By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 8.5
The first iteration of an all-new, sixth-generation 3 Series – the 328i Sedan – lands in U.S. showrooms by February or March of 2012, but demand for the current generation shows no signs of abating. From its introduction in 1975, BMW's 3 Series has morphed into more variations than one might have imagined. Thankfully, BMW's original intent has remained the same: Provide driving enthusiasts with a dynamic platform wrapped in reasonable comfort and sitting on a responsible footprint. Prices are well north of where they started, luxury and electronics abound, but the guiding principles found in the first generation remain in the fifth gen. And note that the 3 Series sedan continues as a 2011 model until the first quarter of 2012, when the all-new sedan debuts as a 2012 model.
If you regard driving as both an "act" and an "art," you'll enjoy the 3 Series. After 35 years, BMW's volume model remains the defining example when consumers reference a "sport sedan." That is, a nimble, responsive chassis embodying most of the attributes of a Grand Tourer, but clothed in more upright, practical bodywork. Whether you opt for the 2-door Coupe, 4-door sedan or M3 Convertible, the 3 Series execution remains faithful to the 1975 concept. Of course, when looking at the M3, it's the 1975 concept on drugs.
As good as the 3 Series is, it's not for everyone. With rear-wheel drive, the handling on dry pavement is more balanced, but less secure when roads are wet, icy or snow-covered. And that same commitment to rear-wheel drive intrudes on interior room; most competitive sedans and wagons in the price segment opt for front- or all-wheel drive to better balance on-road dynamics with passenger accommodation. Finally, if you hold onto a car longer than the finance period – or warranty period – you'll find "German" typically more maintenance-intensive than Japanese or domestic alternatives.
While near the end of its product cycle, the 3 Series received a number of visual and functional updates in 2011. To that end, the existing models benefit from little more than fine-tuning. Notably, as of 2012 the M3 4-door is no more; this is a 3 Series variant those wanting to travel at 150 mph (with their kids) will certainly miss. Going forward, the new sedan makes its debut first, after which BMW will fill in the coupe, convertible and wagon gaps.
Driving Impressions BMW has been playing this particular game – sport sedan, coupe, convertible and (if you will) sport wagon – about as long as anyone. To that end, they have reduced...handling to an absolute science, with all driver inputs – steering, throttle and braking – perfectly executed, unless "driver error" rears its ugly head. A balanced platform, communicative steering, composed ride and ach du lieber braking serve as the benchmark in the 3 Series' competitive segment. Of course, the various powertrains all deliver specific characteristics. For most, the "cooking" 328i models will happily deliver capable performance at a more reasonable cost. Those demanding higher levels of performance or who may reside or drive at higher altitudes benefit from the added performance of the 335i. The V8-equipped M3 takes the equation, of course, just that much higher, with 414 horsepower beneath your right foot. And for those more bent on moderation than madcap motoring, the 335d can reliably deliver over 30 mpg on the highway.
6-Speed Manual Transmission
At a time when many manufacturers have simply given up on shift-for-yourself shifting, BMW continues to not only offer a 6-speed manual, but excel at its engineering, production and execution. Balanced with a clutch actuation that is seamless, the BMW six speed is one of the best arguments EVER for self-employment. And it's a shame BMW dealers don't keep more in their inventory.
We were inclined to suggest the base 3.0-liter six for its essential goodness, but defaulted to the TwinPower Turbo for its almost sublime explosiveness. And then we were reminded of rising fuel prices and the diesel's 36-mpg highway rating. With the thrust of a V8 and the economy of a four, it's the right powertrain for the car – and the obvious choice for the times.
Although today's 3 Series doesn't enjoy the greenhouse (glass area) of earlier generations, it remains an eminently hospitable perch for navigating today's traffic. And when you're not concerning yourself with surrounding traffic or scenery, you'll enjoy the comfortable access, relatively clean layout, informative instrumentation and high-quality materials. And despite BMW's iDrive having benefited from some recent streamlining and simplification, we continue to prefer a more conventional approach to ventilation and audio controls. Thankfully, that remains available at more modest trim levels.Exterior
No company, other than perhaps Porsche, has a better grasp of its design DNA than BMW. Today's 3 Series is immediately recognizable as a direct descendant of the first 3 Series, which arrived in the U.S. for the 1977 model year. And the design team accomplishes that with little or no reliance on retro influences, such as we see in much of today's ponycar fleet. That said, the 3 Series has grown dimensionally in each of its successive generations, and appears to be growing some more as the all-new 3 Series is launched next year. And the M3, now endowed with a V8, has lost most of the subtlety in its sheet metal...and all of its innocence.
