For more than 30 years, the BMW 3 Series has set the standard for entry-level luxury sedans. Despite the best efforts of age-old rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Lexus IS, the 3 Series continues on as the undisputed benchmark in the category. This level of dominance is owed in large part to the variety of configurations that comprise the 3 Series line, including the multifaceted Sport Wagon, a fuel-sipping diesel, and an all-new Gran Turismo hatchback. To make the nameplate more accessible, the newly available 320i trim delivers 3 Series prestige at a buyer-friendly price. As for coupe and convertible versions, they will migrate to the forthcoming 4 Series platform, leaving the 2014 BMW 3 Series with an all-4-door portfolio. This is the story of why we named it one of the 10 Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000 for 2014.
You'll Like This Car If...
Automotive purists on the prowl for the most enthusiast-oriented sports sedan on the market need look no further than the 2014 BMW 3 Series. Although entries from Acura, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz are certainly advanced, well-equipped 3 Series models hold the edge when it comes to the latest in-car tech.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If value, style, and quality trump handling dynamics on your list of priorities, the new-for-2014 Lexus IS deserves your consideration. Other noteworthy alternatives include the sporty Cadillac ATS, the well-rounded Audi A4, and the popular Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Two-door versions of the latest 3 Series platform are set to arrive in showrooms later this year under the new 4 Series designation. In addition, a new 4-door hatchback variant dubbed the Gran Turismo joins the roster.
Driving the 3 Series
A major element of 3 Series appeal is their driving dynamics. They consistently perform at or near the top of their segment in terms of ride and handling. The exception...
... is the bigger, heavier Gran Turismo hatchback, which isn't as nimble as its siblings. The 3 Series' fuel-saving stop/start feature shudders during engine shutdown, and again when the system restarts. Drivers can deactivate stop/start by pressing a button on the dash each time they start the car. The delightfully torque-rich turbo-6 is good for 5.4-second 0-60 bursts, but the surprising turbo-4 is only about a half-second slower. The down-powered 320i gets to 60 mph in roughly 7.1 seconds. The diesel engine delivers strong performance and excellent fuel economy. As a bonus, the twin-scroll turbocharger used on all powerplants is virtually free of turbo lag. In late 2014, the next-generation BMW M3 will arrive.
BMW APPS iPhone users can access a number of popular mobile applications like Glympse location sharing data, audio books by Audible, and TuneIn radio via the standard navigation system display and iDrive controls. BMW Apps can even read aloud Twitter and Facebook feeds.
SURROUND VIEW SYSTEM Cameras in the outside mirrors provide a bird's-eye top view of the area around the car to aid maneuvering in tight spaces, while the selectable Side View function uses cameras in the sides of the front bumper to monitor traffic crossing in front of the car.
2014 BMW 3 Series Details
BMW calls its 2014 3 Series interior "straight out of the BMW design handbook," meaning an uncomplicated look with tight fits, simple shapes and upscale materials. The cockpit, angled toward the driver by seven degrees, presents important controls within easy reach. Overall, the cabin is quite spacious, and the rear quarters offer more legroom than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS and Infiniti Q50. The console-mounted iDrive controller is handy to both driver and front passenger, and its freestanding central screen boasts an HDTV-like trans-reflective, high-resolution display. On the practicality front, 3 Series Sport Wagon and Gran Turismo models maintain a sizable advantage over their sedan-only rivals like the Lexus IS and Infiniti G when it comes to hauling cargo.
When BMW's 1977 3 Series replaced the respected but ungainly 2002, its styling was a pleasant surprise. Thirty-six years later, its evolving design has never again surprised, and that's a good thing. Line up all six generations, and the evolution is so apparent that even casual observers have no doubt what it is. Today's slightly longer and taller model differentiates itself mostly by adding more defined character lines and creases, along with a visual connection between the headlights and the marque's signature twin-kidney grilles. The Gran Turismo hatchback, on the other hand, is an acquired taste.
