2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Introduction
Luxury is where the profits are for car companies, but you've got to get butts in seats first if you hope to turn a profit on options packages and extended warranties. Cars like the 2013 BMW 320i xDrive serve as a form of feeder pipe into the premium ecosystem, an entry-level sedan whose reasonable base price works as the jump-off for a lifetime of BMW ownership (as well as the temptation of the options sheet). Few other luxury companies have been able to successfully plumb the depths of the entry-entry-level with similar compact sedan offerings - think of the relative failures of the Lexus IS 250 and the Infiniti G25 - which puts BMW in a unique position if it can overcome this low-end inertia and scoop up a fresh demographic of premium car shoppers.
There's always a risk of a brand being damaged when it releases a product that's not quite up to the expectations of its traditional buyer base. However, the premise of sticking a less powerful engine into an established model is a time-tested tactic that poses little risk to BMW's market equity. The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive is missing a few things that one would typically take for granted from the German automaker's ownership experience, but as we'll see below, that's both a strength and a weakness depending on your perspective.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive represents the all-wheel drive edition (hence the xDrive moniker) of the least-expensive 3 Series model in the automaker's line-up. With a base price of $32,750 for the rear-wheel drive model ($34,750 for the xDrive), the 320i is almost $5,000 cheaper than the next-step-up 328i. Base luxury cars aren't known for their extensive feature sets, but the 320i is actually quite pleasantly equipped: 17-inch rims, dual automatic climate control, genuine imitation leather seats, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic windshield wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the iDrive system are all included with the car.
The 320i xDrive I drove for a week came with the much-appreciated Cold Weather package (heated steering wheel, heated seats front and rear), and the Premium package (moonroof, satellite radio, power adjustments for front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry), along with Imperial Blue Metallic paint. Selecting the Cold Weather package also requires that one upgrade to Dakota leather seats to the tune of $1,450. Together, these options boosted the MSRP of my test vehicle by $6,150, bringing the total cost of the car to $40,900 and deftly illustrating how premium car companies milk sizable dollars even out of entry-level models.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Design
- The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive does not offer any new design elements for the current model year.
With its 17-inch rims and largely unornamented body work, the 2013 BMW 320i xDrive comes across as the most European of the available 3 Series models. Given that small motors in low-spec sedans has been a time-honored tradition across the Atlantic for decades, this persona feels quite appropriate for the model and nicely balances its plain but inoffensive styling. Your neighbors will certainly notice the blue-and-white roundel on the hood, giving you the luxury credibility you desire, but it's unlikely that the local constabulary will be gunning for you on the way to work based solely on the car's appearance (especially decked out in the non-descript Imperial Metallic Blue trim of my tester).
Inside it's more of the same, with a well-presented dashboard complemented by conservative black-and-silver trim. The BMW 320i xDrive offers an uncomplicated styling palette that some might consider a bit stodgy, but its function-first aesthetic is easy on the eyes and fits in well with the car's intended audience.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Comfort and Cargo
- The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive is unchanged compared to the previous model year.
The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive shares the same generous passenger compartment enjoyed by all other versions of the BMW 3 Series, which means that both front and rear seat riders have plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the ride. The same can't be said about many other cars in its class. BMW's seats are always comfortable for both long and short journeys, and the electric adjustability was welcome, particularly when swapping drivers on a road trip.
Heated steering wheels are perhaps the best automotive innovation after heated seats, especially in the cold climate of Quebec where I spent my winter holidays with the car, and both features were employed constantly. Kudos to BMW for remembering whether the heating element switches were on or off the last time I drove the car, a convenience that seems so simple yet is absent from the majority of other vehicles competing against the 320i.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Features and Controls
- The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive does not gain any new controls compared to the previous model year.
Since the 2013 BMW 320i xDrive doesn't offer nearly as many features as pricier versions of the 3 Series, it offers a pleasantly uncluttered interface between driver and vehicle systems that I quite appreciated. In fact, it was only the missing audio streaming over Bluetooth that had me cursing BMW's nickel-and-dime approach to building its trim levels - everything else was exactly what I needed in a premium sedan, nothing more, nothing less. Even the simpler version of iDrive was easy enough to use, and I never found myself lamenting the lack of extraneous features. Of course, my car was not a base model (the heated seats and power adjustments came at a premium), and the car I drove cost significantly more than the entry-level MSRP. Still, the simplicity of the 320i's low-button interior had a certain charm missing from other more gear-laden editions of the sedan.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Safety and Ratings
- The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive does not introduce any new safety features.
