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2012 BMW 328i (photos)

BMW's new 328i does away with its old six-cylinder engine in favor of a sprightly four-cylinder. Direct injection and a twin scroll turbocharger work together to give it 240 horsepower while delivering excellent fuel economy.

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Wayne Cunningham
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The lowly BMW 328i gets a big update for 2012, making it a fuel-economy king in the BMW lineup. Doing away with the old 3-liter straight-six-cylinder engine, BMW replaces it with a four-cylinder, at the same time maintaining its power rating.

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There are minor exterior changes from the previous generation. The hood is more sculpted and assumes a more dominant stature than on the previous generation, while the kidney grille looks shorter.

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Instead of a row of white LEDs, BMW runs a light pipe around the headlights to serve as daytime running lights.

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The engine uses the best of modern engineering to achieve excellent efficiency. Direct injection, stepless variable valve timing, and a twin scroll turbo help the engine achieve 240 horsepower and average fuel economy of 30 mpg.

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The 3-series is available in sedan, coupe, or convertible form.

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The 328i holds up BMW's reputation for handling, but the suspension feels a little loose at the limits. BMW also offers a Sport line version of the 328i with a sport-tuned suspension, which should eliminate some of its float.

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BMW makes the trunk opening very wide, allowing easy access.

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As a bonus, both rear seats fold down, allowing almost hatchback-like cargo space.

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BMW's cabin tech is cutting-edge, but just about all of it is also optional, jacking up the price way above base.

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This car has BMW's Luxury line accouterments, a $2,100 package that brings in such niceties as a smart key.

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As a small sedan, the rear seats are not roomy, but there will be adequate room for most people.

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Rather than going to an electric power-steering system, BMW still uses hydraulic boost, which means the wheel becomes tough to move when the idle-stop feature shuts down the engine.

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BMW combines audio, phone, and voice command buttons on the right spoke. Cruise control is on the left spoke.

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BMW maintains a very clean look to its gauges, but the tachometer integrates a fuel-efficiency gauge at the bottom.

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The odd-looking shifter controls an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

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This car includes three different power train modes: Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro. The latter maximizes fuel economy, and even uses a driver-set top speed.

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The iDrive controller has become a standard BMW feature, and includes buttons for quick access to key car functions.

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The new heads-up display uses multiple colors to show speed and route guidance.

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Some of the iDrive menu items, such as Office and ConnectedDrive, may seem odd, but they are useful. Office shows the contact database and calendar entries, while ConnectedDrive covers all the new external data features.

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BMW lets you customize some of the driving modes, such as setting a top speed for Eco Pro.

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The car's manual is loaded into the infotainment system, so the driver can search and look up specific car care items.

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The online manual includes clickable pictures.

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The hard-drive-based navigation system shows maps in plane or perspective views, and includes traffic data.

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BMW's address-entry screen leaves something to be desired graphically, although it works just fine.

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As part of its telematics system, BMW incorporates Google local search. Drivers can select a result and set its address as a destination.

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The hands-free phone system, color-coded in blue, includes the ability to receive text messages, although it only works with some phones.

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HD radio is standard in the 328i.

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BMW includes many audio sources, such as a USB port that works with iPod cables and USB drives.

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The iPod playback screen shows cover art, when available.

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BMW's music library screen is not the best. Each entry serves as a filter, a fine scheme for an engineer but not very usable for a driver.

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The 328i includes Pandora and Mog online music service integration, although only for iPhones.

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The Pandora screen shows album art, and lets you give a song the thumbs-up or -down.

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