Best. Cruise. Control. Ever. - 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo Long-Term Road Test
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2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo Long-Term Road Test

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo: Best. Cruise. Control. Ever.

April 17, 2014

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

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.

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo

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


Comments

  • kirkhilles_ kirkhilles_ Posts:

    Neat! I'd like to see adaptive cruise, personally, though. Oh.and.can.we.stop.with.the.one.word.per.periods.now.It.gets.really.annoying.

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    Yeah, I fell for it this once. I'll take a Mulligan. Anyway, we do have adaptive cruise control cars in the LT fleet. But the success of any adaptive system depends on the engineering and corporate philosophy of the base cruise control that underpins it. I'd really like to bring in a 3-series with adaptive cruise control for a short-term test to see if my enthusiasm extends to the enhanced system.

  • jaguar36 jaguar36 Posts:

    No way. The E9x's had a much better cruise control system. The CC controls were mounted on a stalk on below the turn signal, it was incredibly easy to activate, far better than buttons. Moving it to the steering wheel buttons is just another example of BMW going for the lowest common denominator.

  • mlin32_ mlin32_ Posts:

    This cruise control system (Dynamic Cruise Control) has been on BMWs since about 2006 or so and it is very smooth and controlled, agreed. It will apply the brakes both on downhill gradients to maintain set speed, as well as brake below the set speed should you go around a corner at a set speed that is too quick for safe operation.

  • mercedesfan mercedesfan Posts:

    I wouldn't say this is specific to BMW. This is just a situation where the Germans seem to get it right. Audi, MB, and Porsche also have excellent standard cruise control.

  • bassrockerx bassrockerx Posts:

    this looks pretty slick but i still prefer the stalk on the right hand side of the old lexus/toyota vehicles.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    There's fine tuning you can build into a cruise control system but the biggies are engine and transmission. Having enough engine power to nail a speed without lag on hill climbs is critical. It's also important to have a transmission with enough gears and enough logic about how to use the gears to avoid lurching gear changes. A '97 truck I owned with a 4 speed would kick down from 4th to 2nd on moderate hill climbs at highway speeds, sending the engine into a roar as it jumped from 2,400rpm to over 4,000 and still couldn't keep up. I'd always switch off cruise control on anything steeper than a very gentle incline and manually shift to 3rd.

  • mieden mieden Posts:

    mlin32 hit the nail on the head. This is a product of the Bosch ESP 8 hydraulic controller I commented on WAY back in a Jan post on the Cadenza's "HOLD" feature. BMW/AUDI/Mercedes have been using this for almost a decade now. The controller is precise enough to apply braking in cruise to hold your speed. All this code is baked into the unit for adaptive cruise anyway, it'd be foolish of any company not to use it even when the radar input is absent. It is indeed quite comfortable. Like auto hold, im surprised no one has noticed it in any of the German luxury cars you've had since 2006. Audi links the GPS terrain data from the nav system to theirs too, so it knows of what hills, turns and off-ramps lie ahead. Now, THAT is a slick system!

  • ocramidajzj ocramidajzj Posts:

    Yeah some of those basic features are even on lowly VW's (e.g. 5mph increments). I also find the VW holds speed well. It doesn't have the indicator in the speedo though.

  • bimmerjay bimmerjay Posts:

    I love BMW's standard Dynamic Cruise Control as well for the reasons Dan mentioned - it slows and accelerates ever so smoothly regardless of terrain. What irks me though are all the other drivers around you that are incapable of managing their speed in hilly terrain. I occasionally cross a long freeway grade and on the upward section many cars slow to 50-55 mph and I'll rocket past them maintaining 75. Then when the section turns to a long downhill a few miles later they pass me going 85-90.

  • I hate to rain on the parade but here it goes. There is more electronic wizardry going on than meets the eye. Even the very best programmed and executed cruise control systems (including adaptive systems) cannot hold a set speed perfectly on hills without losing or gaining 1 mph. Even systems that have sensors for grades still use rate of deceleration/acceleration to calculate how much more throttle is needed to maintain the set speed. This rate of acceleration/deceleration also compensates for strong headwinds. BMW, I will assume, is smart enough to program the speedometer to indicate the set speed while the system compensates to maintain that speed giving the illusion that the vehicle is maintaining the set speed without losing or gaining any speed. There system obviously is one of the best since speed never goes high or low enough for the speedometer to show a change. Very much like temperature gauges that never move even though water temperature is constantly fluctuating. No system can know to compensate unless there is a change in the set speed. The best systems can normally compensate when vehicle speed is +/- 1-3. mph. Some systems are limited on the amount of throttle they can use to compensate. The best systems can apply 100% throttle if necessary. BMW does get credit for enabling the cruise control system to have access to the braking system to maintain speed going down hill.

  • I'd actually like a system that mimicked actual driving a bit more. If it keeps a perfectly steady speed heading up and down hills you'll tend to overtake people on the uphills and be overtaken on the down hills. I'd prefer to be able to set a mileage range that when the car is going up or down it would allow the speed to fluctuate. It would also help with efficiency if it wasn't pulling harder to keep the perfect 70 mph on the uphill and then breaking to keep it locked there on the other side. Let it drop to 68 or so with the traffic on the up and speed up to 72 or 73 on the down, again with the flow of traffic.

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