The BMW 3 Series has set the standard for entry-level luxury sport sedans for more than 30 years. Atop the heap it has remained, despite the efforts of age-old rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, and new challenges from the Lexus IS and Cadillac ATS. Part of the magic is the wide variety of configurations available. Last year, BMW unveiled the 320i model, which brings the 3 Series prestige to a more value oriented shopper. On the other end, this year hails the introduction of the 2015 BMW M3, the 5th-generation of the highest-performance 3 Series you can buy. Need more utility? There's the 3 Series Sports Wagon and Gran Turismo hatchback. If fuel economy is your thing, there are also hybrid and diesel models available.
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If you want a practical luxury sport sedan that delivers on driving involvement regardless of the model you pick, then the 2015 BMW 3 Series should be at the top of your list. While there are alternatives from Lexus, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, none are as coveted by enthusiasts.
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While the BMW 3 Series offers a lot, the familiar design and high price can be off-putting. The 2015 Lexus IS offers polarizing style, and the 2015 Cadillac ATS is a surprisingly fun and less expensive alternative. Of course, there's always the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The biggest news is the 2015 BMW M3, a 425-horsepower high-performance model that forgoes some luxury coddling in the name of going fast. The rest of the BMW 3 Series lineup gets a few minor tweaks, with standard Bluetooth audio streaming being the most noteworthy.
Driving the M3
It's hard to talk about the 2015 BMW 3 Series without paraphrasing the Bavarian automaker's famous tagline. These cars – from the base 320i to the all-conquering M3 – put...
... a focus on driving pleasure, a trait that consistently puts them at or near the top of the segment in terms of ride and handling. The lone exception is the Gran Turismo hatchback, which isn't as nimble as its smaller, lighter siblings. The 335i's turbocharged 6-cylinder is good for 5.4-second 0-60 bursts, but the turbo-4 in the 328i is only about a half-second slower. The 320i gets to 60 mph in a still-quick 7.1 seconds. Even the diesel is no slouch, but it's the 2015 M3, with its 0-60 mph time of less than four seconds, that holds top bragging rights. Most 3 Series models come with a fuel-saving stop/start feature. Unfortunately it shudders when the engine restarts – luckily, you can deactivate it.
BMW APPS Among the apps iPhone users can use through the BMW Apps feature – apps like Glympse location sharing data, and audio books from Audible – BMW added a new feature: full integration with the GoPro camera app, including the ability to preview your video, and control the camera through iDrive.
SURROUND VIEW SYSTEM We're starting to think that a 360-degree camera-view around a car should be standard equipment on everything. The BMW 3 Series has one of the better systems, offering the birds-eye view plus a selectable Side View function, letting you monitor traffic crossing in front of the car.
2015 BMW M3 Details
BMW says its 2015 3 Series interior is "straight out of the BMW design handbook." That translates to a straightforward look with tight fits, simple shapes and upscale materials. The center controls are angled toward the driver by seven degrees, putting them in easy reach. The spacious cabin offers more rear legroom than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS and Infiniti Q50. The driver and front passenger can use the console-mounted iDrive controller, and both can easily see the high-resolution central screen. The Sports Wagon and Gran Turismo models offer sizable cargo-hauling advantages over sedan-only rivals like the Lexus IS.
The 2015 BMW 3 Series' link to its past is easily seen when you line the generations up side-by-side. Even casual observers know they're looking at a BMW, and today's slightly longer and taller 3 Series 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 hunchbacked Gran Turismo is an acquired taste, while the aggressively styled M3 hints at the beast that lies below its skin.
Base 320i models come with leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, manually adjustable front seats, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, a 9-speaker sound system with a 6.5-inch LCD display, a USB port and Bluetooth music streaming, and HD Radio. For less money, the less-expensive Acura TSX and Audi A4 offer power front seats and leather as standard fare. Safety features standard on every 2015 BMW 3 Series model consist of eight airbags, active head restraints to help reduce the severity of whiplash injuries, and impact sensors that unlock the doors, activate the hazard lights, and shut down electrical systems after a collision.
In typical BMW fashion, the options list for the 2015 3 Series is both extensive and pricey, making it fairly easy to push even the entry-level 320i into the $45,000 range. However, some features are worth their weight in gold, including the Surround View camera, a hands-free power trunklid that opens by waving your foot under the bumper, and navigation with programmable waypoints, a head-up display, and adaptive cruise control 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
The 2015 BMW 3 Series lineup offers six different possible engines, and can be had with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Three of the engines are 4-cylinders: a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in 320i, a more powerful version in the 328i, and a 4-cylinder diesel. Then there's the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 in 335i models, and the twin-turbo version in the M3. Finally, there's the ActiveHybrid, with its 6-cylinder married to a 55-hp electric motor. Most can be ordered with either a 6-speed manual transmission or an 8-speed automatic. The M3 comes with the manual gearbox or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. The diesel models pack nearly the same low-end torque as the 6-cylinder, but with significant fuel economy benefits.
The 2015 BMW 3 Series sedans start at a reasonable-sounding $33,500 for the 320i, while the more powerful 2015 328i starts at around $38,300, and the 6-cylinder 335i starts at about $45,000. Diesel power costs nearly $40,000, and if you're a hybrid fan, you'll need to bring nearly $51,000. If you want an all-wheel-drive sedan, add around $2,000, depending on the model. Sports Wagon models start at $43,000 – add $1,000 for diesel. The Gran Turismo hatchback is about $43,000, with the 6-cylinder adding $4,000. That 2015 M3 will set you back a whopping (and worth it) $63,000 or so. Options push the price up quickly, with a fully loaded 3 Series topping similarly equipped versions of the Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS and Audi A4. Only the Lexus bests the 3 Series at resale time. Take a look at KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see current transaction prices in your area.