The 328i does other things the E36 M3 can't. For example, the 328i is rated at a seriously impressive 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Cruising on the highway at 75-80 mph for 300 miles, our tester returned 30.6 mpg. On a hard-driving, canyon-carving, 150-mile test loop, it managed 16.8 mpg. Now take a look at the E36's numbers: 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway per the EPA, which you know would be out of reach for us lead-footed journalists. Check out the 2011 328i and you'll see it's only rated for 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. And it makes less power. Any way you cut it, this new 328i is some car.
Want to know the real kicker? Don't tell BMW, but the 328i is better than the 335i. I lapped both at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during BMW's launch event. We brought both home to test (you'll be seeing the 335i First Test soon), and we all agree. Yes, the 335i is a lot faster thanks to that turbo-six, but the 328i is the better car to drive. The four-cylinder car is 50 pounds lighter in the nose and the engine sits behind the front axle, making for a superb weight balance that the big-engine car just can't match. On the track and on the road, the 335i feels a bit more nose-heavy and a bit looser out back, with the rear end wanting to step out in turns, whereas the 328i is perfectly planted throughout. Sure, the 328i doesn't have the top end speed of the 335i, but it's more rewarding to drive fast. What's more, BMW's own driving instructors at the track confided that the lap times were nearly identical, with the 335i faster on the straights and the 328i faster through the corners.
Then there's the little stuff. The seats are a wonderful combination of comfort and sport. The extra space in both rows, courtesy of the wheelbase stretch, is noticeable and appreciated. The new dash is a fair sight better-looking, and even the base iDrive system sans nav looks like a little flatscreen TV on your dash. The iDrive system continues to improve and now has the ability to read your Facebook and Twitter feeds aloud and even send pre-written tweets and posts while driving. The steering wheel has gone on a bit of a diet and is a more pleasing size, not as chunky and oversized. The full-color head-up display is handy and appreciably hi-res. The car even has a proper hand brake.
At the end of the day, there really isn't anything this car does poorly.