2012 BMW 328i

The BMW 3-series is a seamless concoction of practicality, shocking composure, and understated style. All 3-series have been the objects of raving and fanatical praise by all who drive them and have driven them since its inception. The tested 2012 328i proves the accolades are well deserved and the ravings justified.

BMW created the niche of car it excels in so much so with the humble “New Class” cars. The upright 2002 derivative demonstrated that a conservatively designed and tall proportioned body could be mixed with precision engineering and performance. The unassuming 2002 was and is a desirable car while circumventing brashness and inefficiency. The mentality of doing more with less continued to the e21 3-series introduced in 1977. The blocky e30, sleek e36 and e46, and e90 superseded it, each car maintaining the reputation of the 3-series. The latest F30 3-series was a quite frightening prospect to BMWs following when shown to the world for the 2012 model year. It grew into an intermediate size, discarded the beloved and spectacular naturally aspirated inline-six, and threatened the hallmark of BMW’s unequivocally good steering with an electric assist. Furthermore it played along with BMW’s newest naming scheme and confusing model proliferation with the discontinuation of the coupe and convertible and the introduction of the aesthetically challenged GT. Contrary of what BMW’s abandonment of its former unyielding reservation beginning in the early 2000s may convince, the F30 is an undeniable improvement over its predecessor.

All BMW sedans have a shape and design that goes beyond fads and the mainstream. Its a far from polarizing style; its a simplistic and traditional three-box design. With the principles of this design, the 3-series becomes uniquely subtle as it it s the long hood, tall cabin, short deck, and angled rear quarter window convalesce to grant it the essential BMW look. This general appearance is shared with all other 3-series but small details contrast the F30 with its predecessors. Such cues include thinner taillights, a flatter appearing hood, and the perhaps jarring way headlights and kidney grills meet. Both soft and sharp creases in the doors and hood make for cleanly contoured sheet metal. Sensibly sized five spoke rims on the 328i are most welcome.

Like the exterior, the interior is familiar to those acquainted with BMWs, and actually likable to those who are not. The interior of the F30 is amelioration over the innards of the e90.  In a rare instance, the chronic growth of modern automobiles meaningfully benefits a car. The 328i felt airy and lacked the uneasy stuffiness of prior 3-series interiors. The obvious increase in height was a miracle for headroom, a seemingly lower cowl and distanced windshield was another revelation. The rear seating was just as comfortable as the front, undoubtedly a sufficiently spacious place to reside. The seats themselves had a combination of softness and support that reached Goldilocks levels of pleasant compromise. The SensaTec vinyl is as nice as leather for its nicely textured and thick appearance. The unobtrusive, gently curving and sloping dash is covered in black squishy material while doors and bottom of the dash rely on padded material for tactile quality. Atop the dash and embed among a series of contours is a small screen controlled by a tactually satisfying rotary knob. The trunk is rather shallow but measures a decent 13 cubic feet.

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It is while driving that the BMW leaves the best and most indelible impressions. The driver sits low in the car behind a high cowl but thankfully visibility remains mostly unobstructed and a bunker feeling avoided. The electronic gear selector is one of the best, however its needlessly odd operation makes it seem like an unnecessary complication. The steering wheel falls to hand nicely with a perfect diameter and thickness. Take note that the 328i tested was left in the comfort mode strictly for convenience and time constraints. The electrically assisted steering is undeniably different than the hydraulic assisted setup of the prior 3-series, but this may be for the better. The feel is very light but the steering exact and extremely quick; this helps for parking and slow-speed maneuvers. On the road the lightness permits easy cruising as much as it does hard cornering. The MacPherson strut front suspension and multilink rear simply refuse to translate sudden impacts into the cabin beyond distant thumps, while completely silencing the ill effects of bad road textures. This, in sequence with the muffling of wind noise, lets the 328i glide down the road stolidly and relaxingly.

Be not misinformed, the 328i is a true performance car and exhibits the traits of such in corners. The largely imperturbable ride only enhances the drivability of the car by shielding the driver from unwanted pavement disturbances. The absorbency of the suspension and instantaneous responses of the steering makes exuberant cornering and more reserved driving fluid and graceful. Driving power to the rear wheels is the combination of a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder and the widely used ZF eight-speed automatic. The four-cylinder churns out 240 horsepower and 260 lbs-ft of torque and is forcibly fed with a single twin-scroll turbocharger and fueled with direct-injection. The specifications and performance are impressive, but the four has the big shoes of the previous 3.0-liter inline-six it unsuccessfully attempts to fulfill. The unmistakable and undesirable baritone thrumming of a four-cylinder replaces the sweet howl of the six. The torque-rich lower RPMs and muted throbbing sound fail to encourage vicious throttling of the engine. Straighten the right foot and the car tenaciously surges forward and because of the low-end torque, the BMW moves quickly without even having to spin above 3,000 RPMs. Yet the soothingly linear and buttery smoothness of the power delivery of the naturally aspirated inline-six is conspicuously gone from the 328i. Even so, the car is fast; 60 mph takes only 5.8 seconds. The ZF eight-speed has too many gears for this writer’s preferences, but it is likely a boon to efficiency. The EPA rates the 328i equipped with the eight-speed at 23MPG city and 33MPG on the highway. In this application, the eight-speed avoids its avid and rather hectic need to reach the highest gear as soon as possible thereby eliminating that annoyance in normal driving situations. Issues arise when downshifting for hard or moderate acceleration is demanded. A brief hesitation blunts the aloofness of the car, however this may be caused by the fact the 328i was in comfort mode instead of one of the other, sportier driving settings. The brakes were easily regulated but initially a little grabby.

