A curious phenomenon occurred between the first year of the new BMW 3 Series sedan in 2012 and this year: Its base price jumped up a whopping $1,950 for no obvious reason at all. For $37,745, including $895 for destination and handling, you, too, can have a basic 2013 BMW 328i sedan with vinyl seats, black or white paint–metallic paints are extra-cost–without even so much as a sunroof. Everything else is bundled into packages, leaving the buyer to spend in the mid-$40s to get one that’s at least reasonably equipped.
BMW noticed this. That’s why it’s bringing out a cheaper model to fill the low-end gap, at least until the new BMW 1 Series and 2 Series arrive in the U.S. sometime around 2014. Called the BMW 320i, the new car uses essentially the same 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the 328i. But it’s been detuned from 240 horsepower to 180.
The upside to all of that is that you can now get into a new BMW 3 Series for $33,445, including $895 destination and handling, or $34,445 for a car with xDrive all-wheel drive. That’s down more than four grand from the 328i and stacks up nicely with the standard 202-horsepower 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.5 at $33,990, front-drive 2013 Audi A4 at $33,395, and 201-horsepower 2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 that starts at $36,255. Mercedes is debuting a low-$30,000s CLA-Class sedan at the Detroit Auto Show, however. While down on power versus its competition, BMW estimates the 320i will hit 60 mpg from standstill in a conservative 7.1 seconds when equipped with either its six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy for the manual and auto cars are estimated to be at 22 city/34 highway and 23 city/33 highway mpg, respectively. Those numbers are just a little lower than the 240 horsepower car’s.
Nearly all the same options will be available in the 320i as the 328i, sans the M Sport package that comes with available Estoril Blue Metallic paint. Two 17-inch wheel options will be available, as will one 18-inch design. Both manual and automatic models will have standard auto start-stop engine technology, which works well at saving fuel while idling. However, BMW’s is a bit abrasive in its operation compared to the the one from Mercedes-Benz.
BMW last sold a car called the 320i in the U.S. from the late-1970s until 1983 with both four- and six-cylinder engines of 2.0 liters being denoted by the “20″ in the name. The letter “i” stood for “injection,” as in fuel injection as opposed to using a carburetor to feed gas into its engine. With exception of the 318i that sold from 1984 to 1990 and again for a brief period in the 1990s, BMW’s engines, along with the rest of the market’s, continued growing larger and more powerful. Engines became so powerful relative to their size that BMW ditched its numbering system for “virtual displacement” figures in the late-2000s. The 328i has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the 335i has a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-6, for instance.
However, with prices fluctuating and an increased emphasis on fuel economy, small engines are making a comeback. And so are budget-priced luxury cars, if such an oxymoron exists. Expect to see the 2013 BMW 320i go on sale in late spring around the same time as the new 3 Series wagon, and expect a slightly more expensive diesel-powered 320d to hit U.S. showrooms shortly thereafter.