"Entry-Level" is a subjective term When purchasing or leasing a new car, the engine and driving dynamics are my main priorities.
Even though the 1-series is significantly smaller, the car known as the entry-level model BMW has always been the most inexpensive 3-series available. Disregarded by some as a “poor man’s BMW”, I personally always had a soft spot for the previous-generation (E90) 323i. My parents owned a fully-loaded one in black, and the inline-6 was amazingly smooth. When BMW cut the 323i from their lineup for 2012 and replaced it with the 4-cylinder 320i, I really didn’t think I would like it. I decided to take a 2013 BMW 320i xDrive for a spin and see if my predictions were accurate.
When purchasing or leasing a new car, the engine and driving dynamics are my main priorities. This car being a BMW, I knew the driving dynamics would be dead-on. The 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder, however, I wasn’t so sure about. I drive my 328i all the time, but the motor in the 320i has been detuned to 180 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Power is adequate enough for the daily grind, and like the other turbocharged motors from the Bavarians, there is very little turbo lag. However, there was a very specific reason I liked the E90 323i so much. The incredibly smooth nature of the inline 6-cylinder was to die for, and the smooth butter-like shifts from the old 6-speed Steptronic gave that car its charm. This one is very technical; the 8-speed automatic in my test car did everything very well.
I’ve said many times before that BMW’s new 8-speed automatic is a great transmission. It shifts predictably in both regular and Sport modes, and it actually feels like it’s a double-clutch transmission at times. Much like the rest of the 3-series lineup, this 320i came with the EfficientDynamics drive mode selector. The button located to the left of the gearshift toggles the drive modes between Eco-Pro, Comfort, and Sport. Each of these modes alters the character of the car to suit the driving style you desire. I decided to drive the car in Eco-Pro for a period and managed to score an amazing 6.0L/100km in highway driving. However, for anything but a steady highway haul, Eco-Pro will bore the bejesus out of the real driver. My average in combined driving was 7.3L/100km using premium fuel only.
The 320i’s Bavarian driving dynamics come to life when using Sport mode. While it doesn’t have as much raw power as its athletic sibling, the 335i, the 320i has enough pickup-and-go to keep me satisfied. I had the car during my family’s annual drive up north to admire the beautiful changing colours of autumn that Canada has to offer. Driving through picturesque Belfountain, Ontario, I found myself really enjoying the car. It gladly gobbled up any corner I threw at it, and was extremely balanced throughout the jaunt. I may have been hesitant at first, but as the affordable German began to show its true colours (pun intended), I was impressed.
There was, however, one issue with my test car. The 320i starts at just over $35,000. It comes reasonably equipped, and it’s where my money would go. I’d opt for the rear-drive, 6-speed manual model with a few of the option boxes ticked off. I’d require the sunroof and probably the Lighting Package (halogens on a BMW just seems wrong to me). The options just add up to far too much money. My tester was equipped with all-wheel-drive, the Premium Package, the Navigation Package, and the Lighting Package. It was also the “Modern Line”, which gives you full Dakota leather, some styling accents here and there, and unique wheels. The grand total? Just under $50,000.
Don’t let the price of my tester deter you from buying the 2013 BMW 320i though, because there’s more to it than meets the eye. There’s been great talk online about the fact that BMW will sell you the “perfect” entry-level 3-series, and it’s exactly the one I would want. This perfect car isn’t for the person that leases a 3-series for the status, then throws it away at the end of the three-year term. This is the infamous Internet legend, the rear-wheel-drive, manual transmission 320i with the M-Sport suspension, and the 18” wheels on high-performance tires. In the US, this car is attainable under $35,000. Here, it’d be about $40,000, but even at that price, it’s a bargain.
Minus the rather hefty grand total on my tester, I found the 2013 320i xDrive quite enjoyable. It’s a great daily driver for both the city slicker as well as a resident of the suburbs. Honestly, the F30-generation 3-series has more room so it can actually accommodate real people in the rear seats, and excluding the loss of the inline 6-cylinder in the entry-level models, it hasn’t lost much of the charm that makes it such a favourite. Its fuel economy numbers are stellar, and if you are frugal with option packages, it can actually be quite affordable. The BMW 320i’s frugal base model stops me from referring to it as a luxury car, but it’s certainly a compelling premium saloon. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a lot of catching up to do, because this Bavarian is a serious contender in one of the most competitive car classes out there.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Gallery