As we move towards a new year, it is fitting to share my extended driving experience with the latest generation 3 Series, the F30 328i. Unlike the previous generation E90 (3 Series) and E60 (5 Series) where there is a distinct marked difference in appearances, this F30 and the F10 (5 Series) bears a strong resemblance. At a casual glance, the former appears to be a smaller version of the latter.
This is a sharp looking car with strong lines at the front, side and rear to denote a more serious and businesslike image. Until today, I still find it a challenge to tell an F30 from an F10 from the rear. It is easier from the front as the F30’s headlights’ design extends itself and connects to the centre kidney grilles.
If you are planning to upgrade to the F30 from the E90, be prepared to allocate a bit more space in your carpark. The F30 is just a bit longer and higher compared to its predecessor. Internal dimensions differ slightly between the two vehicles but the F30 gives an overall impression of having more internal room. This is a brief comparison of the dimension of the two vehicles:-
|Front seat to roof||978mm||1,023mm|
|Rear seat to roof||963mm||957mm|
|Front row width||1,460mm||1,451mm|
|Rear row width||1,454mm||1,458mm|
In Malaysia, the F30 debuted in the first quarter of 2012. BMW Malaysia then launched a trio of F30s comprising the 320d, 328i and the 335i. Two trims are offered for the F30 328i, namely the Sport Line and the Luxury Line. The F30 328i replaces the earlier E90 325i model. This particular test model, the 328i Luxury Line is a complete knocked down (CKD) model which is fully assembled in Malaysia.
One prominent feature of this Luxury Line is the generous amounts of chrome trims all over the car. You will find this at the window frame, kidney bars, kidney grille, exhaust tail pipes and front/rear bumpers. The external side wing mirrors comes with indicator lights, anti-dazzle and fold-in functions. As expected safety features are abound and the interior lights temperature are upgraded from tungsten to daylight.
There is a marked improvement in the interior design and fittings. Gone is the dark and serious interior which greeted you when you stepped into the E90. Now there is fine-wood trim and the soft touch plastics are now of similar colour schemes with the leathers. This gives a brighter and more cheerful outlook.
It is a credit to BMW that it did not take the easy way out for the interior design of the F30. The Dakota leather seats now boast of a new design which features intricate and attractive panels. Seats are on the firm side but comfortable. As a driver I sensed the overall support being better than the E90. Those who are used to softer car seats might find the cushioning a bit hard for longer rides. Leg room for rear passenger is an improvement over the E90.
The dashboard is redesigned with the prominent 8.8 inch LCD display monitor as a particular stand-out. Perhaps BMW should consider having an automatic fold in feature for the protruding LCD display to add a bit more class to the dashboard. In line with the other recent BMW models, the instrument panel is upgraded to the black panel technology type which is a mix of LCD and analogue displays.
For the driver you get sports leather steering with two sets of multifunction buttons; the left set is for the cruise control while the right set is for the in car entertainment and Bluetooth/phone controls. Just behind the steering wheel are the paddle shifters and stalk controls for the wiper/washer and the on board computer. All the push buttons in the car are firm, secure and offers an assurance of quality and durability.
Depress the Start/Stop ignition button and the car comes to life. Compared to the F25 X3 which had the same powerplant, this F30 gave an addictive sounding roar from the tailpipes upon ignition. I was not able to capture this roar on tape as the sound recording (below) was done closer to the engine. The 4 cylinder N20 engine block which powers the car comes with twin scroll turbocharger. Although this model is code named 328i, the actual engine displacement is only 1,997cc. For Malaysians this is an added bonus since there will be road tax savings.
The output generated by this N20 engine block is very impressive, churning out a maximum power of 180kW (245 hp) @ 5,000 – 6,500 rpm and a max torque of 350 Nm @ 1,250 – 4,800 rpm. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h is achievable in 6.1 seconds as per the specs. Actually, with these types of specs, the car’s trim as a ‘Luxury Line’ 3 Series sedan is understating its true potential as it easily outperforms the previous E90 325i Sports which is engineered for sporty drives and has a larger engine displacement.
So long as you have the car keys within range, ignition is keyless. We had the privilege to test drive the car when it was very new and initially the engine note when idling was unobtrusive and well insulated. However, over time after accumulating more mileage on this test vehicle, the engine note and clatter became slightly more apparent, but it is still bearable.
As with the current crop of BMW models, this F30 comes with BMW’s Driving Experience Control which electronically configures the chassis, steering, engine and transmission of the car. Four modes are offered, namely Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport +. The driving experience using these individual modes are similar as in the other recent BMW models.
As part of BMW’s move towards greener and more fuel efficient cars, the F30 comes with a host of BMW’s Efficient Dynamic features. These include the automatic stop/start feature, Eco Pro mode, Electric Power Steering, Brake Energy Regeneration and a new 8 speed automatic transmission.