In its base, $35,000 form BMW's 328i sedan is comprehensively equipped. Beyond its standard 230-horsepower DOHC 6-cylinder powertrain connected to a 6-speed manual transmission, the cooking 3 Series benefits from any number of functional enhancements, including Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control and 4-wheel disc brakes with Dynamic Brake Control. Outside, standard 16-inch alloys provide a contact patch, while inside dark burled-wood trim warms the interior, as does an AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player with HD radio. Standard automatic climate control cools it. Of course, going up the food chain increases the number of standard features – while exposing the customer to even more expensive options. The M3, as either a Coupe or Convertible, is loaded in stock form, and will accelerate a window sticker almost as quickly as a quarter mile.
We like the recent addition of the BMW Performance Power Kits to the menu of items available from your BMW dealer. You can now retrofit two versions of a performance add-on to your 6-cylinder 3 Series. BMW's Version 1 optimizing engine software, while Version 2 takes that software (adding 20 horsepower) and protects it via an auxiliary water cooler and an enhanced radiator fan. Costs are $599 and $1,199, respectively, plus the cost of labor. From BMW, of course, there are literally hundreds of ways to personalize your BMW, from comfort and convenience items to class-leading performance enhancements. Notably, on a great many models – even at window stickers north of $40,000 – leather remains an extra-cost option!
It used to be so easy. A "328" designation conveyed a 2.8-liter displacement, while the "335" would indicate a capacity of 3.5 liters. Despite a disconnect with the nomenclature, we won't argue with the results. The turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the new 328i Sedan is a sweetheart of an engine. The normally aspirated 3.0-liter in-line six in the 328i coupes, convertibles and xDrive sedans produces an ultra-smooth 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. The 3.0-liter six fitted to the 335i models boasts 300 turbocharged horsepower in standard guise, and 320 when you move up to the twin-turbo 335is – or opt for the Performance Power Kit. The 3.0-liter diesel, also an inline-6, offers a 36-mpg EPA rating on the highway and 50-state certification. All can propel you from zero to jail in an amazingly brief sprint, and hang out all day on the Autobahn – or your version of the Autobahn. And should you prefer an extended stay in prison, consider BMW's M3. With 414 horsepower from its 4.0-liter V8, this one delivers acceleration and top-end speed fully rivaling the more exotic – and restrictive – Sports/GTs.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
240 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm
255 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: na
328i Coupe / 328i Convertible / 328i xDrive Sedan /
328i Sports Wagon & 328i xDrive Sports Wagon
230 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
200 lb-ft of torque @ 2,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
328i Coupe: 18/28
328i Convertible: 17/26 (manual), 18/27 (automatic)
328i xDrive Sedan: 17/25 (manual), 17/26 (automatic)
328i Sports Wagon: 17/26 (manual and automatic)
328i xDrive Sports Wagon: 17/25
335i Sedan & 335i xDrive Sedan / 335i Coupe & 335i xDrive Coupe / 335i Convertible
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
300 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
335i Sedan: 17/26 (manual), 17/28 (auto)
335i xDrive Sedan: 16/25 (manual), 17/27 (automatic)
335i Coupe: 19/28 (all)
335i xDrive Coupe: 19/27 (manual), 18/27 (automatic)
335i Convertible: 19/28 (manual), 18/28 (automatic)
335is Coupe / 335is Convertible
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6
320 horsepower @ 5,900 rpm
332 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/26 (manual), 17/24 (DCT automatic)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 diesel
265 horsepower @ 4,200 rpm
425 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-2,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/36
M3 Coupe/M3 Convertible
414 horsepower @ 8,300 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 3,900 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
M3 Coupe: 14/20
M3 Convertible: 13/20 (manual), 14/20 (DCT automatic)
By Minnotte on Saturday, January 24, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 13,500overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Luxury and power well matched. My only gripe is the awkward shifting it makes at slow speeds when I first get going out of my driveway in the parking lot ...it seems to jolt. Next time I'm getting the smooth shifting 5 series."