Kelly Blue Book says that a 2012 BMW 328i with the average of 54,782 miles should cost 21,325 dollars. In purchasing or driving a F30 328i is to experience a mostly uncompromised performance vehicle. Ageless styling wraps tight around magical engineering and exceptional comfort. The F30 carries on and improves upon the rear-wheel drive based ingredients of BMW and the 3-series. The 328i has only the most unobtrusive of flaws; flaws only projected because the car faces such high expectations. The trading of the confining interior for a light and roomy habitation, the comfortably light steering, and the untouched principles of clear and accurate handling in combination with driving tranquility show the F30 as a very likable vehicle and a successfully executed BMW.

 

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2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport Automatic

The NC Mazda MX-5 Miata, introduced for the 2006 model year and produced until 2015, is the largest, heaviest and most powerful of all the four generations of MX-5. Nevertheless, Mazda crafted an exhilarating roadster that stays true to the principles that draw people to small and simple sports cars. Lightness, ingenuity, and style all contribute towards the driving experience, culminating in a car that punches above its weight in terms of enjoyment and performance.

The original MX-5 paid homage to revered British roadsters but to the Lotus Europa in particular. Like those roadsters, and the Europa with which it bared a strong resemblance, the Miata adhered to the default front engined, rear-wheel drive format. Power came from a 1.6 liter DOHC inline four-cylinder with 116 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque and moved only 2210 pounds, creating a respectable performance without the use of excessive power. The Miata gained power and safety in 1996 with the utilization of a 1.8 liter four-cylinder and airbags, before a 1998 redesign. Sixteen years after the its introduction, the 2006 MX-5 showed a weight gain of more than 200 pounds, 1.9 inches in length, and 1.8 inches in width. The extra size came with also significantly increased power in the form of the 2.0 liter four-cylinder generating 167 horsepower (158 horsepower when mated to the automatic transmission) and 140 lb-ft of torque. Five or six speed manuals, and a six-speed automatic were available. An aluminum double-wishbone front suspension, and an aluminum multilink rear suspension kept wheels planted. Unfortunately, the NC was unable to retain its predecessors lithe and chiseled looks, and instead appeared considerably more bulbous with the help of prominent fender flares and a blunt nose. Outside of the Miata lineage, its easy to appreciate to the exquisite proportions and uncluttered styling of the NC. The featured 2012 model wears the more expressive grill and headlights, as well as the reworked tail lights first applied for the 2009 model year. As a result of these enhancements, the car looks pleasantly less rounded and takes on a more defined shape.

The purposeful interior of the Miata is a breath of fresh air in the era of LCD screens and soft-touch materials. Though small, the cabin allows for a comfortable amount of room and is surprisingly ergonomic. The trunk is usefully rectangular, but measures only 5.3 cubic feet. Similarly revitalizing is the rather quaint sound emitted by the inline four and its dual exhausts. It’s a far cry from the loud and obnoxious crackling roars and screams voiced by many of todays sports cars and sedans. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is excellently sized and very nice to grab hold of, but once on the move it communicates the cars motions with an admirable competence and a perfectly weighted feel. The car resides close to the road below and is in its element careening through corners with incredible precision due in part to its 51/49 weight distribution. It corners flatly until pushed hard, after which, body roll sets in and reigns in the driver from doing anything regrettable. The brakes are easily modulated and free from the numb hypersensitivity of others. The brake pedal itself is positioned too near the gas, and the gas too close to the right side of the foot well, a very minor issue. A clutch was not to be found in the tested car for the fact it was an automatic. Some of the shifting can be preformed manually with paddles on the back of the steering wheel and with the gear selector. The Miata’s light weight allows the car to make the most of the power it has so that 60 mph is reached in only 6.8 seconds. It eagerly revs high while accelerating with considerable alacrity and authority.

The cars rather conventional powertrain combined with its lightness produce decent, if not excellent, fuel economy. The EPA rates models equipped with the six speed manual transmission and six speed automatic at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Five speed equipped Miatas gain 1 mpg in city driving. A 2012 Miata Sport with the average of 43,215 miles and an automatic transmission is valued at $14,088 by Kelly Blue Book.

The NC Miata has already been replaced with the next generation, the ND, for the 2016 model year. This new Miata is both faster, and significantly lighter, however the NC is still an incredible car for less money. The car is a precision tool for negotiating corners and in doing so is immense fun. The strangles of incessant demand for more comfort and refinement have been unable to grasp the Miata, and have left driving a high-fidelity experience.