Road Test: BMW 320i not cheap, but it delivers

The 2014 BMW 320i is more fun to The 2014 BMW 320i is more fun to drive than many cars with double the horsepower selling at double the price. It obliterates most competitors in the sport sedan segment, defending the lead position that the 3 Series has held for decades. Photo Credit: BMW

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The list of features that don't come standard on the new BMW 320i is a long one.

This is the bargain Bimmer, meant to lure you onto a lot where a salesman can slather on options that send the price soaring.

It's still not exactly cheap, starting at $33,675 for a 2014 model. That's with no leather, no wood, no navigation, no backup camera, no moon roof, no heated seats -- no power seats, even. You get your choice of either black or white at that price; all other colors cost extra.

The even longer list of cars with more than this one's 180 horsepower includes the cheapest Honda Accord or Nissan Altima.

And yet, it's without reservation that we can say: If you want a sedan in this price range, buy the 320i now. This basic Bimmer delivers beautifully on everything that matters and saves you money on everything that doesn't.

It handles and shifts with the utmost precision. Every pound in the frame feels meticulously balanced. The controls feel like extensions of your limbs.

The 320i, in short, is more fun to drive than many cars with double the horsepower selling at double the price. It obliterates most competitors in the sport sedan segment, defending the lead position that the 3 Series has held for decades.

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In an industry obsessed with overpowered engines and superfluous in-dash gadgets, the comparatively bare-bones 320i offers a refreshing example of just-right engineering and packaging. This is as close to simplicity as a luxury automaker gets.

In fact, we wish BMW would take the cost-cutting a step or two further: Cut the standard equipment list by half again -- ditch the turbocharger, the in-dash display, the sport and eco driving modes -- and sell something that looks, handles and shifts like this, with maybe 140 horsepower, for about $25,000. Hell, bring back hand-crank windows, manual door locks and an ignition that actually takes a key.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder generates substantially less power than offered in the more expensive model of the same sedan, the 328i, which gets 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. But the extra power will be meaningless to almost all drivers.

The 320i's predictable handling and braking allow for the full use of the engine's power. The overall driving impression is one of balance and harmony -- all the controls and mechanisms working in unison.

Communication between driver and car approaches telepathy, which is the real achievement of the decades of engineering that BMW has lavished on its signature sport sedan.

 

2014 BMW 320I

 

 

Base price: $33,475

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Price as tested: $35,325

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Power: 180 horsepower at 5,000 rpm

Torque: 200 pound-feet

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0-60 mph: 7.1 seconds

EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city, highway

Length: 182.5 inches

Height: 56.3 inches

Width: 71.3 inches

Bottom line:3 Series bargain

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