2013 BMW 320i Full Test on Edmunds.com
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2013 BMW 320i Full Test

2013 BMW 3 Series Sedan

(2.0L 4-cyl. Turbo 8-speed Automatic)
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The Penultimate Driving Machine


BMW's 2013 320i exists because entry-level luxury sedans are about to lose their place at the front door. In the past decade, the BMW 3 Series and its many competitors have seen their dimensions grow, prices rise and performance soar to the point where a sizable chasm has formed between them and fully loaded, rapidly improving family sedans. Like nature and a Beverly Hills housewife, the automotive business abhors a vacuum.

While cars like Acura's ILX may somewhat fill the void, the car that has truly kicked off the new entry-level is the Mercedes-Benz CLA250. Spurred on by a wildly successful Super Bowl ad, slinky styling and a $30,000 base price, this smaller, cheaper luxury sedan seems like a surefire hit. With Audi's A3 coming in the spring followed by Infiniti's Q30 sometime thereafter, BMW certainly can't stand by idly. Sure, it sells a four-door BMW 1 Series in Europe, but it's a non-starter here in the hatchback-averse United States. A 2 Series Grand Coupe is assured, but it's still a ways off and given BMW's price strategy will likely be pricier than the CLA.

2013 BMW 320i

Enter the 2013 BMW 320i. The formula is simple: Take the previous entry-level BMW sedan, the 328i, dial back the power on its 2.0-liter four-cylinder, drop the price down to $32,550 and voilà. You won't get quite as much equipment as on an equally priced CLA, but BMW is hoping that car buyers will trade some gadgets for a bigger, higher-quality car.

Cheaper, but What Is It Missing?
Indeed, the BMW 320i you see here is almost as basic as it gets. Remove the $1,300 Sport package that includes 18-inch alloys, a sport suspension, chunky M steering wheel and sport seats, and you're in the basement. Leatherette "SensaTec" upholstery and manual-operated seats occupy the window sticker, while a rearview camera, sunroof, Comfort Access keyless ignition/entry, satellite radio and navigation do not. Heck, our test car didn't even have metallic paint.

Price as tested was $34,775, which is hardly couch change, but a far cry from the $50-large stickers we've grown accustomed to seeing on loaded cars in this segment. More basic luxury features like those mentioned above can be added to the 320i, but you'll need to step up to the 328i (which starts at $36,880) for the advanced entertainment and safety gizmos that cause luxury car prices to skyrocket.

2013 BMW 320i

To be honest, though, we really didn't miss any of it. Look beyond the window sticker and you're still left with a car that has taken the crown in two Edmunds.com comparison tests. Its slightly numb steering and occasional springy body motions may mean it's no longer the runaway sport sedan choice, but it's well-rounded, well-built and engaging to drive. Surely that, and not the availability of adaptive cruise control, is the reason the 3 Series continues to be the No. 1-selling luxury car.

The Difference Between 320i and 328i
However, will the availability of a cheaper model with a less desirable, lower number tarnish its appeal? If it does, it certainly won't be the fault of that car's engine.

The 180-horsepower, 200-pound-foot 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the 2013 BMW 320i is in most respects the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder found in the 328i that produces 240 hp and 255 lb-ft. The difference stems from the 320i's higher compression ratio (11:1 versus 10:1) and unique ECU mapping, with nominal boost pressure being equal. Other changes include a 200-watt water pump (versus 400 watts), a different engine wiring harness, a single-pipe exhaust with no flap and a higher operating temperature.

2013 BMW 320i

However, the difference buyers are ultimately going to care about is acceleration. At our test track, the 320i hit 60 mph in 7.3 seconds (7.1 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip) with the standard eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive (a six-speed manual is a no-cost option and all-wheel drive costs $2,000).

That may be slower than the astonishing 5.4-second time of the 328i, but it's equal to the costlier 2014 Mercedes-Benz C250 and indeed average for most base engines in the entry-level luxury sedan segment — or rather, the previous one. We have yet to test the 2014 Mercedes CLA250.

Interestingly, however, the dynamic differences between the 320i and 328i are confined to the drag strip. The slalom was dispatched at 67.8 mph (versus 67.7 for the last 328i M Sport we tested), 0.89g of grip was measured on the skid pad (versus 0.90g) and a panic 60-0 stop was accomplished in 111 feet (versus 109). In other words, as long as you don't get into a drag race, the two are practically indistinguishable.

