Driving in the UK can be a treat for us Yanks, even on the wrong side of the road and despite the treacle-like congestion near any British city.
When the traffic opens up, things improve dramatically. The speed limit on the motorways is 70 miles per hour, and it’s about to be raised to 80!
As well, drivers generally maintain good lane discipline—“undertaking,” passing on the inside, is still illegal, so they actually move over for faster vehicles. Wouldn’t it be swell if we didn’t have to shove macho pickup trucks and oblivious minivans out of our passing lanes?
Then we could make even better use of cars like this, BMW’s super-smooth new 328i Touring with the M Sport package.
Nomenclature aside, a 328 is no longer a 3-Series with a 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine; for more fuel efficiency and less carbon emission, the car now has a 2-liter 4-banger. Still, it’s tuned for a healthy 245 horsepower, so driving prowess suffers not. Zero to 60 MPH comes up in six seconds flat and top speed is held to 155.
Even on England’s uncrowded northern highways I didn’t stretch the BMW’s legs that far, but I could cruise in serene comfort at 90-plus. (At that, I had to move aside to let assorted Jags, Astons, Bentleys, Porsches and big Mercs, Audis and other BMWs fly by.)
BMW’s M Sport cars—the M3, M5, M6—are formidable, and formidably expensive, luxury speed sleds for the performance-obsessed. However, certain M Sport options are available that nicely spice up far less costly BMWs.
Such as this one. Motorways aside, Britain still has thousands of miles of very narrow roads, hemmed in by hedgerows, that twist like corkscrews (this, after all, is where sports cars were born); in Sport or Sport+ mode, the adaptive M Sport suspension helps the 328 carve up these country lanes with a good deal more poise than we might expect from a wagon.
On the other hand, thanks to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics package, the 328i Touring also is unexpectedly stingy with petrol—gas, that is.
The electric power steering may not be quite so tactile as previous systems, but it doesn’t rob power (and gas) from the motor. In addition, braking energy is recaptured, and the engine shuts down when the car is at rest and restarts automatically when the throttle opens.
I shut off this stop-start feature because it’s nowhere near as seamless as on, say, a Toyota hybrid, but I still got about 30 miles per gallon on the highway with the manual 6-speed gearbox.
When the 328i Touring arrives in the US, next spring, it will have an 8-speed automatic transmission. This will boost fuel economy even more, as the higher gearing will let the engine relax more at speed.
Enthusiasts will pine for the clutch and gearbox, but I have to admit that I stalled the engine several times. Part of it was that my left hand doesn’t know its way around a 6-speed shift pattern as well as my right does, so once or twice I set off in the wrong cog. But also the motor spins so effortlessly and silently that at first it takes a bit more concentration than usual to balance clutch take-up with engine revs. Under way, though, driving the 328i is like lapping up heavy cream. Yum.
Car-price numbers are much the same, here and there, but of course in Britain they’re in pounds sterling. With £8,020 worth of options, the sticker price of this car was £41,420; in greenbacks that works out to $67,000! BMW USA hasn’t set prices yet, but they expect the equivalent car will cost about $42,000 here, with same suite of luxury features. Go figure.
Finally, getting out of this ice-cream wagon and into a Boeing 777 for the trip home begged the question: If the chairs in a $40,000 car are so wonderfully comfortable over hours of driving, why are the ones in a $300 million jet, at least in steerage, such rubbish?