Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New entry-level 320i joins expanding lineup.
The BMW 3 Series continues to be a staple of the BMW model lineup. The compact luxury car now has more variants than ever, and with its combination of new and carryover models, it can be confusing to sort out which is which.
Sedans were completely redesigned for 2012 and carry over basically unchanged for 2013. Known as the F30, the sixth-generation four-door marks the end of BMW's old E-code naming scheme. They're slightly bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient than the previous E90 generation (2006-2011).
New to the lineup this year is the 2013 BMW 320i, an entry-level 3 Series sedan that uses a less powerful version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the BMW 328i. It's available with either rear- or all-wheel drive and makes a modest 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. Manuals are only available on rear-wheel-drive cars, while BMW's xDrive AWD models are only available with the automatic. Performance isn't the 320i's strong suit, with a relatively pokey 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds with either transmission, although it's on par with the Mercedes-Benz C250. Speed is electronically limited at 130 mph. For more oomph, the BMW 328i uses a more powerful version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4, good for 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. BMW says the 328i can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds with 8-speed automatic or in just 5.7 seconds with the 6-speed manual. This same feat takes the Audi A4 2.0T 6.5 seconds. For 2014, a diesel version, dubbed the 328d, will be available in the U.S.
The quickest of the lot is the BMW 335i, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are the same 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic, with a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds with either gearbox.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2013 BMW 320i sedans are 23/36 mpg City/Highway equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, 24/36 mpg with the automatic, 23/35 mpg for the all-wheel-drive BMW 320i xDrive model. The BMW 328i achieves an EPA-estimated 22/35 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual, and 23/33 mpg with the automatic on both RWD and AWD models. The BMW 335i rates just 20/30 mpg with 6-speed manual, but an impressive 23/33 mpg with the 8-speed automatic. The BMW 335i xDrive gets 20/28 mpg with the manual and 20/30 mpg with the automatic. Premium gasoline is required for all 3 Series models.
Also new for 2013 is the ActiveHybrid3. The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid3 pairs the 335i's engine to an electric motor, the 8-speed automatic and a lithium-ion battery. It's good for 335 horsepower net and 330 pound-feet of torque, yet despite promises of increased efficiency, the hybrid only slightly bests the gasoline-powered models with 25/33 mpg City/Highway. Considering the near-$15,000 price premium, we recommend sticking with the 328i for the best combination of performance and frugality. The ActiveHybrid3 offers lower emissions, however.
Coupe and convertible versions of the 3 Series, meanwhile, carry over from the old E92 and E93 body styles. (Read our 2011 reviews of them for detailed impressions.) BMW 328i coupes and convertibles get a 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 230 hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. 335i coupes and convertibles are powered by the same turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 found in the sedans.
2013 is the last year of production for the current-generation 3 Series coupe, which will be redesigned and renamed the BMW 4 Series. Look for the coupe and cabriolet to be redesigned and introduced as either 2013 or 2014 models. Also coming for 2014 is an all-new BMW Sport Wagon, based on the new generation of 3 Series sedans.
The BMW 3 Series remains the benchmark among luxury compact sports sedans, a class that includes the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Lexus IS, all strong entries. This class is mostly rear-wheel drive, though Audi is the exception with its front-wheel drive platform. Other front-wheel-drive entry-luxury cars, such as the Lexus ES, are comparable from a features standpoint and are similarly sized but do not offer the sporty dynamics of the rear-wheel-drive based sports sedans. All are superb cars, but the 3 Series sedans in particular display a brilliant balance between performance and driving pleasure.
The 2013 BMW 320i sedan ($32,55) uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 and comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, eight-way manually adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth, BMW's iDrive interface with a 6.5-inch display screen, a premium audio system with CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and USB port, foglamps, automatic wipers and 17-inch alloy wheels. An automatic stop/start feature is also included to help save fuel. The 320i xDrive adds all-wheel drive ($34,550).
Stepping up to the BMW 328i ($36,850) gets you a more powerful version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 and adds eight-way power-adjustable front seats, driver memory functions, a rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The BMW 328i xDrive adds all-wheel drive ($38,850).
The BMW 335i ($43,150), 335i xDrive ($45,150), and ActiveHybrid3 ($49,650) sedans use a 300-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 and include a moonroof, xenon HID headlights with adaptive and auto-leveling features, and 18-inch wheels. ActiveHybrid3 includes electric propulsion to improve fuel economy.
Dakota leather upholstery ($1,450) is optional for both models. A Technology Package ($2,550) includes navigation system, real-time traffic information, head-up display; the Premium Sound Package ($950) includes Harman Kardon surround sound with satellite radio and one-year subscription; the Parking Package ($1,550) includes rearview camera, side and top-view cameras, park distance control; the Driver Assistance Package ($1,100) includes Lane Departure Warning and Active Blind Spot Detection. The Cold Weather Package ($1,350) adds heated seats front and rear, heated steering wheel, retractable headlight washers, split-folding rear seat.
