• Munich's driving machine returns to the ultimate sports sedan neighborhood
  • More standard features and power for the same price as the previous model
  • Prices start at $40,250, plus $995 in destination charges
  • 330i (rear-wheel drive) and 330i xDrive (all-wheel drive) arrive in early 2019
  • Awesome 6-cylinder M340i sDrive and xDrive models coming in the summer


There's an all-new 2019 BMW 3 Series coming in the first quarter of 2019, and a few good, hard drives later, we're happy to report that the German carmaker's entry-level compact sedan is through going soft.

With time spent in the new 330i (the rear-wheel drive iteration) on the hilly roads of Portugal, and in the camo-dressed, "coming later in the year" M340i xDrive (all-wheel drive) at the Algarve International Circuit racetrack, it's obvious where BMW spent its money: under the hood and at the four corners of the 5-passenger sedan.

This is the best driver's 3 Series to come along in quite a few years, so rest easier if you've been worrying yourself about finding a Bavarian 4-door with enough track wit and spirit to distinguish it from the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. To misquote Shakespeare, BMW "has remembered itself" with the 2019 BMW 3 Series, and that means an engaging presence and quicker lap times wrapped in an elegant, but uncomplicated design.

The performance heart of the 3 Series

Lighter than before and obsessed with turning and burning on interesting driving roads, the 2019 330i's powerplant is an upgraded version of last year's 2.0-liter twin-scroll-turbocharged 4-cylinder. Delivering a class-competitive 255 horsepower and cranking out an impressive 295 lb-ft of torque throughout the lower range of the powerband, the engine rolls on power smoothly, building speed much like BMW's motorcycle engines. As it now sprints, the 330i will get to 60 mph in well under 6.0 seconds according to BMW. That's not earth-quaking, but neither will it give you any reason to complain while accelerating or passing.

Standard on every 2019 3 Series is a newly developed suspension system that employs, for the first time, what BMW calls a lift-related mechanical shock-absorber design. In brief, this design uses a tapered inner sleeve within the shocks to vary the hydraulic damping firmness and reduce body movement depending on the load that the shock encounters. This control works to improve both ride comfort and cornering.

The test vehicles we drove were all equipped with the $5,000 M Sport Package, which is a must-have option for those determined to own every road they drive. The M Sport Package not only brings more dynamic capability to the new 3 Series with the M Sport suspension, but also enhances the car's exclusivity with aerodynamic exterior and interior trim choices, a saucisson-sausage-thick steering wheel, fog lights, cornering lights, and even lumbar support for the sport seats and a blind-spot warning system. This setup also replaces the standard 18-inch wheel/tire combination with exclusive 19-inch wheel choices and lower-profile tires, and lowers the 3 Series by nearly half an inch.

On the road, we noted both the dual qualities of comfort and the cornering with the M Sport suspension, which maintained the balance between ride and handling whether the drive-mode selector choice was Comfort or Sport. At the track, however the available $700 Adaptive M suspension gave us a chance to take full advantage of the Sport Plus drive mode. This option's electronically controlled shock absorbers allow the 3 Series to enjoy even greater differences between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, as well as the customizable Individual mode.

Driving the new 3 Series

The good news with the new 330i, however, is that if you're a first-year associate attorney and just want to own a BMW sedan to make a statement about your intended trajectory to own the firm, this car has you covered. Its long hood promises a performance car with a patina of elegance, and the 330i sedan's personality makes good on that oath. It rides evenly on all surfaces, and the 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission takes care of the 4-cylinder engine, upshifting and artfully rev-matching on downshifts (shift paddles on the steering wheel are included if you need to feel more involved).

In the next moment, if you want to make quick work through a snaky stretch of lonely 2-lane, the 330i's engine, transmission, steering and suspension will give you all they've got, responding as one to raise your pulse as little as possible and give you a clean trip and a grin when the fun-run is over. The bolder M Sport brakes bit quick and strong – as opposed to firm and smooth, as some might prefer – but they fulfilled their purpose and were absent any signs of fade or indecision even after a hard hour of twisting, high-speed road-work.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

A simple interior

By design, the interior of the BMW 3 Series is simple. A little too simple, in fact, as we drove the most expensive versions of the car that BMW has to offer, and very little of that interior bored itself into our psyches other than the attractive shape of the firm form sport seats. On the plus side, the cockpit was superbly quiet in the city and remained so up to about highway speeds when some road thrum began to sneak in.

