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 Anonymous on Sunday, July 20, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 11,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "M y first Beemer, but not likely my last."
Cons: "It is too nice - I can't bear to raw-hide it."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Looks great. Gets lots of compliments. The sticker said I'd get 42-mpg, but so far its sticking to 46-mpg. The only problem I've encountered is the owners manuals are written for German engineers - not ordinary people. Still haven't figured out how to make a button for a radio station or gps location. Finally got the gps to show the map the way I was driving and not always oriented north."
By Joe on Tuesday, July 15, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 15,000overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "Driving Dynamics, Navigation System"
Cons: "Requires a lot of maintenance, Customer Service"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"Definitely a fun to drive car. Engine is great, and power comes on strong, especially for a turbo 4 cylinder. Interior and exterior design is one of the best. The navigation screen is big and navigation system is easy to use, though can have issues when communicating with Apple devices. Suspension is soft, and really takes the harshness out of the NYC roads. Vehicle broke down numerous times, and there were multiple issues with the plastic interior falling apart. Required many trips to the dealer. Customer service was not very helpful. Parts are hard to come by (due to so many issues), and I ended up waiting a month for a new engine part."
By Yakamatsu on Wednesday, July 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 5,000overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "Handling, Looks, Acceleration with great MPG."
Cons: "Storage - What Storage, Bluetooth, Auto Shutoff"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 3
"I leased a 2014 BMW 320i after spending more than a year looking at alternatives. I came very close to leasing an Audi and considered Lexus, Mercedes, Infinity, etc.. As an owner of two previous Bimmers (1995 525i and 1994 318i) and additional German cars (2 Porsches), I had very high expectations. I have to say that I love and hate this car. I love the handling characteristics, great mpg with the 4 cylinder turbo, the pickup even in "Eco" mode. I'm annoyed by run-flat tires, lack of rear seats that fold down, and the failure of the stereo system. The BMW engineers have decided to have multiple , folding rear seats with no options for a real spare. I found out after purchase that in order to play songs from my iphone, I have to have two cables, both that I had to purchase. I recently rented a very similiar California 328i, which Bluetooth'd my iphone in minutes...no cables. BMW, really? Why the different options? My dealership tells me this is a "Hardware" upgrade. OMG. This may be the stupidest bit of engineering in Bimmer history. I have base model Kias, Toyotas ,Fords, Hyundais via rental car companies. All of them linked up quickly to my iphone. How tough is this? Also, BMW in their infinite wisdom decided to install run-flats on all bimmers (at least all 3-series). Recently, I get a notice of low pressure on a tire including a warning message not to drive over 50 mph. That'll get your attention. So I take it to the dealer who tells me that I have a nail in the tread. I told them to fix it. They replied, it would cost $230 for a new tire. Seriously? And now I read BMW doesn't recommend tire rotation. Wow. I still own my 525i...lacks bells and whistles of the new cars, but so solid and better than the new over engineered cars."
7 people out of 12 found this review helpful
By Hal on Wednesday, June 18, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 32,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Looks, interior, handling, power"
Cons: "gas mileage,"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I purchased my 328i Sedan from a local dealer used. Vehicle is very nice loaded with prem pkg, lthr, sunroof, etc.(no GPS) my only reservation is the gas mileage. Around town 16-18 mpg and highway 24-25 mpg, was hoping for better around town with prem. gas required. I do the math every time I fill up and I am not heavy footed. Otherwise very happy with the vehicle."
11 people out of 21 found this review helpful
By DMac on Saturday, May 31, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 17,300overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fuel economy, power, handling, seat comfort."
Cons: "Price of BMWs, run flat tires, BMW Apps worthless"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The ActiveHybrid 3 has been a great car. I get 38 to 42 mpg on freeway trips averaging 70 miles per hour. My city mileage, which is about 85% of my driving gets about 25 mpg. My overall average for 17,000 miles has been 28 mpg with an average speed on the computer of only 28 miles per hour. The car is smooth and very powerful and handles very well. There is nothing like the BMW straight six for strong pull and smoothness. Auto magazines really don't get this car, but those of us who want power and great fuel economy do. While the sticker price of the car is higher than a 335i, BMW has subvented the lease so the monthly payment for and Activehybrid 3 is about the same as a 335i while the fuel economy is much better. You get the benefits of a 335i with the fuel economy of a four cylinder Accord. The only down side of the car is the run flat tires, which are very harsh in urban driving. Also, I would not pay for the BMW apps or electronics package again as the Nav system and apps are pretty worthless. The seats are great, the stereo is great and I have been very happy with this car."
5 people out of 13 found this review helpful
By Thomas on Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 750overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Comfortable, handing, look, joy to drive!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I just bought my dream car, and so far I have zero regrets! It is just smooth, and an absolute pleasure to drive."
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful