New 320i puts BMW brand within reach of more buyers

BMW’s 3 Series has always been a class act, with impressive performance and driving characteristics. Now it’s easier to get into one thanks to the 2013 320i sedan, which starts at $32,550.

This “entry level” BMW is powered by a 2.0-liter, 180-horsepower turbo 4-cylinder that sends 200 lb.-ft of torque to its rear wheels.

In its various configurations, which include a hybrid model, the BMW 3 Series is available in as many as 15 different models ranging from the new 320i up to the 335is.

The 320i went on sale this spring in the U.S., enhancing and expanding the already well- apportioned 3 Series lineup.

The 320i is designed to be nimble and quick, not overpowering. The 0-60 time, BMW says, is in the 7.1-second range for either the 8-speed automatic or the 6-speed manual. But consider this: The 320i will deliver up to 36 miles per gallon on the highway and 24 mpg in the city.

The top speed for the 320i is electronically governed to 130 mph.

Our test 320i had the available Sport Package, which added 18-inch alloy wheels, sport seats, the M sport suspension and M steering wheel. The 8-speed automatic transmission was smooth as butter.

The 320i also has a stop/start feature, which kills the engine when the car comes to a stop to save fuel. Some stop/start features are clunky and obvious when the engine kicks on and off, but we found the 320i stop/start to be less noticeable.

Driving dynamics can be controlled by buttons for ECO PRO, COMFORT and SPORT settings.

Thanks to the twin-scroll turbocharging, the engine delivers instant throttle response, which in turn delivers instant driving pleasure. Gas this car, and it goes.

Standard features in the 320i include halogen headlights, a leather steering wheel with multi-function controls, Bluetooth wireless technology, USB, automatic climate control and rain-sensing wipers.

On the road, the 320i sedan handles very well with linear and precise steering. Brakes are excellent and road noises are minimal. We did find the cabin is a bit cramped for our 6-foot frame, but the front seats are comfortable and the optional split fold-down rear seat makes cargo carrying more convenient.

While the base 320i cabin is not as decked out as the higher 3 Series grades, the interior is well crafted with good fit and finish. Our test car had the optional navigation system ($2,150) in addition to the Sport Package.

The bottom line on the test car, including options and destination charges, was $37,650.

When it comes to safety, the 320i gets an overall five stars in the government’s safety tests, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2013 3 Series a Top Safety Pick.