By Dream reaper on Sunday, January 18, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 18,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "acceleration, build quality and fun to drive"
Cons: "storage, costly options, few standard features"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I've owned this vehicle for 19 months, and my overall impression is favorable. On the positive side, the car has exceptional build quality, a rigid chassis, powerful turbo charged 4 cylinder engine, and once the turbo gets spooled up, this thing runs like a hungry cheetah! On the down side, every option comes a la carte and at a premium cost. I live in New England, therefore I opted for the XDrive, cold weather pkg., Nav & leather seats, which stickered at over $46,000.00, yet no back-up camera- no reason for a car in this class not to have a backup camera standard. Also the steering is far too light, and not reminiscent of previous generation 3s. That said, this car is not about practicality. If that were the case, I would have purchased a Honda Accord. In the end, the car really is a joy to drive, sips gas, when I'm not putting my foot in it, and has been exceptionally reliable. Would I purchase another? YES!"
8 people out of 14 found this review helpful
By turk on Sunday, December 21, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 567overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"This is one of the noisiest vehicles I've ever driven. It comes with run-flat tires which make add to the dynamic noise. On concrete road surfaces, you can't hear yourself think. The nav/radio/info device is quirky. It works sometimes and not at other times. It changes from radio to nav information on its own. Sometimes the automatic trunk opening system works; sometimes not. The other day I walked past the back of the car and the trunk opened. It's opened twice on the road while the car was moving. Still, I don't know what I'd chose besides this car if the dealer offered to take it back. I guess I'd chose my old 2004 325!"
43 people out of 81 found this review helpful
By Lenny on Tuesday, December 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 36,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "The Ultimate Driving Machine"
Cons: "Not cheap."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My first BMW. Fast, comfortable, roomy, and excellent fuel economy. I commute 65 miles daily, and and impressed by the over 30 mpg mileage. Seat warmers, steering wheel warmer and awd make it a great winter car. Much roomier cabin than the previous 3 series(my wife has a 2011), faster and better mpg's, but steering lighter, not the same feel. Very reliable- only non scheduled maintenance was for a frozen fuel door and 2 flat tires."
24 people out of 39 found this review helpful
By Robert on Thursday, November 27, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun To Drive"
Cons: "Cost, unknown long term reliability"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My first BMW, and it has exceeded every lofty expectation I had for it. Smooth, endless power - great low end torque and horsepower. Good manual transmission; choosing that helps balance out the driving modes of the vehicle. I drive a good mix of urban highway and in town, not a lot of stop and go. MPG over 30 in 20,000 miles. While driving in Sport mode most of the time. Precision road feel, excellent vehicle dynamics. Recommend getting the adaptive suspension - it is like magic. Great looks, room for 4 adults in comfort for a long trip."
18 people out of 30 found this review helpful
By Chris on Saturday, November 22, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 4,100overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, comfortable"
Cons: "Interior materials could be better."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The 320i is a car that doesn't do very many things, but what it does do it does right. Some people might believe that the 320i is the "watered down" BMW for buyers that only want the badge, but that's the opinion of people that haven't yet owned one. It's feels just as balanced, it's just as sharp, and it's just as enjoyable as you'd expect a BMW sport sedan to be. My car does have the sport package that firms the car up a little, but it's still extremely comfortable to drive while giving the car a more sporty feel. Steering is on the lighter side due to the electric assist, but it's still very good and very sharp. The 320i is down on power from the 328i, but it doesn't feel underpowered at all. In everyday conditions, it feels very responsive and torquey down low with very little turbo lag. Honestly, it feels nearly as strong as the 328i in most driving conditions. It's only when you're driving hard do you realize how much less power the 320i has. It absolutely has more than enough power for most people. If you're looking for a sports sedan I believe it is the best bang for your buck not only in the 3-series line, but of any car in the small sports sedan class. Also, fuel economy is great with 27-28 mpg average. The interior is very nice, but it's kind of a mixed bag. Plenty of quality materials mixed with some cheaper materials that you wouldn't want to see in a luxury vehicle. Interior comfort and space is excellent for the class. Controls are easy to use for the most part, but you will spend some time learning how the iDrive system works. The car's interior is a very nice place to be overall. If there's one option that I think everyone should get, it would be the sport package. It isn't just rims and some black trim, it is a true sport package with a tighter sports suspension, a fantastic M sport steering wheel, better seats higher performance staggered rims and tires for about $1,500! That's a steal, perfect for someone that just wants to enjoy the driving experience and not spend $45,000+ on a car! Like I said, this car is everything you'd expect in a BMW 3 series but for several thousand dollars less."
21 people out of 29 found this review helpful