The iconic BMW 328i sedan vs. the all-new 428i coupe: it’s more than just a question of style and function; it’s also about state of mind.
But first, a little history; BMW’s 3-series has been with us a long time. The 3 is actually the successor to the legendary 2002 model, that showed American car buyers that a small sedan could knock the hats off the sports cars of the time, and still provide all the comfort and practicality you’d want.
Then in 1975, we got the 320i, a more modern and sophisticated 2-door coupe. The next generation 3-er came in 1984 and included a 4-door model. We’ll skip the history lesson and just tell you that the 2012 model is the sixthgeneration of the 3-Series. And for the first time, there won’t be a 2-door coupe model (or convertible for that matter). Has BMW forgotten their roots? Would the 2002 be turning over in its grave?
Nope, just part of the new BMW marketing philosophy, which you either think is exceedingly clever, or extremely mystifying. Coupes are now even-numbered cars. So instead of the 3 Coupe, we have a 4. The old 1-Series coupe is soon to be replaced by the new 2. (A small fly in the branding ointment – the 6-Series Gran Coupe is a 4-door. Huh?)
Well the important thing is, the spirited 3-Series coupe lives on. And since it’s all new, we decided to compare a comparably-spec’d 328i sport sedan with the 428i coupe.
Let’s start with the 3. This is one gorgeous car, inside and out. The styling is muscular, crisp, and modern. Our 328i tester was Alpine White with a Coral Red interior (a beautiful combination) and included handsome 18” rims that really fill out the wheel wells and look very athletic.
We had some initial concerns about the turbo 4-cylinder which replaced the previous model’s legendary in-line 6. And the fact is, the 6 is smoother and more sonorous. But, the turbo-four is faster, provides outstanding fuel economy, and is easier on the environment. All in all, a fair compromise for modern times.
While some are not enamored with the new electric power steering’s lack of feel – we like the lightness to the touch, personally – the chassis on the car is terrific, with the great ride and handling combination that is the hallmark of BMW’s sporting sedans.
The biggest challenge to the 328i right now is that competitors like Lexus and Cadillac are creating some very attractive competition to the sport sedan throne. Tough for BMW, but nothing but good for buyers. We’d still say the 328i is tops in class, but absolutely recommend you drive the others before committing your hard-earned dollar.
Let’s cut to the Coupe. Where previous 3-Series coupes looked very similar to their 4-door siblings, the 4-Series seems to have taken a slight step upward. It looks a bit bigger, more muscular, and longer relative to the 3-Series sedan, feeling more like a little brother to the drop-dead gorgeous 6-Series Coupe. Features like the 4-LED headlights and boomerang shaped vents on the front fenders are bits of eye candy that just make the 428i look special.
Our tester featured M Sport trim, and that includes that an aggressive body kit and unique 18” alloy wheels. Finished in Estoril Blue, it was simply jaw dropping. We should note that the larger body of the 4-Series coupe really calls out for larger wheels. 18” are the minimum, but we bet it would look much tastier with some larger rims. We’ve seen some 428i models in the lower trim levels, and even though the rims are 18-inchers, their design just makes them look way too small for the car. This wasn’t a problem we noticed on the 328i sedan.
Size is no problem inside, however. While a coupe is not going to be as easy to enter the back seat as a sedan, once you get in, it’s adult friendly. So if bringing along friends always meant you had to settle for a four-door, as long as they are reasonably limber, they’ll be plenty comfortable. A by-product of this is the coupe’s doors are relatively long, which can be a pain trying to open in tight parking spaces. We’d cry if our beautiful coupe got dinged up, so we’d just do the smart thing and park where there’s more room. Gives you more room to look back and enjoy the lines, too.
Of course, if you buy a BMW for parking, you’re missing the point, no? The drive is spectacular. Our M Sport-equipped model included a special suspension with grippy summer compound tires. Combined with the available Dynamic Handling package that features on-the-fly adjustable suspension and variable-ratio steering, our 428i stayed flat as it positively gobbled up the corners. The steering is more feelsome here than in the sedan, a nice improvement at what was probably the only bone of contention in the ride and handling department of the 328i.
What surprised us was our response to the 4-cylinder, turbo engine. The same as in the 328i, there’s no doubt that it’s powerful – combined with the 8-speed automatic, you’re always in the right gear and you move out in a hurry. But… it’s lacking passion.
A funny thing. In the sedan, it’s a welcome compromise of performance and economy, but in the more evocatively styled coupe, we found ourselves wanting something that would raise your heart rate, even when you start up first thing in the morning. Something that sings as it revs out. Something like… BMW’s 6-cylinder engine.
Luckily, it’s available—but it’s going to cost you $5,500 more. Add that on top of our as-tested price of $47,000 for the 428i, and you can see where this is going.
So who wins? Well, if you love the looks of the coupe, and want a thing of beauty but aren’t concerned about ultimate performance, the 428i. And if you are an enthusiast and it’s in your price range, we’d stretch for the 435i with its turbo 6-cylinder. Drive them both. Your fun meter may peg different than hours.
For the more budget-minded enthusiast though, we’re going with the 328i sedan. It’s handsome, performs great, and it puts us in the state of mind of the original BMW 2002. In this package, we don’t mind the slightly growly 4-cylinder engine. It’s also around $3,000 less than the 428i, not an insignificant sum. The good news is, however your passions run, there’s probably a BMW 3-Series or 4-Series that will make you happy.