By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating: 9.3
Think of an entry-level luxury sedan and the BMW 3 Series will probably come to mind. With over 40 years of history, this compact sports sedan has cemented itself in the psyche of aspirational buyers. In that time it has grown in power, stature and efficiency, and now boasts a vast lineup. From an all-wheel-drive sedan to a sports wagon, Gran Turismo hatchback, plug-in hybrid and the tarmac-eating M3, there's a 3 Series for every buyer. The 2016 3 Series remains a sporty, versatile and efficient luxury car with instant badge appeal, but sophisticated rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS and Audi A4 are right on the BMW's tail or – depending on your preferences – ahead of its twin-kidney grille.
In addition to its well-regarded driving dynamics, handsome design and surprising efficiency, the 3 Series boasts the intangible but nevertheless enviable image of success for whoever is driving it. On the practical side, the wagon and Gran Turismo variants grant crossover-SUV-like cargo room and the nimble manners of a sedan.
The BMW 3 Series is no longer the de facto choice for up-and-comers. The latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the next-gen Audi A4 pack more technology and amenities. The 3 Series' price tag has the tendency to soar, and driving purists bemoan this generations' softening dynamics compared to past models.
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The 2016 BMW 3 Series lineup expands again with the 330e, the first plug-in hybrid 3 Series. It effectively replaces the ActiveHybrid. Also new is the 340i, with a fresh 6-cylinder engine. The rest of the lineup receives redesigned electric power steering and chassis enhancements that include new front struts.
All 2016 BMW 3 Series put a focus on driving pleasure, a trait that puts them at or near the top of the segment in terms of ride and handling....
... The 240-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine is powerful and efficient, and will more than satisfy most drivers. Even the entry-level 320i with its 180 ponies hits 0-60 mph in a fleet 7.1 seconds, while the diesel 328d is just a tick slower but attains over 40 mpg. The new turbocharged 6-cylinder in the 340i carries forth BMW's legacy of terrific inline-6 engines. It has broad power and sounds great, too. The 8-speed automatic transmission is sublime, and the optional manual transmission is a joy. Our biggest nit is the electric power steering, which feels number than past models. The top M3 remains a track-ready pavement-pounder, but its automatic transmission is rough. Do it right and go with the manual.
WAGON, HATCH VARIANTS
Most buyers associate the BMW 3 Series with a sedan, coupe or convertible (the latter pair now the 4 Series), but BMW's compact car is also available as a Sports Wagon and Gran Turismo, a taller riding hatchback with a cool name. Both offer extra room but retain lively driving manners.
BMW's force-fed 2.0-liter is one of the best 4-cylinders available. It's powerful, with 240 horsepower on tap for 0-60-mph blasts under six seconds, and efficient with a fuel-economy rating that reaches 35 mpg on the highway. It's the best of both worlds.
BMW says its latest 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, putting them in easy reach. The sedans have acceptable legroom in the second row, and it's downright impressive in the larger 3 Series Gran Turismo. 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 2016 BMW 3 Series' link to its past is easily seen when you line up the generations side-by-side. Even casual observers know they're looking at a BMW, and today's slightly longer and taller 3 Series differentiates itself by adding more defined character lines and creases, along with a visual connection between the headlights and the signature twin-kidney grille. The more rotund Gran Turismo is an acquired taste, while the aggressively styled M3 hints at the potent powertrain below its skin. All in all, the latest 3 Series retains a handsome skin that mercifully shies away from the trend of gaping grilles.
At its most basic, 320i models come with BMW's faux leather upholstery (SensaTec), manually adjustable front seats, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, a 9-speaker audio system with a 6.5-inch LCD display, USB port, Bluetooth music streaming and HD Radio. Safety features standard on every 2016 BMW 3 Series include 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. New BMWs also include four years/50,000 miles of no-cost scheduled maintenance and four years/unlimited miles of roadside assistance.
Options for the 2016 3 Series are both extensive and pricey. 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, 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. All-wheel drive (AWD) is available on many models in lieu of rear-wheel drive (RWD), and is standard in the wagon and Gran Turismo.
The 2016 BMW 3 Series lineup offers three 4-cylinder turbos: a 2.0-liter in the 320i, a more powerful version in the 328i, and a turbodiesel. There’s the new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 in 340i models, and the twin-turbo version in the M3. The 335i Gran Turismo retains the previous-gen 6-cylinder. Most models can be ordered with a 6-speed manual transmission or an 8-speed automatic. The M3 comes with the manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. New for 2016 is the 330e plug-in hybrid, which pairs an electric motor and a turbocharged 4-cylinder for 25 miles on battery power alone or total range of 373 miles. Most 3 Series models come with a fuel-saving stop/start feature. Unfortunately it shudders when the engine restarts and thankfully can be deactivated.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (320i)
180 horsepower @ 5,000-6,250 rpm
200 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/36 mpg (manual), 24/36 mpg (automatic), 23/35 mpg (AWD)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (328i)
240 horsepower @ 5,000-6,000 rpm
255 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/34 mpg (manual), 23/35 mpg (automatic), 22/34 mpg (AWD),
2.0-liter turbocharged diesel inline-4 (328d)
180 horsepower @ 4,000 rpm
280 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-2,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 32/42 mpg, 30/40 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (335i xDrive Gran Turismo)
300 horsepower @ 5,800-6,000 rpm
300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/30 mpg
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (340i sedan)
320 horsepower @ 5,500-6,500 rpm
330 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/30 mpg (manual), 22/33 mpg (automatic), 20/29 (manual, AWD)
Turbocharged 4-cylinder + electric motor (330e plug-in hybrid)
248 horsepower (combined)
310 lb-ft of torque (combined)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 (M3)
425 horsepower @ 5,500-7,300 rpm
406 lb-ft of torque @ 1,850-5,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/26 mpg (manual), 17/24 mpg (automatic)
The least expensive 3 Series is the 320i, with a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting around $34,000. The more powerful 328i begins just over $39,000. From there prices only rise, with 6-cylinder 340i variants beginning just under $47,000. The BMW M3 performance model begins over $64,000. Wagon and the Gran Turismo hatchbacks start in the low- to mid-$40,000 range. At these levels the majority of 3 Series are in line with small luxury-sedan rivals like the Lexus IS, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti Q50 and the all-new Jaguar XE. For comparison values, check out the Acura TLX, while the Volvo S60 comes with impressive safety features for less money. Before buying, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to find out what others in your area are paying for their 3 Series. The 3 Series has typically enjoyed good but not class-leading resale value.