Straight out of the box, base 320i trims come equipped with leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, manually adjustable front seats, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, and a 9-speaker sound system with a 6.5-inch LCD display, a USB port, and HD Radio. For comparison, the less expensive Acura TSX and Audi A4 offer power front seats and leather as standard fare. Safety features standard on every 2014 BMW 3 Series model consist of eight airbags, active head rests to help reduce the severity of whiplash injuries, and impact sensors that unlock the doors, activate the hazard lights, and disengage potentially hazardous electrical systems in the event of a collision.
In typical BMW fashion, the options list for the 2014 3 Series is both extensive and pricey. Features we feel are worth their weight in gold include the above-mentioned Surround View camera, a hands-free power trunklid that opens by waving your foot under the bumper, navigation with programmable waypoints, a head-up display that projects pertinent driving information onto the windshield, and adaptive cruise control designed to maintain a preselected distance behind the vehicle ahead. The sport seats, aerodynamic enhancements, suspension tuning, and lightweight wheels of the available M Sport Package help bridge the performance gap between the standard 3 Series and the fire-breathing M3.
Under the Hood
Two turbocharged gasoline engines are offered in 2014 3 Series lineup: A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in 320i and 328i models (detuned in the 320i) and the 3.0-liter inline-6 in 335i models. Both engines drive the rear or all four wheels through a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission. Diesel models get a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that packs nearly the same low-end torque as the 6-cylinder, but with significant fuel economy benefits. The ActiveHybrid 3 marries a 55-hp electric motor (packaged inside the 8-speed automatic housing and driven by a lithium-ion battery) to the turbo-6 for a combined 335 hp (not the sum of both peak outputs, since both engine and motor can't operate at max power simultaneously).
The entry-level 2014 BMW 320i carries a rather palatable mid-$33,000 starting price, while 328i models begin just over $37,000. The diesel-powered 328d starts just under $40,000, and the range-topping 335i trims check in right around $44,000. All-wheel drive (AWD) adds $2,000 to the price of any sedan, and is standard equipment on the Sport Wagon and Gran Turismo. Sport Wagon models start at around $42,000, while the base Gran Turismo starts at around $41,500. With all option boxes checked, the 2014 3 Series tops out close to $61,000. Fully-loaded versions of the Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS and Audi A4 are slightly less expensive than the 3 Series. Only the Lexus bests the 3 Series at resale time. If the 2014 BMW 3 Series is the right car for you, take a look at KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see current transaction prices in your area.
Cons: "a/c a bit noisy, nav/ent not so user friendly"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Owned it almost a year, though no so many miles. Time will tell on reliability, but otherwise this car is nearly perfect. I love how it drives: acceleration, handling, mileage on highway, smoothness and comfort, all terrific. I also love how it looks. The value for money is good too, for me (I don't understand people bashing cars with stuff like 'they charge too much for leather seats', you know that when you decide to buy).
The only minor negative items so far are that the air conditioner is somewhat noisy, and the nav/entertainment system is not that easy to figure out, so I haven't fully. Also we get ~1 mpg less than EPA city rating around town, though 2-3 more than EPA highway rating on long trips."
Cons: "Uncomfortable, noisy ride. bad visibility."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"I bought my 328i sedan new because i always wanted the "BMW Experience." The performance and handling of the car exceeded my expectations however, it started developing rattles and engine noise almost immediately. Something was loose in the right rear passenger space that rattled every time I went over a bump and i was never able to track it down. The car has a beautiful exterior but the interior is completely unremarkable, in fact, a bit poorly assembled and somewhat uncomfortable. The engine made a constant clacking noise that sounded like valve noise from the first day I owned it. The service people at BMW said it was normal fuel injector noise. Also, the most annoying thing about this car is it's automatic shutoff at stops. When the engine comes back on, the whole car quakes. The ride is noisy compared to middle of the line sedans like Honda or Toyota. For 40+ grand I guess I expected a bit more."
"Before this BMW, I owned a 2011 328I. Wish I never 'upgraded'. The engine sounds like a diesel, somewhat embarrassing. You pay for options which should be standard, like the leather. Really fake leather in a BMW, what are you paying for?? Look for used or wait until year end to get the best price. They do not hold their value whatsoever."