2016 BMW 3 Series First Drive [w/video]
Back In The Game It Never Left
EngineTurbo 3.0L I6
Power320 HP / 332 LB-FT
0-60 Time4.8 Seconds
Top Speed130 MPH
Curb Weight3,695 LBS
MPG22 City / 33 HWY
As Tested Price$59,295
Best Deal Price$44,708
So it was when BMW introduced the F30 3 Series sedan for 2012. This was a good 3 Series, but few thought it was great. The car lost some of its edge, instead chasing the comfy-luxury crowd that arguably makes up more of the buying public. The vocal Bimmer-loving minority wasn't pleased. Critics, us included, called the car out for its soft suspension tuning, less-than-perfect electric power steering, and chintzy interior details. Enthusiasts instead waxed nostalgic about the E90 generation that came before.
But now, the 3 Series can relax again. BMW managed to address most of the issues in this F30 refresh for 2016. The suspension has been reworked, the steering programming overhauled, and the interior is now more befitting a dignified sporty thing from a luxury brand. For good measure, BMW is introducing a new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with more power that the car didn't really need.
That new engine comes with a new out-of-thin-air badge, 340i, replacing the 335i and its N55 six. The updated 3 Series sedan will continue to be offered as a 320i with a turbo four, and both sedan and wagon keep a 328i with a higher-power version of the same engine, as well as a 328d turbodiesel. While those models' engines are unchanged, they all benefit from minor exterior styling updates (lights and bumpers) and the de-cheapified interior, as well most of the mechanical updates. Most of the content from the former Sport Line package, like Sport seats, the Sport transmission, Sport gauges, gloss black exterior trim, and black exhaust tips, is now standard on all but the 320i. Those extra standard features and the new engine bump the price up $2,050, from $44,745 for the 2015 335i sedan to $46,795 for a 340i.
BMW is introducing a new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six with more power that the car didn't really need.
Our test drive focused on the 340i, since it's got the new engine. The B58 mill is a single solitary cubic centimeter off of the N55 3.0-liter's it replaces, but it's based on a new modular architecture. BMW is using the same bin of bits and pieces to create inline engines with three cylinders (Mini, i8) and four (2016 X1) as well as this six-cylinder. The 340i's engine makes 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, up from 300 even on both measures for the N55. It's additional output that the car didn't exactly beg for, but the new engine does respond more quickly, its turbo ingesting air more efficiently on account of shorter intake runs. While turbo lag was already well under control on the N55, this new engine mimics a naturally aspirated BMW six even better. To top things off, it's at least as efficient as the engine it replaces, with EPA ratings either staying the same or improving depending on the drivetrain (rear- or xDrive all-wheel drive) and transmission (six-speed manual or eight-speed auto).
Cars equipped with the manual inherit the automatic rev-matching function from the M3 and M4. It works well, but it's on all the time unless you switch to Sport+. Other manufacturers let the driver turn the system on and off at will independent of drive mode, which we find preferable, especially since the Sport+ calibration can be too sensitive, even when you're in road-attack mode. We'd like to be able to mix and match, even if the setting were buried in iDrive somewhere. There are reasons people still buy manuals, after all. To them (and us), the clutch pedal is a feature, not a bug.
The eight-speed ZF auto gets some efficiency enhancements and a wider ratio spread. The quickest 340i, according to BMW, is the xDrive automatic, which hits 60 miles per hour in a claimed 4.6 seconds. The manual xDrive is 0.2 second slower, and the respective rear-drive models are 0.1 second behind the all-wheel-drive versions. And yet we'd still choose the slow rear-drive manual. Partly because it's nowhere near slow.
The quickest 340i, according to BMW, is the xDrive automatic, which hits 60 miles per hour in a claimed 4.6 seconds.
We drove 340s with and without the Adaptive M suspension and both have greatly reduced body roll tendencies. The car responds like a 3 Series again instead of chasing the cushy C-Class feel that even Mercedes has abandoned in the latest generation. It's back at that nice balance of know-the-road's-under-you and filter-out-the-big-stuff.
And speaking of filtering things out, the steering still does, but thankfully less so. So it's better but not perfect. The zone of indecision at the center has been removed, with the wheel responding to inputs directly even in those first few degrees off dead ahead. Oh, and the M Sport wheel is still way too chunky.
We're not huge fans of the M Sport package, but a new-for-2016 Track Handling package has us somewhat intrigued – and a bit conflicted. For $1,700 it includes variable sport steering, M Sport brakes, Adaptive M Suspension, and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 18-inch wheels. The key there is the tires; they stick real good, bringing the experience that much closer to M3 territory. The rest of the items are unnecessary unless actual track work is on the horizon. The adaptive suspension is still kind of take it or leave it, the variable steering offers confusing assist at odd times, and the stock brakes are just fine. It's a good value if you want most of that gear, but just remember that tires are also sold separately.
The car responds like a 3 Series again.
Although the interior changes have no bearing on the way the car goes down the road, the adjustments have been visited upon the right places to remind you why you shelled out the money. There's some little satin chrome trim around the window controls, gloss black on center stack, and your choice of trim extends from the dash to the front doors and all the way to the rear cabin, making the back seats feel like they're also part of a luxury car. The interior gatekeepers have relented and you can now order brown leather without the Luxury package. This type of thing seems like a real triumph at the German manufacturer. To complete the upscale experience, BMW added a lid for the front cup holders. Because that's just classy.
All's well that gets refreshed well. The 3 Series can cancel its Xanax prescription, at least until the next time BMW decides it wants to change things up.
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