And really, around town, the 320i's turbo-four tends to feel just as strong as the 328i's in many situations. It's responsive off the line and when passing on the freeway, providing that nice push into your seat we've come to expect from turbocharged-fours. Turbo lag is nonexistent, as is the throttle delay that plagued BMWs for a few years. Only when you really push the 2013 BMW 320i does its power disadvantage seem apparent, but for all intents and purposes, it really doesn't feel like there's a mere 180 hp under the hood.

Less Power, More MPG
There is 180 hp, though, and with it comes better fuel economy. EPA-estimated ratings for a rear-drive, automatic-equipped 320i stand at a hugely impressive 28 mpg combined (24 city/36 highway). We managed to match that combined estimate during our standardized, 116-mile Edmunds test loop.

By comparison, the 328i achieves an EPA-estimated 26 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway), while the Mercedes-Benz C250 gets "only" 25 (22/31). Mercedes' CLA250 manages an even 30 mpg combined with 26 city/38 highway.

2013 BMW 320i

Take such comparisons however you like, but the fact remains that the 320i is a very fuel-efficient luxury car that sacrifices little in the way of performance or drivability.

For instance, during the road trip we enjoyed from Los Angeles to Phoenix with a pair of passengers and an 80-mph average speed, the 320i averaged an excellent 33.5 mpg. But that was simply the whipped cream upon the Black Forest cake. The 2013 BMW 320i is a massively impressive highway cruiser, with a surprisingly hushed cabin, comfortable ride and more than enough power to dispense with lane dawdlers.

Lower Number, Same High-Quality Cabin
This is probably the right time to mention the wonderfully supportive seats. Sure, they may be manually adjustable, but they're also the best manually adjustable seats on the planet. The 10-way range of motion they provide, particularly in terms of fore and aft height, can't be matched by most power seats. They are a tad complicated, but they're worth it. Unless you value memory settings, save your money and stick with these.

The standard "SensaTec" leatherette upholstery is less loved. Unlike Mercedes' could-have-fooled-us MBTex faux leather, BMW's doesn't feel as rich and fails to breathe. Things can get swampy.

The rest of the cabin is standard BMW fare, with excellent materials and top-notch construction. The backseat is large and genuinely adult-friendly, while its spacious trunk is far more useful than its 13 cubic feet would suggest. This clearly differentiates the 320i from the CLA, which trades quality plastics and a rear-seat space for a low price and slinky styling.

2013 BMW 320i

One notable omission on the 320i, however, involves the three sub-trims available on other 3 Series. The Luxury Line, Sport Line and M Sport add unique exterior paint and interior color schemes, so you'll have to pony up for one of the higher trim levels if you're the fashionable sort.

A Surefire Hit
Otherwise, the 2014 BMW 320i is a logical, wise extension of the 3 Series lineup. With the 328i capable of reaching 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, there was clearly an opportunity to offer a slower, more efficient and less costly entry. The fact that you can barely notice its lower power in normal driving speaks to BMW's engineering proficiency.

The real question, though, is will car shoppers be enticed by the 320i despite the presence of a new entry-level luxury breed? Well, it may never be able to match the CLA's good looks nor the upcoming A3 TDI's fuel economy, but a less expensive and no less impressive version of the best-selling luxury sedan seems like a surefire hit itself. Besides, who wants to be on the entry-level anyway?

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Comments

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    The basic Beemer returns, but at a far from basic price I'm afraid.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    Interesting. The 320 seems like a way to get back to the pure expression of the 3 series from years ago. It's a model that's a stripper in a good way-- stripped of all the gadgets and fluff that have increasingly weighed down its modern cousins. Now, if only we could get that with sharper handling and a better engine! (Other than by buying an E36/46, that is.)

  • emajor emajor Posts:

    I like the idea of a stripped down BMW, and unlike many potential buyers I would be willing to forgo the latest tech goodies (incl. even ye olde navigation systems) and still pay a fairly premium price for it if it drove like the legend it's supposed to be. Here's my problem: according to everything I've read about this generation of 3, it doesn't drive that way. From the article: "Its slightly numb steering and occasional springy body motions may mean it's no longer the runaway sport sedan choice". There you have it. Other reviews have been less kind, and I've heard a fair amount of criticism about the cheapened interior quality compared to past generations. And yet it's still $35K. So what, exactly, would I be paying for? The 3 series used to be an aspirational car for me, one I would seriously consider once I no longer needed as much backseat space. Not anymore. Now a $27K GTI starts looking like one heck of a smart buy and the 3 series looks more and more like a hopeless status symbol.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Hey, you can barely notice that almost-2-second-to-60 difference. Yeah, right. I'm trying to imagine why I would not get the new Mk7 Golf R for this money. Slow BMWs don't compute with me.

