Test Drive: 2018 BMW 328d

This car has left me deeply saddened, but it’s not because it’s done anything wrong. On the contrary, I’m saddened because, in the post-Dieselgate universe, I believe the “D word” has become a terrible one with consumers, and truly great machines like this 2018 BMW 328d are going to soon be extinct.

An excellent machine that I really loved to drive all week. But…

Amongst the North American automotive media, there’s a bit of a running joke that the perfect car – the one we’d all clamour for (but of course, few would actually buy) – is a diesel station wagon with a stick shift, and painted brown. And while my test car isn’t a wagon, it could be ordered as such; and although brown isn’t a hue on the spec sheet, Sunset Orange is, and that’s almost a really, really light brown. Manual transmissions, however, are as common as humble politicians these days, so finding a new wagon with one is pretty much a non-starter.

The key element here is the diesel engine. Yes, it rattles and clatters a bunch, and despite this particular car’s Estoril Blue Metallic paint being part of the M Sport Edition Package, it’ll be tough to fool anyone into thinking this is a high-performance Bimmer.

But BMW has done a very good job of isolating the engine noise, and keeping it away from the cabin’s occupants. When pressed hard, it sounds a little gruff, and is about as musical as a bullfrog, but at highways speeds, the engine is turning so few revs, it’s barely audible.

It’s at those highway speeds where this car (and its wagon twin) are truly at their best. BMW publishes the 328d’s highway consumption rate at 5.9 L/100 km, but I could regularly get the trip computer to show average consumption in the mid-5s. In fact, after more than 1,500 km of driving (much of it on the highway, though with plenty of stop-and-go misery and obscenely hot, humid weather), the indicated overall average was 5.9 L/100 km. For reference, that’s the same figure Lexus claimed for its CT 200h hybrid, which is basically a Prius in a fancy dress. The prissy Prius would achieve better rates in the city, but it was nowhere near as nice to drive.

With a topped-up tank of diesel (which currently costs the same as regular unleaded), achieving 1,000 km before refilling is not a difficult task. That means you could set out from Vancouver and the 328d would need only one stop to get nearly halfway across the country to Brandon, Manitoba.

Magnificent!

To achieve this, I’d recommend setting the drive mode to Eco Plus, which employs brake energy regeneration to help offset the load placed on the engine from the car’s electronics. Plus, there’s auto stop/start (which, admittedly, is a little rough in the re-starting), and softer throttle response, plus free-wheel coasting when drive power isn’t needed to maintain speed (such as going downhill).

All those new-fangled, electrified machines are fine and dandy for urban centres where their little battery packs can inch them along in stop-and-go traffic with tremendous efficiency. But some of us like – or need – to cover some serious ground, and the 328d is awesome at cross-continental kilometre-killing.

In a jurisdiction outside of Canada where such speeds are nearly legal, I saw the blue BMW cruise at 130-plus km/h, revving a whisker over idle speed. This keeps the vibrations quelled, and despite notoriously stiff run-flat tires, the ride is very compliant.

Throw in BMW’s highly adjustable sport seats to support the driver and front passenger in all the right places, and crank up the audio system – which in this case isn’t even an upgraded Harman Kardon system, but still sounds great – and it’s tough to want much more in a long-distance machine.

BMW’s 3 Series was once revered for its driving character, earning particularly deserved praise for its steering and handling. While this 328d (equipped with xDrive all-wheel drive) does handle well, maintaining grip and composure even when driven quite aggressively, the utter lack of steering feel is another aspect of this car that saddens me.

Beyond its uncommunicative nature, the steering is wildly over-boosted, so it not only lacks feel, but also any sort of weighting associated with a machine that has at least some sporting pretense. Searching hard for a silver lining here, the upside to the lifeless steering is a car that feels far more relaxed humming away at highway speeds. Selecting Sport mode does adjust the Servotronic steering to be a little heavier, but still woefully hollow.

The 2.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel engine is rated at a meagre 180 hp, but 280 lb-ft of torque from only 1,750 rpm. This means the 328d’s acceleration is adequate, if not overwhelming. That said, the excellent eight-speed automatic is geared to eke out the best the little engine has to offer, and even when burdened with four adults and luggage, the little Bimmer managed to feel sufficiently lively in around-town driving. BMW claims the 328d will reach 100 km/h in 7.7 seconds which coincides with what the seat of my pants suggests.

The 328d’s brakes provide good bite, linear action and solid, progressive feel, with great stopping power.

The current F30-generation 3 Series is approaching the very end of its lifecycle, now seven years since its introduction. The new, G20 generation is set to make its first appearance this fall, and with intense competition from old rivals (Mercedes and Audi) and new ones (Genesis), it had better be very good.

Still, while the styling has grown very familiar on the outside, and perhaps a bit dated on the inside, the 3 Series has held up very well. BMW’s traditional round gauges and highly functional iDrive, for example, are well-complemented by easy-to-use buttons and knobs. What’s more, aesthetically, the good build quality is highlighted by tight gaps and material choices that have aged very well. Case in point: the grain and sheen of the Dakota leather matches the grain molded into the soft-touch plastics of the dash and door panels perfectly.

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Space for both rear passengers and luggage also remains competitive in the class.

What this all adds up to is an excellent machine that I really loved to drive all week. But, the 328d is neither electrified, nor a crossover SUV, which makes it hopelessly out of fashion. And no matter how good that little diesel is, and no matter how much I just want to top off the tank and drive toward – and beyond – the horizon, we’re likely to see very few future generations of them.

The thought of reaching the end of the road for the 328d and its kind is what really saddens me.

Competitors:

Jaguar XE
2018 BMW 328d xDrive
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 180 hp
Peak Torque: 280 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 7.8/5.9/7.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 368 L
2018 BMW 328d xDrive
Base Price $47,400
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $3,075
Price as Tested $55,470
Optional Equipment $4,895 – M Sport Edition package $4,000; Estoril Blue Metallic paint $895
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
10 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value