BMW's 3 Series has long been the benchmark against which other compact luxury sedans are measured. While it isn't quite as engaging to drive as its illustrious predecessors, the latest 3 Series does posses a polished interior and a well-tuned chassis along with no less than five different refined and efficient engine options.
Buyers looking for a sportier experience can opt for the 4 Series coupe, which replaces the old 3 Series coupe, while those in need of more cargo space can choose between the 3 Series Wagon and the controversially-styled 3 Series Gran Turismo.
For the latest model year, BMW has updated the 3 Series with new engines, and an available plug-in hybrid drivetrain. The sedan also receives a subtle facelift.
First introduced for the 2012 model year, the current 3 Series continues to offer one of the best balances of handling and luxury in the automotive world.
With balanced proportions, crisp lines and the famous Hofmeister rear window kink, the sedan's exterior pays homage to previous 3 Series models while also incorporating modern touches like BMW's new corporate nose, which features narrowed headlights that spill into the traditional kidney grille.
The cabin incorporates sinuous lines, high-quality materials and an overall feeling of fine craftsmanship. Available Sport, Luxury and M Sport "lines" let buyers personalize the interior with unique trim and upholstery elements.
Instrumentation consists of BMW's tried-and-true quartet of simple, driver-friendly analog gauges, while a tablet-style 6.5-inch display screen mounted atop the dashboard displays stereo and vehicle information. Shell out for the optional navigation system, and the screen is upgraded to a larger 8.8-inch unit.
All secondary systems are controlled through BMW's iDrive infotainment setup, which has evolved over the years from a bewildering complex unit to surprisingly simple and user-friendly system. Redundant controls on the steering wheel and dashboard provide alternate means of accessing the electronics.
The optional navigation system is available with Google point-of-interest search and real time traffic information, and it also features a touchpad mounted on the iDrive knob that lets users write out phone numbers, contact names and navigation destinations - and also zoom in or zoom out the map - with a finger.
Other extra-cost gadgetry includes active cruise control that uses radar and a camera to maintain a set distance from the car in front (even in stop-and-go traffic); a Side and Top view camera system that provides a comprehensive view of the environment around the car to aid parking maneuvers; and a high-resolution Head-Up system that displays vehicle speed along with speed limit and navigation info on the lower windshield.
The 3-Series is available in a dizzying amount of permutations: 320i, 328i, 328d, 330e, and 340i models are on offer, each with a distinct engine. An eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel-drive are standard, and "xDrive" all-wheel-drive is optional. A six-speed manual is a no-cost option on RWD 320i and 328i models, as well as both RWD and AWD 340i variants.
The entry-level 320i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 180 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. The 320i returns 24/36 city/highway mpg with the automatic and 23/36 with the manual, while the auto-only 320i xDrive is good for 23/35 mpg.
The 328i features an uprated version of the 320i's motor with 240 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of twist. It's rated at 23/35 mpg with the auto and 22/34 with the manual, and the xDrive variant is good for 22/34 mpg.
The diesel-burning 3 Series, known as the 328d, utilizes a 2.0-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder that churns out 180 horsepower and a solid 280 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is rated at an eye-popping 32/42 mpg, or a still-impressive 30/40 mpg with xDrive.
The 340i packs a turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six with 320 horsepower and 330 lb-ft. of torque. This smooth and punchy motor returns 22/33 mpg with the auto and 20/30 mpg with the manual. Adding xDrive lowers mileage to 22/33 mpg with the auto and 20/29 mpg with the manual.
The 330e iPerformance stands out as the very first plug-in hybrid 3 Series.
It's powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 184 horsepower and 215 lb-ft. of torque, and an electric motor rated at 76 horsepower. Combined, the two power sources generate 247 ponies and 310 lb-ft. of twist.
The 330e hits 60 mph from a stop in 5.9 seconds, and it goes on to a top speed of 130 mph. Alternatively, it can drive on electricity alone for up to 14 miles.
Standard and Optional Features
The 320i 17-inch alloy wheels, non-metallic paint, halogen headlights, fog lights, six-way manually adjustable front seats, SensaTec upholstery, a three-spoke leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, a 6.5-inch center screen, automatic A/C, a center arm rest, dynamic cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a 205-watt sound system that plays through nine speakers, a keyless ignition, and power-adjustable mirrors.
To those features, the 328i and 328d add LED fog lights, specific 17-inch alloys, heated and power-folding mirrors, 10-way power-adjustable front sport seats, 40/20/40-split rear seats, and a universal garage door opener.
The 340i brings 18-inch alloys wrapped by run-flat tires, a moonroof, LED headlights, and a 600-watt Harman Kardon surround sound system.
All models but the 320i can be spec'd with optional Sport, Luxury and M Sport "lines" with special exterior, interior and even performance extras. The Luxury Line includes unique leather upholstery choices, 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels, an M steering wheel, special interior trim choices, the premium package, and pearl gloss trim finishers. The Sport Line includes sports seats, anthracite headliner, a choice of high-gloss black interior trim, brushed aluminum trim or dark burl walnut wood trim, unique leather options, an M Sport steering wheel and black door mirror caps. To the Sport Line's features, the M Sport Package adds shadowline exterior trim, an aggressive body kit, an M Sport Suspension, adaptive dampers, and unique exterior colors and interior leathers.
The list of standalone options includes navigation, smartphone integration, leather upholstery, and heated front seats. Additionally, buyers have several option packages to choose from.
The Cold Weather package includes heated rear seats, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
The Driver Assistance Package includes parking sensors and a rear-view camera. The Driver Assistance Plus package includes blind spot detection, side- and top-view cameras, and speed limit info.
The Premium Package includes lumbar support, satellite radio with a one-year subscription, keyless entry, and a moonroof.
Finally, the Track Handling Package adds sport steering, M brakes, 18-inch V-spoke alloys, and an adaptive suspension.
All 3 Series models come standard with dual front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
Also included is BMW Assist eCall, which automatically notifies a BMW call center in the event of a crash and can even predict the severity of occupant injuries.
Options include a Lane Departure Warning system that alerts the driver when the 3-Series begins to wander into an adjacent lane; an Active Blind Spot Detection system that provides a notification if a vehicle is in the driver's blind spot; and an Attention Assist system that analyzes driver behavior and displays a coffee cup icon encouraging a break if it detects signs of fatigue.
The 3 Series is directly in the crosshairs of competing models like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan, the Audi A4, the Infiniti Q50, and the Cadillac ATS.
The 330e's closest rival is the Mercedes-Benz C350e, a plug-in version of the C that's only offered in a handful of states.