Having an electric powered steering for the F30 does come at a slight price as it removes the direct and responsive steering of the previous E90. Nevertheless, this electric powered steering is one of the best I have experienced so far as it remained accurate, lively and offers sufficient feedback without the usual heaviness. This may not be a bad thing as extended periods of driving with a heavier steering could be quite tiresome. For those who prefer a heavier feel, you can opt for driving in the Sport or Sport + modes.
The automatic stop/start feature can be disabled via a switch just above the ignition button. Take note that this stop/start feature will be enabled automatically if you choose to switch midway whilst driving (say from the Comfort mode) to the Eco Pro mode. This stop/start feature still need some getting used to for a traditionalist like myself as it feels as though you have stalled the car at the lights.
The performance of the N20 engine block was impressive. Upon ignition, the car will be defaulted to the Comfort mode. BMW has cleverly engineered the N20 to ensure there is no turbo lag or lack of response off the mark, save for an occasional slight delay in response in the Eco Pro during hard acceleration. In most driving conditions the car was quick off the mark, giving a great sense of power and torque.
Similar with the F25 X3, if you are driving on Eco Pro mode, it is best to switch to Comfort, Sport or Sport + modes during overtaking. This is to reduce the risk of any possible lag of response from the engine whilst performing the overtaking maneuvers. I noted the car remained responsive and had plenty of pulling power even in mid range torque.
The 8-Speed Automatic transmission generally performed adequately with smooth and discreet gearchanges. I noted during a particular test drive on Eco Pro mode when I floored the accelerator to overtake another vehicle, there was a lag in response followed by a jerky feeling during each upshift. This unusual experience was not replicated during other overtaking maneuvers in this mode and perhaps was a one-off incident.
Ride quality of the F30 328i is impressive and is a step up from its predecessor. Working in tandem with BMW’s Driving Experience Control, the car delivers good comfort levels for driver and passengers. I did not detect any harshness or stiffness in ride quality even in the Sport and Sport + modes. This is quite an achievement as the car offers high performance with high levels of comfort to match.
Sound insulation can still be improved. When road conditions are excellent, the cabin is well insulated from external noise. However, during higher speed cruises and as road conditions deteriorate, tyre roar and road noise becomes more apparent. At times, a faint hint of engine clatter is also noticeable from the cabin.
Stock tyres are 18 inch Goodyear Efficientgrip 225/45 R18 run flats. Performance and grip is adequate but I am looking forward to improved durability of run flat tyres particularly tailored for this region whereby road conditions are not always ideal. There is always the occasional pot hole which can easily damage run flat tyres.
The speedometer read 8,000km as the test car went through an extensive mileage of town drives, trunk roads and freeway cruises mostly on Eco Pro mode. The average fuel consumption stated in the specs is 6.3 litres per 100 km. During the entire test drive the best reading we got from the car was 7.9 litres per 100 km. Generally, the car averaged about 8.1 litres per 100 km. These figures are very impressive considering the high level of performance offered by the car.
To enable better overall insulation from external heat, the car is equipped with automatic air conditioning with individual (2 zone) control at the front, and rear air vents. To further insulate the car from high temperatures, heat insulated glass is installed all around and there is an electric roller sunblind for the large rear window.
The iDrive controller together with the 8.8 inch LCD high definition display is the control centre for the On Board Computer, Navigation System Professional (GPS), Bluetooth, USB and other connectivity devices. In car entertainment system comprised a 205 Watt 9 loudspeaker system. The system offered a balanced sound quality which is pleasing to the ears.
Some areas for improvement include better sound insulation for the interior and eliminating any lag in engine response especially during hard acceleration in Eco Pro mode. BMW should consider having an option to automatically unfold the side wing mirrors when you restart the car. As for QC, the LED lights for the vanity mirror on the driver’s side burnt out during our test drive, perhaps a one off incident.
The F30 328i is one of the very few BMW vehicles which gave me a favourable impression on my very first drive. Personally I feel the performance and overall experience is even better than the E90 325i Sports. Ride quality is excellent and the overall interior finishing is a step-up. Most of all, hidden beneath the ‘Luxury Line’ tag is actually a vehicle offering high performance with impressive fuel efficiency.
|Full Tank:||60 litres @ RM114 (Ron 95)|
|Road Tax:||RM379 per annum (estimated)|
|Standard Service:||Free service for first 3 years|
|Warranty:||3 Years or 60,000km whichever is earlier|
These are estimated costs applicable to Malaysia only which are subject to change without notice. Road Tax (estimated) is for private registration in Peninsular Malaysia. Standard/scheduled service excludes additional or specific service/repairs requested. Please reconfirm these terms and costs with an authorized BMW dealer.
|Engine:||BMW Twin Power Turbo four-cylinder petrol engine|
|Max Output:||180 kW (245hp) @ 5,000-6,500 rpm|
|Max Torque:||350 Nm @ 1,250-4,800 rpm|
|Top Speed:||250 km/h|
|Acceleration 0-100km:||6.1 sec|
|Fuel Consumption:||6.3 litres per 100 km (combined)|
Source: BMW Brochure
Note: Please reconfirm the above specifications with an authorized BMW dealer
Click on these to sample sounds from the car!