  • sp1 sp1 Posts:

    Did BMW write this article for Edmunds? This 320i review states that "... the cabin is standard BMW fare, with excellent materials and top-notch construction." Really??? Even the 328i is unworthy of the BMW namesake with its cheap interior quality and hard plastics everywhere (especially on the console and doors). Lower-priced VWs have better interiors and some other non-luxury brands have caught up or surpassed the 320/328. The 2.0 engine is loud (not in a good way), buzzy, and unrefined, and feels very under-powered for any driving enthusiast. BMW is really doing a disservice to their reputation of sport and luxury by putting out garbage like this. If they want to go after the lower income market, they should spin off another brand to do so.

  • noburgers noburgers Posts:

    I still can't understand why German cars come with "leatherette" AKA Vinyl when cloth would be so much more comfortable. But overall this package sounds like a good deal. I wonder if those who want a little more power would just get an engine tune, even if it comes at the cost of some fuel economy, and save a lot over a 328i.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Because it's already running pretty high boost, like a 328...it's just down some compression ratio. In other words, they deliberately detuned it so that you would find it very hard to bring it up to 328 specs. They left the benefits of direct injection (that you can run higher boost AND higher C/R) on the table on purpose. A tune works by raising boost and jiggering the fuel mapping, for the most part. You are not going to raise the C/R to 328 levels with a tune.

  • wackford wackford Posts:

    The vinyl seats are a deal-breaker for me. I would take cloth or even velour over this, any day. Absolutely horrible! I don't know why they offer these plastic seats, when cloth would be more comfortable and pleasant. Cloth seats are offered on various trims in Europe, so it doesn't seem like it would be difficult to do it here in the US. Other than that, it sounds quite interesting. Sort out the seat material and I might go take a look. Until then, forget it.

  • noburgers noburgers Posts:

    @fordson, thanks for the technical explanation. I would not have known that, so it looks like "it is what it is". I personally would leave it alone out of concern for voiding the warranty, even if it could be backed out to stock.

  • huisj huisj Posts:

    fordson1, the article says the 320 actually has the higher compression ratio (oddly enough, BMW's website says they are both 10:1). It says it has the same "nominal" boost pressure, but I think what is unsaid there is that the actual boost pressure across the entire rev range has to be down considerably from the 328. If it weren't there would be no way to explain the peak torque difference (the 328 and 320 both peak at 1250 RPM) or the peak hp difference (both peak at 5000 RPM). The supposedly higher compression ratio would help efficiency at the expense of being able to boost it to higher pressures, probably because of knock limitations. It would be very interesting to actually see the torque curves and boost pressure maps of these two engines to get a more complete story on the differences. The "nominal" boost pressure thing makes no sense.

  • huisj huisj Posts:

    I'd also guess that it's probably also not anywhere near knock limitations even if the CR is 11:1.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Hmmm...huisj, you are right. So if they are running a higher C/R, then how could they run the same boost and make less hp? They can't run the same boost, is the answer. I agree with you that theoretically, the higher C/R would mean more power off-boost and higher efficiency but limit boost potential. I don't see an 11:1 ratio anywhere in the competitive set of small turbo fours - the Focus ST runs 10:1 but most of them are running mid-nines to 1. The more I think about, the more I doubt that BMW would make two different engines (pistons) to do this. And I would bet they have done other things to make it hard to reverse-engineer 328-level power out of it.

  • habu987 habu987 Posts:

    I'll pass. I rented a 2013 328i for a weekend a couple months ago and was less than impressed by the interior. The vinyl seats were pretty cruddy (just the surface, the actual seat cushioning and support were fine) and there interior was quite plasticky. I've got a really hard time rationalizing dropping that much cash on a car and not even freaking getting leather! I'm not in the market for an entry level *lux* sport sedan, but if I were, I'd most likely look at the A3 when it comes out.

  • boff_ boff_ Posts:

    The leatherette is not vinyl like your gramp's Plymouth Scamp, it is tiny fragments of leather that have been bonded to a man-made backing. Of course it isn't the real thing, but looks and feels pretty similar (it even gets squeaky after cleaning with leather cleaner) and wears as well. For the money saved it is not a bad thing; cloth would be better but entry luxury buyers wouldn't go for it.