Nearly 3 inches longer than the outgoing 3 Series, the new car gains a whiff of rear legroom, just enough that adult passengers – even those in the 6-foot range – will be comfortable. Trunk volume has expanded to around 17 cubic feet and if you need more, the 20-40-20 split fold-down rear seats are ready to accommodate.

3 Series technology and safety

BMW is still running behind the pack when it comes to in-car tech. A new 8.8-inch touch-screen display comes standard, but many features – including Apple CarPlay – cost extra as part of an option package. That's not a good sign when a number of non-luxury carmakers make both CarPlay and Android Auto standard. To its credit, however, BMW's new 7.0 operating system does feature a number of redundant controls to allow the driver and front-seat passenger a number of ways to interact with the infotainment system.

New on the 3 Series, optional BMW Personal Assistant can be awakened by saying "Hey BMW" (or you can name it yourself). Once awake, you can ask the Personal Assistant a fairly wide variety of questions about everything from how your car and its features work, to changing your heat or AC settings. Not surprisingly, Personal Assistant also gives you voice command over your navigation and audio systems. Unfortunately, this system is only in its early stages, and BMW's folks told us that a number of upgrades were in the works. The good news is that those upgrades can be imported as they become available via your smartphone using the BMW Connected app.

It's surprising how many luxury carmakers these days withhold many advanced safety systems, while many mainstream manufacturers are competing to make such safety standard equipment at every level. BMW falls into the former category with the 2019 3 Series, offering collision/pedestrian/bicyclist automatic braking and lane-departure warning as standard, but keeping blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and a host of other safety features relegated to no fewer than four separate option packages.

Worth waiting for: the BMW M340i

Coming to America as a 2020 model, the BMW M340i is worth waiting for. This was the car that we got to take to the track, equipped with the Adaptive M suspension and all-wheel drive. With 382 horsepower – up 62 from last year's model – available at will, this 3 Series shrank the distance between the corners at the Algarve Circuit and tightened every turn like it was being shrink-wrapped. While the rest of the world can only have the all-wheel drive M340i xDrive, U.S. buyers can choose to go rear-drive in their 340i by moving their preference to the M340i sDrive. Big note: If you want to get the most performance out of any new 3 Series, we can't more strongly recommend getting the xDrive version.

2019 Car Reviews: First takes on new models

So how much does the 2019 BMW 3 Series cost?

The absolute final equipment list for the 2019 330i models may still get a few minor revisions before the sedan is released early next year. What BMW has committed to, though, is pricing that stays put vis a vis 2018s. That means the rear-wheel-drive 330i will start at $41,245 – including the $995 destination charge – with all-wheel drive adding $2,000 to the cost of a 330i xDrive.

As for the 2020 BMW M340i – scheduled to brighten up our days next summer – that should start at about the $55,000 mark for the M340i sDrive and near $57,000 for the xDrive version.

Beyond that, we expect to see a 330e plug-in hybrid version of the new 3 Series appearing stateside in 2020. That PHEV sedan is expected to have a 37-mile electric-only range.

 

2019 BMW 330i ($40,250, plus $995 destination charge)

TwinPower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine
– 255 horsepower @ 5,000-6,500 rpm
– 295 lb-ft of torque @ 1,550-4,400 rpm

8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission

18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with run-flat tires

Power-adjustable front sport seats

Dynamic Cruise Control with automatic acceleration/braking functions

8.8-inch touch-screen display

Voice-activated BMW Personal Assistant

Moonroof

LED headlights and ambient cabin lighting

Collision and pedestrian/bicyclist warning system with automatic braking

Lane-departure warning

2019 BMW 330i xDrive ($42,250, plus $995 destination charge)

All of the above plus: All-wheel drive

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