ON THE ROAD

A tale of two Bimmers: the 320d and 528i

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TWINPOWER Turbo and Efficient Dynamics drive the 4-cylinder 320d’s diesel engine.

ANY MOTORING journalist who has test-driven at least a couple of new BMW cars during the year would consider it a good year.  This year, I got to check out three Bimmers: the 2012 118d Sport (“On the Road,” 1/25/12), the 2012 sixth-generation 320d that was launched in Manila on May 10 and the 2012 sixth-generation 528i.  BMW vehicles are imported and distributed by Asian Carmakers Corp. (ACC) under the aegis of the Singapore-based BMW Asia Pte. Ltd.

The latest iterations of the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series offer a compelling tale of two Bimmers similar in some aspects yet quite unlike each other in other aspects but always  reflecting the intrinsic values of this premium German brand.  Both the 320d and the 528i have 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder TwinPower Turbo engines mated to BMW’s 8-speed automatic transmission (A/T) with Steptronic, but the 320d’s powerplant is a diesel with variable turbine geometry and common rail direct injection while the 528i’s is petrol with Valvetronic, Double VANOS and high-precision injection.

THE 320D variant of the sixth-generation BMW 3 Series.

Both the 320d and 528i demo units that ACC let me test for five days each belonged to the Luxury Line of the 3 Series and the 5 Series, respectively.  The Luxury Line is distinguished from the Sport Line and the Modern Line by its exquisitely elegant look with high-gloss chrome trim framing and embellishing the bars of BMW’s trademark kidney grille, above the front air scoop, the window frame, weather strip, rear apron and tailpipe.  Tastefully located chrome trim accents dominate the interior that also contains high-gloss wood strips, high-gloss black trim elements and tan or beige leather upholstery and door panels to complete a posh cabin.  In short, black with chrome identifies the Luxury Line.    The 320d and 528i also share an array of safety features such as at least six airbags, ABS, Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, Park Distance Control, Driving experience control including ECO PRO.

Ecological. Between the two Bimmers, the 3 Series compact sedan is indisputably more popular as it is the bestselling premium car worldwide with 12 million buyers since its debut in 1975.  But it is the sixth-generation 528i, BMW’s midsize model offering, that truly validates the Munich-based carmaker’s claim that it strives to establish ecological and social sustainability plus a clear commitment to conserve resources.

INSIDE, the BMW ConnectedDrive integrates driver assistance systems and advanced infotainment.

BMW first made this claim in July 2009 when it shocked motorsports fans by announcing its exit from Formula One racing at the end of the season.  BMW Chair Norbert Reithofer explained that the withdrawal was in sync with the company’s “strategic realignment” and its aim to use the significant F1 budget in other areas, especially to advance “sustainability and environmental compatibility.”

By installing a new turbo four in the engine bay of the new 528i instead of the preceding model’s inline six powertrain, and replacing the 6-speed A/T with an 8-speed gearbox, BMW succeeded in achieving about 20-percent improved fuel economy and even better performance.

The 528i is a two-ton car with a 2.0-liter engine, but TwinPower Turbo, more gear ratios thanks to the new 8-speed A/T, direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and computerized engine controls work harmoniously together to deliver 245 hp and 350 Nm max torque at lower rpm (1250 vs 2600 in the inline six) and fuel efficiency averaging 6.5 liters per 100 km in combined city and highway driving. Carbon dioxide emissions are reduced to 158 grams per km. And yet the low-revving turbo four in the 528i is nearly half a second quicker to reach 100 kph than its inline six predecessor.

THE SIXTH iteration of the 528i, BMW’s midsize model offering.

Not sporty. While the new 528i can accelerate energetically from stoplights and provides a comfy, quiet ride (despite the Runflat tires) not much info comes to the driver through the weighty steering system and the bulk and weight of the car don’t encourage driving it enthusiastically like a sport sedan, which it definitely isn’t. The inline four engine is not as smooth and refined as the inline six, throbbing like a diesel when idling cold, but this loss in refinement is more than counterbalanced by greatly improved fuel economy, reduced greenhouse emissions and generally better performance.  Bottom line, the new 528i is a superbly pleasing luxury cruiser for daily use—if you can afford its P5.490-million price tag.

In sharp contrast to the  midsize 528i, the 320d is the sports sedan par excellence, athletic, agile and dynamic, a different animal altogether although, as pointed out earlier, the 320d shares some things with the 528i, such as offering more power with less fuel consumption. With a wider track, lower stance, flatter, revised kidney grille, raked headlights, short overhangs, long engine hood, bold character lines on the side and setback window greenhouse, the 2012 BMW 3 Series projects a more muscular, more impressive road presence than ever before.

THE 528I’S elegant interior with rich leather and high-tech equipment.

The 320d’s 2.0-liter, inline four common rail direct injection VGT (variable geometry turbine) diesel TwinPower Turbo engine packs 184 hp/4000 rpm and 380 Nm of torque from as low as 1750 rpm. It sprints to 100 kph in 7.6 seconds and top speed claimed by BMW is 235 kph. BMW has reduced the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) associated with diesel engines to such an unnoticeable level that you sometimes forget you are driving a 320d, not a gasoline-fed 328i.

Dynamics. The engine’s ability to improve fuel efficiency by 15 percent to a combined average (city and highway driving) of 4.4 liters per 100 km without affecting sporty performance is due to BMW EfficientDynamics technology that includes the new 8-speed AT, the

Auto Start-Stop function that automatically turns off the engine when the car is at full stop and restarts it when the accelerator pedal is pressed, and aerodynamic enhancements that reduced coefficient of drag to 0.26.  Carbon dioxide emissions are down to 117 grams per kilometer.

The 320d driver can conserve fuel by activating the new ECO PRO mode (also found in the 528i) with the touch of a button, but when road, traffic and weather conditions allow, you can switch to Sport or Sport Plus mode from Comfortable or Economy.  Switching to the Sport mode sharpens engine, transmission and steering response while revising Dynamic Stability Control limits.  The 3 Series is delightful to carom at high speed over twisting roads and around corners as well as on straights, thanks to its longitudinally mounted engine, rear wheel drive and 50-50 weight distribution.

A NEW TwinPower Turbo four petrol engine replaces the inline six in the 2012 BMW 528i. Photos by Aida Sevilla-Mendoza

Although the new 320d is longer by 93 mm and its wheelbase has been extended by 50 mm compared to the previous generation, it weighs 40 kilograms less.  The increased length and wheelbase give  rear passengers 15 mm of additonal knee room and eight mm of additional headroom. Extra versatility is offered by the 40/20/40 split/fold rear seat that allows a golf bag to be loaded.

Driver-centered. The driver-centered cockpit with instruments and controls angled to the driver features a center-mounted 6.5-inch color screen for the BMW ConnectedDrive infotainment system while the iDrive control dial is conveniently mounted on the center console.  The sport leather steering wheel with multifunction controls and the electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory afford a comfortable driving position even for long journeys. The craftsmanship of the cabin and build quality of the body with high torsional rigidity are impeccable.  For the first time, the 3 Series’ underbody structure has Air Curtain technology for improved air flow around the front wheels.

These plus the advanced chassis technology contribute to the sporty handling, agility and riding comfort of the new 320d which I experienced with pleasure when I drove it to Pampanga and back one sunny weekend.

Somehow, BMW always manages to improve the 3 Series every time it undergoes a full model change.  The sixth-generation 3 Series proves again why it is the world’s bestselling premium sports sedan, why it is always a winner.  For P3.49 million, you can have the most fuel-efficient and most elegant 2012 BMW 3 Series variant, the 320d Luxury.

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