  • yukikaze yukikaze Posts:

    There are other alternatives besides the Germans - a Volvo S60 T5 will smoke this base 3 series and offer superior safety including City Safety autonomous braking standard and can be had for the as tested price.

  • tim_boo tim_boo Posts:

    So for the most part all of the components for a 328 powertrain are in place but with less power. So the savings for BMW is the less equipment offered but the powertrain costs roughly the same. I have a hard time buying this car since I'd feel a little ripped off, BMW just give us a stripped down 328 that would be the car I would buy.

  • coolb944 coolb944 Posts:

    I think there are aspects being missed here as far as the engineering of the lower powered engine. Apparently it has the same boost and a higher CR as the 328i, but they also mention ECU differences, a different engine wiring harness, and a less powerful water pump, so I think it's not just a simple tune to bring this engine up to 328i levels. I also find this article a little disingenuous. They're saying that other than the acceleration, this 320i pretty much matches the 328i. However, you have to consider that the numbers are delivered with a Sport Package installed. In the same vane, they're talking about the wonderful, manually adjustable seats and that they have 10-way adjustments. Is that the same for the regular seats, because this car has the sport seats installed. I'd be far more intrigued by a test of the completely stripped, no options 320i and how it performs. Even so though, I don't find this generation of 3 series all that appealing, from a looks, interior design or quality, or driving dynamics aspect. I don't feel that it's still the benchmark of the luxury sport sedan market like it used to be, in my mind. I don't think any of the cars out now really shine above the other at this point either though. I think it just comes down to a preference on the blend of brand, styling, interior design/quality, and driving dynamics for the consumer. It seems Cadillac is the new driving benchmark in this segment when it comes to sport sedan dynamics.

  • kiiwii kiiwii Posts:

    cheapie edition?

  • scottnsc2 scottnsc2 Posts:

    My local dealer called and offered me incentives to terminate my lease a few payments early on my 2011 328i, so I took delivery of only the second 320i they had delivered in the Charlotte area. I wish I could say I liked it as well as my 2011, but I do not. The handling is the biggest difference, but there are other smaller things that you notice after living with the car for a while. First, the auto stop/start is the most annoying feature ever put on a car. Maybe if you live in a city with long stoplights it would make sense, but for the small town where I live it is just a major annoyance. I now turn it off the instant I crank the car. Second, the entire radio/iDrive experience is just a mess. If you are on the screen to view your preset stations you can't see the song/artist information unless you toggle through the menu. Also, why does the radio have buttons on the dash? They do not correspond with the pre-sets that have been entered with the iDrive controller. If you use the scroll wheel on the steering wheel the red channel indicator on the information screen doesn't change to the new station you have selected. I could go on and on about this radio, but I won't. Third, if you turn the climate control off, when you restart the car it will turn itself back on. This can be a pain if you are running errands and are in and out of the car several times. Fourth, the trunk release sensor under the rear bumper only works about 50% of the time and it is s-l-o-w. It is much faster to use the remote fob or the trunk release above the license plate. Fifth, the quality of the plastic and rubber on the car is really questionable. All the trim around the windows looks several years old and I only took delivery 5 months ago. Last, but not least, is the handling. So much has been lost in terms of how the car handles versus the 2011 model. It feels big and ungainly. I loved to drive my 2011 in the mountains but this one doesn't inspire me to do that. I probably sound like a whiner, and had I never driven a BMW prior to this one I would probably think it an awesome car. As it stands, I think it is a good car that has lost its way.

  • rat73 rat73 Posts:

    Buy an IS250. If you have to buy something as slow as a snail, at least buy something that will stay out of the shop. And don't bother with the righteous BMW vs. Lexus thing - everything that has made a BMW the more desireable proposition (engine, steering, build quality) has been stripped out of this car. This is a car for people who know nothing about cars beyond being a status symbol. More specifically, this is a car a rich guy will buy as a high school graduation present for his daughter.

  • elementrace elementrace Posts:

    No matter what anyone says or would like to believe, we all know BMW dealers NEVER have "stripper" cars on the lot.

  • Well at least they left it "Rear Wheel Drive" unlike the CLA250 FWD, uggg. Regardless I don't see any 'stripped' versions of the 320 showing up on dealer lots! So I'm guessing, HIGH 30's with tax/OTD, This little 4cyl Bm'er could push $40K optioned!

