The BMW 3 Series has long been regarded as the quintessential sports sedan. For decades, driving enthusiasts have lusted after these ultimate driving machines for their unparalleled performance, luxury, and style. Of the many variants in the 3 Series lineup, the BMW 320i remains a popular choice among buyers.
The BMW 320i sits towards the lower end of the 3 Series range in terms of performance and price. However, it still carries the key traits BMW is known for: sharp handling, refined powertrains, and upmarket interiors. Since its debut in 1975, the 3 Series has undergone several generational updates. The 320i designation has been used for the entry-level variant throughout these iterations.
In its current F30 generation that debuted in 2012, the 320i is powered by a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder engine making 180 horsepower. This provides sprightly performance for everyday driving while maintaining decent fuel efficiency. The 320i uses an 8-speed automatic transmission that delivers smooth, quick shifts. Rear-wheel drive comes standard, with xDrive all-wheel drive optional.
Despite its position in the lineup, the 320i still comes well-equipped with premium features inside and out. Here are some of the highlights:
- The iconic BMW kidney grille and corona headlight design give an athletic look.
- Aluminum satin trim around windows for upgraded style
- Power folding mirrors with heating and auto-dimming functions
- 17-inch V-spoke light alloy wheels
- LED fog lights and rear lights with BMW’s L-shaped styling
- Leatherette upholstery with high-gloss black trim for a luxurious feel
- Power front seats with driver memory function
- Automatic climate control with microfilter to keep cabin air purifier
- HiFi speaker system and USB audio interface for music enjoyment
- iDrive system with a 6.5-inch display for infotainment management
- Rearview camera and parking sensors for assistance during maneuvers
- Dynamic Stability Control to enhance traction and prevent skidding
- Keyless entry and engine start for convenience in getting in and starting up.
- Rain-sensing windshield wipers that automatically activate when wet
- Tire Pressure Monitor to stay informed about tire air pressure.
- Remote services like vehicle finder, remote door unlock, and stolen vehicle recovery
- 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder engine produces 180 hp and 200 lb-ft torque
- 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with sport and manual shift modes
- Rear-wheel drive standard, xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive optional
- Lightweight aluminum suspension components for agile handling
- Electric power steering for optimal feedback and effort based on speed
While not the highest-performing 3 Series model, the 320i still carries the BMW DNA for a sporty, engaging drive. Here’s an overview of the key driving attributes:
The TwinPower Turbo engine provides smooth, linear power delivery in the 320i. Turbo lag is minimal, allowing off-the-line solid acceleration. 0-60 mph comes in an estimated 6.5 seconds with the 8-speed automatic. There’s always ample power for merging onto highways or passing slower traffic. The transmission shifts quickly to keep the engine in its optimal rev range.
The 320i maintains the poised, balanced ride quality the 3 Series is revered for. The chassis soaks up bumps and provides confident stability at highway speeds. The suspension dampers out vibrations without feeling overly soft. Minimal body roll allows the 320i to carve through curvy backroads. The steering feel is sublime, giving clear feedback for placing the vehicle exactly where intended.
Large disc brakes provide strong stopping power. The brake pedal gives a firm, linear feel that inspires confidence. Anti-lock brakes and dynamic brake control help maintain stability and steering control during hard stops. Brake fade is kept in check even during repeated heavy braking. Overall, braking distances are short for the class.
Thanks to the turbocharged engine and 8-speed transmission, the 320i delivers respectable fuel economy and peppy acceleration. Rear-drive models earn 36 mpg on the highway, while AWD-equipped 320i xDrive models achieve 35 mpg. Even around town, fuel efficiency stays in the mid-20s. This allows the 320i to avoid the gas-guzzling reputation often associated with sports sedans.
Comparing the 320i xDrive and Rear-Wheel Drive Models
The BMW 320i offers buyers the choice between standard rear-wheel drive or optional xDrive all-wheel drive. Here’s how the two versions differ:
- Traction – xDrive provides more off-the-line traction, particularly in wet or snowy conditions. This gives added acceleration on slippery surfaces. The RWD 320i relies solely on the rear tires for grip.
- Handling – The RWD layout favors enthusiastic driving with its tail-happy dynamics and easily rotated rear end. xDrive has more understeer dialed in for stable cornering in all conditions.
- Cost – xDrive adds around $2,000 to the 320i’s starting MSRP. RWD models are more affordable upfront. However, the added traction of AWD may help resale value down the road.
- Fuel Economy – Thanks to less drivetrain loss, the RWD 320i is rated 1 mpg higher on the highway than the xDrive version (36 mpg vs. 35 mpg). Expect slightly better real-world economy from the rear driver as well.
What transmission options are available on the 320i?
The standard transmission is an 8-speed automatic. No manual gearbox is offered. The automatic provides smooth shifts and responsive performance. Paddle shifters allow manual control of gear changes.
xDrive gives the 320i added traction and stability in poor conditions. The RWD model is sportier and more tail-happy but may struggle for grip in snow or rain. RWD also gets slightly better fuel economy.
All models include a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, collision warning with city braking function, lane departure warning, and rain-sensing wipers. Additional options are available.
The rear seats offer good legroom and headroom for the segment. Three adults can fit comfortably for shorter trips. The seats are sculpted and include a center armrest pass-through. Child seats are easy to install using the LATCH anchors.
Options include leather upholstery, heated front seats, ambient cabin lighting, navigation, satellite radio, wireless charging, a WiFi hotspot, a premium Harman Kardon sound system, and a head-up display.
Owning and Maintaining a BMW 320i
Due to the precision engineering and quality materials involved, BMWs have a reputation for higher than average ownership costs. However, the 320i offers a relatively affordable way into the brand. Here are some things to know about owning and maintaining one long-term:
- Insurance – Premium will be 10-20% higher than an equivalent basic midsize sedan. Comprehensive coverage is recommended, given repair costs. We can help offset this by selecting higher deductibles.
- Maintenance – Required every 10k miles or annually. Will average $200-300 for essential services at BMW dealerships. Use OEM or high-quality parts to maintain longevity.
- Repairs – Labor rates around $125/hour or more at dealers. DIY can save over 50% on basic repairs. Expect premium component pricing (e.g., $1,000+ for new brake pads and rotors).
- Fuel Costs – Requires premium 91+ octane fuel for maximum performance and efficiency. Lifetime fuel costs are similar to other 4-cylinder midsize sedans.
- Long-Term Reliability – Below average projected ownership period of 7-10 years. Preventative maintenance is critical. Watch for cooling system, gasket leaks, oil leaks, and electronics issues.
The BMW 320i remains a staple of the 3 Series lineup, appealing to entry-level buyers seeking accessible BMW performance and prestige. Its turbocharged engine delivers smooth, punchy acceleration while maintaining impressive fuel economy. The chassis provides the excellent handling and comfort the brand is known for. Inside, buyers get a tastefully appointed cabin with premium materials and user-friendly technology.
For those who dream of zipping along curvy backroads in a German sports sedan, the 320i brings this fantasy within reach. It offers a winning combination of BMW’s lauded driving dynamics in a relatively affordable package. Given its engaging performance, high-end interior accommodations, and strong value proposition, it’s easy to see why the 320i continues to win over driving enthusiasts looking to enter the BMW family. Its balance of strengths makes it a smart choice both as a daily commuter and a weekend warrior.