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BMW’s four-cylinder engine provides lively performance, excellent fuel economy

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a big switcheroo, after more than a dozen years German luxury-sport carmaker BMW is again offering four-cylinder engines to U.S. buyers.

For the 2013 model year, the Bavarian manufacturer began selling the Z4 sports car and the 5-Series sedan to U.S. buyers with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as the entry-level motor. Now, it has expanded into several other models, including the best-selling 3-Series, where it is offered in two states of tune: a 180-horsepower version (320i) and one with 240 horsepower (328i).

Renowned for its highly acclaimed six-cylinder motors, the move to include fours in the motivation mix raised eyebrows among BMW consignetti: Don’t all real BMWs have at least six cylinders?

Well, fear not – BMW’s fours are every bit as superb as their lustier brethren, and a fair amount more fuel-efficient to boot.

This week’s test drive proved just how sweet a motor the 2.0 is. Our 328i was a new-for-2014 five-door hatchback model with all-wheel-drive, properly known as a 328i xDrive Gran Turismo.

With twin cams, turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing, this mechanical gem’s 240 horsepower is augmented by a healthy 250 pound-feet of torque and a superslick eight-speed automatic transmission with a programmable Sport setting.

Although no lightweight at 3,915 pounds, thanks in part to its all-wheel-drive system, the 328i delivers all the lively and responsive attributes that BMWs are know for, revving eagerly from just off idle to redline while singing an invigorating tune.

Add to that the hatch’s wallet-friendly 33 mpg on the open road, downright impressive for an AWD sports sedan.

Being a BMW, the 328i xDrive also handles corners with calm precision. The nicely weighted steering and potent brakes add to the confident comportment that define the marque.

BMWGTinteriorThe cabin is thoroughly Teutonic, with meticulous craftsmanship of top-notch materials, ergonomically placed controls and large, at-a-glance gauges keeping the driver informed.

Even BMW’s earlier-derided console-mounted iDrive audio/nav/systems controller has been honed to the point of simplicity.

Finally, the GT’s hatchback layout offers a welcome dose of utility complementing the car’s sporty performance.