328Ci guys need to be worried, however. Read below to find out why.
Details: My buddy was car shopping for his mother this weekend. She's a current 325is owner (130K miles) and wanted to spend about 30K for a new car. I tagged along.
We looked at the Volvo S40, Nissan Maxima, Mazda Millennia but were thoroughly UNIMPRESSED. The Acura 3.2 CL Type-S, Lexus GS300 and Audi A4 were also on our list. We went to drive the Type-S on Saturday.
As we parked next to their Type-S fleet, a sales critter approached and uttered : "Nice car, is the body kit aftermarket or factory?" We were driving my stock M3.
My buddy, a little incredulous (who is also an M3 owner) says "It's an M3".
This has no impact on Sales Critter --despite the fact that someone cross-shopping the Type-S is probably also interested in an E36 M3- and definitely the 328Ci.
We look at the car while Sales Critter gives us the marketing slop about how FWD cars are easier to drive than RWD cars, etc. Spare us, thank you.
I will say this for the CL line: these cars are a bargain compared to the BMW Ci. For a little over 30K, you get a power moon roof, heated butt-warmers, leather, CD player, upgraded wheels (17x7s).. stuff that is a costly option on the 323Ci and the 328Ci. The fit and finish and overall impression of luxury is head and shoulders above everything else we saw that day.
Yes, it's an automatic only. Big points off from people like us, but not a problem for my buddy's mom who is 57 years old and spent her younger days driving Triumph TR-3s.
It's FWD.. what can I say? I *will* add that next to the gen 5 Prelude and Integra Type-R, it is the finest FWD car I've driven yet.
The drive: we did some mixed highway driving and a 'handling course' in an industrial backlot I like to shake down new cars.
Of course, the car can cruise. Running it to the limit on a freeway on-ramp, the car holds the road okay, but will flop between progressive understeer and mild oversteer. Its easy to drive fast and very benign at the limit, but is can feel slightly flustered. It certainly doesn't handle as well at the limit an E36 328, let alone an E46.
On the backroads, I had a chance to *really* flog the car. This is a paved road to a industrial lot that twists and changes elevation several times in about 1.3 miles.
It felt ready to keep up, but doesn't seem to take joy in flat-out driving like a BMW does. In that respect, it felt a little Mercedes-like.. a willing, but not enthusiastic participant. Too softly sprung. Too much torque-steer. Too little contact patch in the front.
Despite that, it's pretty quick. I'd judge the car ripped through my 'handling course' at about the same rate as a BASE suspension 328i sedan. Now, I've driven the 328Ci, but not on the course. My feeling is that the Ci is a little faster, but not much more. The Ci certainly feels more composed when you flog it, for sure.
After we left the visibly shaken and slightly paler Sales Critter at the dealership, we did a back-to-back comparison in my M3.
Not even close. Where the CL seemed huffing and puffing to keep up, the M car seemed to yawn and say "wake me up when you're ready to get serious".
Where the CL impressed me was the value. You get a lot of car for the money. The only thing missing from the options list on the 30K model we saw was sat-nav. If I were in the market for an automatic sporty coupe, I would find the CL very hard to resist, saving you almost 10K over a comparably equipped 328Ci.
More aggressive rubber (only 215s), lower curb weight (3400) and better body control (spring rates and dampeners) would make this car a very solid contender.
Oh yeah.. and how about putting the drive wheels in the rear and let us row our own gears?