By Scott Oldham -- Contributing Editor
KBB Expert Rating: 9.2
It was the BMW 3 Series that first gave credibility to the Ultimate Driving Machine. And not just the long-running advertising slogan. For over 40 years, the 3 Series has been the prototypical sports sedan and the heart and soul of BMW. Ask people to name an entry-level luxury-sports sedan and for most it’s the car that still comes to mind. Now available in many forms, from an all-wheel-drive sedan to a sports wagon, a hatchback, plug-in hybrid and the tire-burning high-performance M3, there's a 3 Series for every buyer. The 2017 3 Series remains a sporty, versatile and efficient luxury car with instant badge appeal, but sophisticated rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Jaguar XE and Audi A4 continue to increase competition.
In addition to its well-regarded driving dynamics and luxurious appointments, the 2017 BMW 3 Series delivers image, style and comfort as well as high levels of refinement and safety. On the practical side, the wagon and Gran Turismo hatchback variants grant crossover-SUV-like cargo room and the nimble manners of a sedan.
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A new 4-cylinder engine brings new nomenclature; the 330i replaces the 328i. An all-new 6-cylinder engine does the same higher in the lineup with the 335i being replaced by the 340i. There are also trim and color tweaks, including the M Sport Package becoming standard on 340i models.
Every 2017 BMW 3 Series focuses on driving pleasure. It’s a trait that puts them at or near the top of the segment in terms of ride and handling. They’re...
... all fast and fun to drive. Even the entry-level 320i with its 180-horsepower 4-cylinder engine hits 0-60 mph in a fleet 7.1 seconds, while the 180-horsepower diesel-powered 328d is just a tick slower but manages over 40 mpg. The new 248-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine in the 330i is powerful and efficient, and will more than satisfy most drivers. The new turbocharged 6-cylinder in the 340i makes 320 horsepower, has a broad powerband, and sounds great, too. The 8-speed automatic transmission is sublime, and the optional 6-speed manual transmission is a joy. The top M3 is track-ready and cooler than Fonzie on his best day, but its dual-clutch automatic transmission is rough. Go with the manual.
WAGON, HATCH VARIANTS
Most buyers associate the BMW 3 Series with a sedan, but BMW's most popular model is also available as a Sports Wagon and a hatchback called Gran Turismo. Both offer extra room and practicality but retain the lively driving manners the 3 Series is famous for.
BMW's new turbocharged 2.0-liter is one of the best 4-cylinder engines on the planet. It's smooth and powerful, with 248 horsepower on tap for 0-60-mph blasts under six seconds, and efficient with a fuel-economy rating that reaches 34 mpg on the highway. It's the best of both worlds.
BMW interiors are never overly ornate and the interior of the new BMW 3 Series is simple, elegant and minimalistic in design. It also beautifully assembled with tight fits and upscale materials. Seat comfort is exceptional as is the driving position. The gauges are clear and concise. 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 Sports Wagon and Gran Turismo models offer sizable cargo-hauling advantages over sedan-only rivals like the Lexus IS and Mercedes C-Class.
This is simply one of the most attractive cars on the road. With short overhangs and a low, wide stance, the 2017 BMW 3 Series just looks athletic. It looks like it’s fun to drive. It’s a completely modern design, but there are enough links to previous generations, including the signature twin-kidney grille, that even casual observers know they're looking at a BMW. The more rotund Gran Turismo is an acquired taste, while the Sports Wagon is universally admired, and the bulging, scooped and flared skin of the macho M3 hints at the potency below its domed hood.
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 2017 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 on the 2017 3 Series are extensive and pricey. However, many are worth the investment, including the Surround View camera, a hands-free power trunklid that opens by waving your foot under the bumper, navigation, a head-up display, and adaptive cruise control. The sport seats, aerodynamic enhancements, suspension tuning, and lightweight wheels of the M Sport Package (now standard on the 340i) help bridge the performance gap between lesser models and the fire-breathing M3. All-wheel drive (AWD) is available on many models in lieu of rear-wheel drive (RWD), although not on the M3, and is standard on the wagon and Gran Turismo.
The 2017 BMW 3 Series lineup offers three 4-cylinder turbocharged engines: a 2.0-liter in the 320i, a more powerful version in the 330i, and a 2.0-liter turbodiesel. Then there’s the new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 in 340i models, and the twin-turbo version in the M3, which makes 425 horsepower. 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 last year was 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: 23/35 mpg (manual), 23/35 mpg (automatic), 23/34 mpg (AWD)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (330i)
248 horsepower @ 5,000-6,000 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/32 mpg (manual), 23/34 mpg (automatic), 23/33 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)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (330i xDrive Gran Turismo)
248 horsepower @ 5,000-6,000 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/32 mpg (manual), 23/33 mpg (automatic), 23/33 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (340i 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: 19/29 mpg (manual), 21/32 mpg (automatic), 19/29 mpg (manual, AWD), 21/31 mpg (automatic, AWD)
Turbocharged inline-4+ electric motor (330e plug-in hybrid)
248 horsepower (combined)
310 lb-ft of torque (combined)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 30 mpg (combined city/highway)
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)
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The least expensive 3 Series is the 320i sedan with a manual transmission, its Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting around $35,000, with 6-cylinder 340i variants beginning just under $49,000. The high-performance BMW M3 begins over $65,000. Wagon and Gran Turismo hatchbacks start in the mid-$40,000 range and the plug-in hybrid 330e starts around $45,500. All-wheel drive is available on most models and adds about $2,000. At these levels most 3 Series models 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.