more. But we were impressed with the Four’s smooth, strong performance.
The test car was well equipped, but a few features seemed conspicuous by their absence in this near-luxury model. For example, it didn’t have a rear-view camera and blind-spot warning system, which are included in the $1,900 Driver Assistance Plus package.
The 328i GT is rated at 22 mpg city, 33 highway. The engine requires premium gasoline. We averaged 25 to 26 mpg in mostly highway driving.
Thanks to its long wheelbase, the 328i GT holds 25 cubic feet of cargo, and 56.5 cubic feet when the rear seatback is lowered. The car’s length also ensures ample knee room for 6-foot passengers in the back seat.
In front, the power driver’s seat doesn’t tilt but includes an extender to provide thigh support. Controls are admirably simple and straightforward. Even the iDrive multimedia controller, widely panned by reviewers at its introduction, has improved with age and repeated use over the years.
The 2013 3 Series was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Base price: $54,950
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged Four, 241 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,915 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18-in. star-spoke 400M
Tires: 225/50R18 99V all-season (optional)
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 25 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 56.5 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded