Nearly forty years ago, in 1977, BMW introduced the 320i to the U.S. Though many enthusiasts felt the new E21 3 Series wasn’t as dashing as the beloved 2002 it replaced, the 320i drew widespread praise for its ride, handling and responsive engine. It also put BMW NA on solid ground financially, with U.S. sales doubling during the car’s six-year run from 1977 to 1982.
The 320i nameplate became almost as iconic as that of the 2002, at least for a certain generation, but BMW didn’t use it again for more than 30 years. Now it’s back, applied once again to a car targeted at first-time BMW buyers looking for a quality sports sedan that’s practical and efficient yet fun to drive.
With a base MSRP of $32,550, the 320i sedan undercuts the 328i by $4,300 and costs only $1,350 more than the smaller 128i Coupe. It’s also priced comparably to Japanese sedans like the Mazda6 and Honda Accord, which should encourage potential buyers to upgrade from other marques.
Keep it simple
Within the BMW model lineup, the 320i and 328i are much more alike than different, but key distinctions exist in the engine bay as well as with equipment levels and options. In addition to the badge on the trunk, the 320i can be identified from the outside by its single tailpipe, which hasn’t been seen on a 3 Series for some time. (The 328i has a dual tailpipe.)
Inside, the 320i is equipped with manual seats as standard, and the power seats that are standard on the 328i are optional at $995. The 320i isn’t offered with the Sport, Luxury, Modern and M Sport Line trim options that are available on the 328i and 335i models, though a Sport Package is available. Neither can the 320i be ordered with the Dynamic Handling Package offered on the more upscale models, or with standalone options like Adaptive M Suspension, Active Cruise Control, Parking Assist, Park Distance Control, Rear View Camera and automatic high beams, though Park Distance Control and the rear camera are available in the Driver Assistance Package ($950). Also nixed are shift paddles for the steering wheel (on automatic cars) and the premium Harman-Kardon sound system.
Having fewer options available helps to differentiate the 320i from the 328i and will make the car more appealing to its primary target market, BMW hopes.