2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo: Best. Cruise. Control. Ever.
April 17, 2014
That's right. I'm not afraid to say it. The cruise control on our 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo is the best I've ever sampled.
I should note, for the record, that I am talking about standard cruise control here. Our 3 Series GT is not equipped with the optional adaptive cruise control system that's built to maintain a following distance if other cars are present.
It starts with the controls on the steering wheel. Buttons for power, set and resume are set in an array around a thumb wheel for making speed adjustments. Roll it up or down against the detent to trim the set speed in 1 mph increments. Push past this initial resistance and you'll get a 5 mph bump.
On the instrument panel, a ring around the outer rim of the speedo contains lights that pinpoint your current set speed. Orange indicates an inactive speed that you'll get back to when you hit resume, green indicates an active speed you're at or, if you just made an adjustment, heading towards. The chosen set speed also shows up digitally and lingers for a few seconds on the head-up display whenever you make a change.
All of that is great, but it's not the best part.
I have never seen a cruise control that holds speed this accurately with so much apparent ease. And I'm not just talking about flat ground. My brother and I crossed several mountain passes on our recent road trip, and the 328i didn't gain so much as a single mph going downhill, even on steep grades. It didn't lag behind by as much as 1 mph on the uphill climbs, either.
The 2-liter turbo-4 and the 8-speed transmission are seemingly programmed to do whatever it takes to hold the line. And they do it smoothly. We were never once bothered by any action either one chose to make to maintain our desired cruising speed. Driver-induced adjustments via the thumbwheel resulted in a smooth yet steady and determined march to the newly requested velocity, which stands in sharp contrast to our Tesla Model S, a car that overreacts with a desperate step-function lurch that is so abrupt that heads bob and passengers glare with dirty looks.
Meanwhile, many gas-powered vehicles seem to lack enthusiasm. More than a few seem unwilling to trigger a downshift, especially downhill, in the interest of managing speed. If and when they do it seems to come after a period of brooding indecision. Or the downshift never comes at all and speed climbs and climbs until the driver intervenes and dabs the brakes. Uphill, it's not uncommon for throttle applications to lag behind until speed sags two or three (or four, or more) mph below the set speed. Some never apply enough gas and or won't kick down a gear and eventually throw in the towel and shut off of their own accord.
Why do so many systems seem so indifferent to what seems like a very simple job?
Our BMW benefits from eight gears that are more closely spaced than they would be if it had a 6-speed gearbox. The smaller rpm steps that result make it easier to execute smooth downshifts without raising a ruckus. And the 2.0-liter turbo engine makes a lot of torque down low in the rev range. Its peak output of 255 lb-ft is first available at just 1,250 rpm and maintains that level all the way to 4,800 revs. These factors can only help the cause of accurate speed management.
But that's not just that. Someone somewhere within BMW decided that their cruise control shouldn't just work well on flat ground or gently rolling terrain. This attitude served my brother and I well on the mountainous freeway route up and back to Oregon. It's one of the key factors that made our 328i GT feel like a very capable road trip machine.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,365 miles