  • makakio makakio Posts:

    Way to put it, emajor. As a four-generation 3 series owner I will be trading my current 328 for a 2014 GTI this coming year. Yes I love the looks of the new 3, but after seeing the quality and drive of my 3 series' continue to diminish ever since trading my old e46 3 series (2003), I can't see wasting the additional $5k on a stripper 3 series that is down 30hp and 60lbft to a loaded, lighter GTI that so far has been lauded by media as the best one ever...

  • banhugh banhugh Posts:

    For $10k less I prefer to get the BRZ/FRS witch is faster and more reliable than a BMW. It doesn't have as nice interior but with the extra $10k you save, one can work miracles, from leather seats, to a supercharger you can get a hell of a better car than the 320 blond high school chick car.

  • cbrandi_ cbrandi_ Posts:

    And why are they calling this an entry-level luxury car? No leather, no nothing. You might as well by a Ford Fusion, get more and save some real money.

  • loopylou loopylou Posts:

    It seems, one again, that BMWs are an easy target because of their cost and prestige. I recommend you actually drive one of these cars before offering opinions on them. It looks like Scottnc2 has done that but his complaints are more about it's meaningless gadgets rather than true performance and handling. The 320 is entry level so be prepared for that. Want more? Spend more. Otherwise go drive your tinfoil asian imports with grapefruit-shooter exhausts and leave the real cars to the grownups. BTW

  • mrryte mrryte Posts:

    "BMW's 2013 320i exists because entry-level luxury sedans are about to lose their place at the front door." Correction: BMW's 2013 exists because there are those potential buyers out there who want the "prestige" of driving a BMW and couldn't care less about what's under the hood or the performance aspects of the vehicle (poseurs; badge whores; snobs-define them as you will.) Think of it: rather than having to create a whole new car from scratch like the MB CLA; they simply lowered the boost and simplified the option list. A pretty shrewd and smart move for BMW if you ask me.

  • schtieglitz schtieglitz Posts:

    These comments are amusing. Nothing like the internet to bring together a bunch of armchair stoplight racers to talk all about a car they have zero seat time in. Well, I'll bite. I've had my 2014 320i with sport package for over a year and the car is sublime. I came from a 2010 6 speed GTI with stage 1 software. I have been running a BMS Stage 1 piggyback tune since week one and have had zero problems with it. The tune adds 35WHP/TQ and the car dynos at 210HP/230TQ at the wheels. The quoted 180 stock HP on this car is also at the wheels. This is the first thing you geniuses would know if you knew anything is that BMW has always underrated their cars. So the stock 320 is more like 210HP at the crank. The sport package includes the M sport suspension, M sport napa leather steering wheel, sport seats, increased top speed limiter and staggered HP summer tires. The handling, road feel, composure at high speeds and flat cornering are excellent and 100% BMW. The car is lighter than the 328 and 335 and my selling price on the car was $32k, down $4500 from MSRP. This gives me a perfectly balanced (ever heard of 50/50 weight distro?) RWD german sports sedan with the best 8spd Auto in the business. The tune brings it about 15HP shy of a 328i and I get 35mpg highway. Contrary to what a few of you said about how it is for 'snobs' and 'wannabes' and 'people who don't know about cars', I got the car because I do know about cars and I knew I could get a no frills sports sedan with excellent driving dynamics, world class suspension and handling for cheap. Yes, this car is cheap. If you don't think so, all I can say is that it must suck to be so poor. If you would seriously rather drive a Fusion than this car, you are just hopeless. The 320 has won entry level comparisons against the C250, IS250, CLA250, Audi A3 sedan, VW CC and Buick Regal, because it's the best entry level luxury sedan out there. And for a little more real world data, since you guys live and die by published HP and 0-60 numbers, Car and Driver and Road & Track clocked the stock 320i at 6.7 sec to 60, right in line with the previous generation GTI. If that's not good enough for you, tune it. If that's still not good enough for you, get a 328.. Oh wait, that's right. You can't afford it. Sucks to be you. Now all you guys need to do is save your pennies and In the meantime, keep on keepin' on in your Fusions, Camrys and other rental fleet turd boxes and bagging on every BMW review you see, talking about how they are too expensive and have 'lost their way', all while you have most likely had zero seat time in any of them. Waaaah.

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