Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 BMW 328i First 100 Miles

The First 100 Miles

Alex, my 2011 328i xDrive, the last of the straight-six models, went off lease last week (farewell review). I replaced her with a brand new 2014 328i, which is a very different driving experience. I drove Alex about 27750 miles which equates to ~1500 hours of time in motion. Most of the driving was in Woodinville and Redmond, WA at 30-45 miles per hour with very limited freeway time. 

I moved from WA to Round Rock, TX (just north of Austin) and found much better driving opportunities. Surface streets often run up to 60 MPH and the Toll Roads top out at 85. Alex didn't get many miles in TX, but they sure were fun. 

Now that I have had time to fiddle with the seat adjustments and the different driving modes, here are my first impressions of my new 2014 BMW 328i, RWD.  

I'm not convinced this one is "The Ultimate Driving Machine". 

The Good

Wow, the engine is responsive and actually pulls really well. Many reviews point to Turbo-lag, but pushing Alex from 1500 RPM to 4000 RPM also took some time. The steering is light and easy, and does firm up based on the driving mode. In Sport or Sport manual mode this is a great ride.

I had a loaner 328i (fully loaded) for a couple days in August. The run-flat tires and suspension setup were harsh, jarring, pugilistic. This new car doesn't seem to have the same setup. The ride is smooth, bumps are minimized, and the road is still very tangible. 95% of my 27750 miles were casual commute miles, not high-speed, racetrack oriented. 

I did not get any bling on this car. None. No lines, no exterior colors, no interior package, no Dynamic Handling, Cold Weather, Driver Assistance, Technology, or Premium package, no options or accessories. The only item listed on the window sticker was the 8-speed Steptronic. So, my car was a steal, a rock bottom priced BMW leading to a great lease. 

The Bad

8-Speeds means plenty of gear changes. In Comfort mode 4-5 gear changes take place driving in the neighborhood at speeds around 30 MPH. A good deal of work is going on between the engine, the computer, and and the transmission to get good mileage. Sport mode fixes this, but it seems like the jumps from Eco to Comfort to Sport are a bit wide. 

In Eco Mode I kept checking the floor to see if it was going to open so I could give her a push by going full retro Fred Flintstone. Sorry, I know the government is involved, and MPG figures must be met, but I suspect that ECO mode will be lightly used by all BMW drivers. Those frequent gear changes in Comfort evolve from noticeable to annoying in ECO where 2000 RPM is the shift point. I'll need a lot of convincing to see ECO as a feature. 

The Auto-Start/Stop (can I call it the ASS Function?) is also a bit of a work-in-progress. After measuring 20 something variables, including the price of tea in China, the AS/S function will decide whether to turn the engine off when you reach a full (and complete) stop. Don't try to out-guess the system, it knows what's best for you. 

Managing the interior temp to save gas, presents a bit of a problem. Sitting in the Texas sun (even in October) for a couple minutes will raise the interior temp just enough to re-start the engine. Defogging the windows (front or back) is also a hurdle for the AS/S. Essentially, the car is saying "I'm going to save a sip of gas and make you hot... deal with it". In Woodinville, WA., not an issue... in Round Rock, TX., fail. 

Yes, yes, yes, you can push a button to kill the feature, and heck, I have already learned how much relief to give the brake to get to a restart, but like the ECO mode, I'm not convinced that this is really useful. 

You know those Yellow-light must yield left-hand turn lanes? Confidence takes a hit when you are searching for a hole to jump through, and the AS/S decides to cut-off the engine. 

"Look Ma, I'm sitting in the middle of an intersection with my engine cut-off!" 

This is a pretty direct user experience, and a pretty poor experience. 

The Ugly 

The "Park" mode is a bit odd. The engine goes into "Ready" status, just like in AS/S. And the iDrive and accessory plugs remain active. Had the weird experience of having the car restart while sitting in the parking lot at CVS. My foot was on the brake, so the behavior was not "wrong" it was just unexpected. My Garmin is plugged into the 12-volt power receptacle and doesn't seem to turn off at all. In Alex, you turn the car off and the accessories go off as well. 

The iDrive Multimedia functionality is also a bit off. I plugged in my USB drive with 617 songs, scrolled through the menu options to set to Random... and off I went. The next time the car started it started at song #1/617. Pushing the right arrow on the stereo would send it to a new random song. Park (for some unknown period of time) and it's back to song #1 again. Alex would keep remember the track, even if the USB drive was removed and later replaced. 

The delivery specialist told me that the first time I linked my phone to the 328i, it would download my address book. My phone is both work and personal, with 707 contact cards (I checked in Outlook). I am actually scared to sync the Bluetooth for fear of the mess. I just need eight (8) entries, one for each storage location on the dash, but there is just no simple way to get there. 

The Bottom Line

The new 328i is much more enjoyable for my standard driving experience, smoother, quicker, better mileage (Alex reported 20.5 MPG combined after 30 months of driving). Purists, those that think fast is the only answer, will probably not be happy. People that want options will have to juggle the various packages, lines, and accessories to find a suitable combination -- at an eye-popping price. Driving modes, AS/S, and other minor annoyances will probably get worked out over time. 

My lease expires in 36 months... which gives BMW time to figure it out. 


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