The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive covers all of the required safety bases, including a knee airbag for both the driver and front passenger, dual forward airbags, side impact airbags for forward occupants, and side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the sedan's cabin. Electronic stability control (with a brake-wiping feature to keep them dry in the rain) and traction control are also standard with the car. Where the 320i comes up short is in the active safety department - you can't actually order features such as a blind spot monitoring system or a lane departure warning system with this vehicle, as BMW makes you step up to the 328i for the privilege of paying more for these protections.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Crash-Test Ratings: The BMW 320i enjoys a five-star crash test rating from the NHTSA, as well as a rating of 'Good' in each major IIHS crash test with the exception of the small overlap front test, where it scored a 'Marginal' rating.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive features a new tune for the brand's turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is very closely related to the lump found under the hood of the more powerful 328i, but it's been configured to produce a more modest level of thrust in order to protect the position of the quicker model in the 3 Series lineup. The 320i can count on 180 horses and 184 lb-ft of twist from its turbocharged mill, which is a significant 50 ponies fewer than the next step up on the drivetrain ladder for the sedan. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the rear-wheel drive version of the car, while my xDrive tester came with the required eight-speed automatic. Fuel mileage for the 320i xDrive is listed at 23-mpg in city driving and 35-mpg on the highway: I saw 20 miles per gallon with a heavy highway component in cold winter weather.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Driving Impressions
The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive is not a sport sedan, despite sharing the same platform as respected models like the 328i and 335i. That's not to say that the 320i xDrive is unpleasant to drive - far from it. The four-door BMW's chassis offers the compliant, yet responsive handling that has become a 3 Series trademark, and even the car's electric power steering feels like far less of a handicap from behind the wheel of the 320i than it does when implemented by other brands. A responsive suspension system is the icing on the cake when it comes to the car's driving experience, giving it a lively personality despite the somewhat dynamically-deadening presence of all-wheel drive.
This litany of praise for the BMW 320i xDrive's on-road character might have you wondering what, exactly, keeps it from attaining sport sedan status. It all boils down to the car's startlingly ineffective turbocharged engine. Especially when fighting against the added weight of the xDrive system, the 180 horsepower, 2.0-liter motor outfitted to the 320i is not capable of providing anything resembling a spirited performance, in any situation. At low speeds in town the unit lugs around with a churlish resistance to right-foot ministrations, while on the highway demands for passing power are met with a furious buzz from the engine bay but little in the way of actual acceleration. The turbo never quite brings things to a boil, meaning that it's simply not possible to generate enough forward momentum to keep things interesting, especially in comparison with the 328i's more generous power management. The drive mode select system was equally incapable of injecting any fun into the equation, with Sport and Sport + modes merely increasing the volume, not the thrust, generated by the four-cylinder engine.
Still, despite the additional mass that it brings to the table, the 2013 BMW 320i xDrive's all-wheel drive system is a worthy addition to the options sheet for anyone forced to regularly handle the shifting weather patterns of a winter climate. I had the misfortune of driving my tester 300 miles through a pair of ice storms, and not once did the car's drivetrain have me feeling anything other than supremely confident in the face of slick, snow-and-brimstone covered highways. Even better was the system's rear-wheel bias during less hairy conditions, which allowed for reasonable amounts of drifting with the stability control system switched off. BMW's xDrive might not have the same marketing budget as Audi's quattro, but the company's engineers have delivered a perfectly viable tool for the winter warrior.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 BMW 320i xDrive combines the pleasant simplicity of a low-option and inexpensive luxury sedan with an engine offering that is a step behind what one would expect from this particular German automaker. The majority of buyers will most likely be able to gloss over the lack of power available from the 320i's turbocharged four-cylinder, but those seeking a budget sports sedan should be warned that while the chassis if this car is willing, its spirit is incapable of delivering on that promise.
If you can stay away from the options sheet, then the 2013 BMW 320i xDrive represents a decent deal for fans of the brand unbothered by its lack of potency. If you start to ladle on the packages, however, you might quickly find yourself priced into a bracket where other, more attractive options from Infiniti, Cadillac, Ford, Lexus, and Honda start to crowd into the picture. You don't have to buy a luxury car to access premium features anymore, and if that's really what you are looking for, it's worthwhile broadening your horizons.
2013 BMW 320i xDrive Review: Pros and Cons
- Affordable base price
- Excellent suspension and chassis tuning
- Simple interior and feature set
- Great all-wheel drive traction
- Large interior for its class
- Slow, slow, slow
- Sporting character is compromised by pedestrian engine tuning
- Options can quickly boost the sedan's price
- No access to active safety gear
BMW Group Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.