Tuesday September 2nd 2014

2011 BMW 328i xdrive Review

Pro: Style, Handling, Power, Dealer experience

Cons: Sometimes jerky shifting, Steptronic shift pattern is reversed, gas consumption

I have been driving a 2011 BMW 328i xdrive for the past three months and have put 2,000 miles on the odometer. My car is equipped with the automatic transmission and premium package. This car was an upgrade from a 2007 Scion tc.

First impressions always count and the 328i makes a great one. The outside of the car is sleek and draws attention from onlookers. Inside the cabin you will notice very comfortable seats and high end finishes. With the premium package you get leather seats and the base package comes with a faux leather finish. The seats have electronic controls to move forward and back, up and down and to adjust the lumbar support. You can store the settings for two drivers in memory which is programmed to one of the key fobs or to one of the two buttons on the side of the seat.

The leather steering wheel is small and feels very sturdy in your hands. All of the dials on the dash and buttons on the console are laid out neat and orderly, offering a sophisticated look. iDrive is an optional features and provides an LCD screen for navigation, radio and on board computer. Without the iDrive you have a standard radio screen which controls the HD stereo, optional satellite radio, and optional bluetooth connectivity for your cell phone. There is also a small screen between the instrument cluster which will show the important engine stats, such as your MPG, miles until you need gas, outside temperature gauge, and service alerts.

I have been especially happy with how well the bluetooth worked with my Android based Samsung Galaxy S. Just a few menu clicks to pair the device and now whenever I get in the car my phone is automatically connected. When the phone rings in the car it does make a frightening EMERGENCY buzzing which I wish I could change. Otherwise the audio quaity is great and the interface for calling and navigating your phone book is pretty good given the small radio display screen.

I have the automatic transmission with the Steptronic / sportronic / manumatic / faux – manual, whatever you want to call it, available. The transmission has three modes: regular automatic, “DS” which is automatic set to shift at higher RPMs and the steptronic mode where you shift the transmission like a manual but with no clutch. I have driven a bit in the manual mode but my biggest complaint is that the shift pattern is inverted. In order to upshift (ie go from 2nd to 3rd) you pull back on the shifter. I keep unintentionally pushing forward when I want to use a higher gear and the result is not good. I also found the automatic shifting jerky when the car was brand new. I would particularly notice it clunk hard into first gear. After the break in period this clunkiness between gears got better although I do still sometimes find it jerky between 1st and 2nd gear. It is surprising given the number of economy cars I have driven with automatic transmissions that seem to shift easier.

The 3.0 liter inline 6 cylinder engine puts out about 230 horsepower. Coming from the land of economy cars this is a whole lot of power. The thing about this car though is that it uses that power in a very specific range in the regular automatic mode. Below 2000 rpm the car just creeps along and over 4000 or so the engine races without much extra oomph. To get somewhere fast in the automatic mode you have to be conscious to keep the car in its “power band.” I was used to cars where you jammed on the gas if you wanted to go fast and quickly became annoyed that the 328i seemed to lag when merging onto the freeway. Keeping the car in that 2500-3500 rpm range delivers the performance and pull you would expect from a 230 hp engine.

Using 91 octane gas is a bit of a bummer especially since the car doesn’t have the greatest gas mileage. I drive mostly city miles and am seeing around 20 mpg or a bit under. The gas bills are adding up quick.

The handling of the car is great. I instantly noticed a difference in the suspension and find the ride in this car much smoother than others. The car also sticks to the road wonderfully in the tight turns. It feels very planted to the asphalt and the steering is very precise and tight. I am thrilled to have the AWD xdrive model and am eager to try it out in the snow. So far the car has had no problems on wet roads and the minimal snow it has seen to date. I have high hopes of how it will do it deeper snow.

I am also very happy with some of the less tangible features of the car. I was very happy with the purchasing experience at Herb Chambers BMW in Boston. I felt like my sales rep was working with me to custom pick the car I wanted. Buying other cars I always felt pressure to take one of the cars on the lot even if it wasn’t the color or equipped with the options I wanted. At this dealership I got pick the exterior color, interior color and features and my sales rep found the car I wanted. In addition BMW includes three years of maintenance with their cars, which is a money saver. Even better is that the scheduled maintenance is recommended for only once a year, and most dealers give you free loaner cars! No more taking time off work once every three months to sit for hours in a crowded service department for an oil change. While the sticker price is a bit higher on the BMW than other cars with similar specs the convenience and experience features are worth the money.

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