Coupes and convertibles are based on the outgoing E92/E93 body styles and have a sport-tuned suspension. Standard equipment is similar to that on the sedans; adaptive xenon headlights and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat are standard. Convertibles come with a power-retractable hardtop and 10-way power front seats with memory functions.
Safety features include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags. Active safety features designed to help the driver avoid collisions include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when it's raining. Run-flat tires eliminate the need to change a tire on the road. Optional rearview camera and side and top-view cameras can help the driver spot a child behind the car when backing up. Lane Departure Warning and Active Blind Spot Detection are optional.
There are differences in the body styles of the different 3 Series models, but all will be instantly recognizable as BMWs. All boast short front and rear overhangs, a similar roofline and other classic BMW styling cues, including the BMW Hofmeister kink at the base of the C-pillar.
The most noticeable styling difference between the sedans and the coupes is that the sedan headlights and grille are connected. A wide, squat interpretation of the upright, slightly forward-slanting BMW kidney grille is used. LED accent lights positioned like eyebrows above the striking twin headlights with corona rings (if xenon headlights are specified) add intensity to the classic BMW focused look.
The front of the sedan has two large air intakes are positioned underneath the headlights to the outer edges of the front fascia that add depth to the sporty styling. On the far left and right of the main ducts are small vertical intakes which help create an air curtain for improved air flow around the front wheels, enhanced aerodynamic efficiency and reduced fuel consumption at higher speeds.
The current 3 Series sedan is slightly larger than the previous model (2006-2011). Front and rear overhangs are about an inch longer, though the 3 Series still has short overhangs for the class. Overall width is about the same, measuring 71.3 inches wide, 0.2 inch narrower than before. Track (the distance between the left and right wheels) has grown to 60.3 inches front and 61.9 inches rear; a significant increase of 1.2 inches in front, 1.7 inches rear. Overall height of the 3 Series sedan is 56.3 inches, an increase of 0.4 inch. The engine is set back behind front axle to improve weight distribution and handling. The 3 Series sedans are aerodynamically slippery, with a 0.29 Cd for 328i, 0.30 for 335i.
Sedans are available in Sport, Luxury, Modern, and M Sport trims. Each have a unique grille and subtle exterior trim differences.
The different trim levels available for the BMW 3 Series sedans have unique features inside. A choice of leatherettes (vinyl) and leathers is available for the different trim levels. All the seats we tried, base, Sport, Luxury, Modern, were comfortable and held us in place. We hardly took note of them, a good sign. And getting in and out of these cars was easy.
The standard interior looks like traditional BMW with matt-satin silver-colored trim. The base seats are nice. The standard leatherette looks and feels like leather. It's functional but boring. If you're spending this much on a car you deserve to be rewarded with one of the upgrade interiors.
The Modern interior is distinctive with its textured trim, interesting and fresh. We checked out one in the oyster-colored leather and liked it. If you enjoy design and want something different you may love it. We're not sure how it will hold its charm over the long term, though it may make for a collector car someday.
The Luxury interior is traditional and attractive, and is our choice for commuting, business or road trips. Warmest and prettiest is a Luxury with tan leather and burr walnut wood.
The Sport line is all about the business of driving, featuring black seats with high bolsters and black and red interior trim, our choice for serious driving or a day at the circuit or just looking manly.
Regardless of trim, the 3 Series sedan's cockpit is oriented around driving, the dash angled slightly toward the driver bringing all controls within easy reach. Four circular dials (fuel gauge, speedometer, tachometer and oil temperature gauge) come with a black panel display. Climate controls are traditional BMW, intuitive and easy to operate. Overall, the trim is nice. Soft-touch plastic inside the interior door handles feels upscale. One gripe was the plastic glovebox latch, which looked and felt cheap.
The iDrive monitor sticks up above the dash, reminding us of a flat-screen television that pops out of a piece of furniture when switched on. Except this little flat-screen is always there: It does not retract into the dash, and it is not beautiful to behold, though it is easy to see and it does work well. The high-resolution display is wide, allowing a view of more real estate and more roads to the sides, useful when navigating. Real-time traffic information is provided, handy in metro areas that support it. Shift into Reverse and the rearview camera automatically displays what's behind the car, valuable for helping the driver spot a low post or a small child. In addition, Surround View with Side View and Top View offer a bird's-eye perspective of the vehicle and the area around it, very helpful in tight confines. Parking Assistant helps the driver parallel park by finding a space, turning the steering wheel, practically parking the car itself.
The BMW Connected app allows users to access their music library, email, text messages and more by tethering their iPhones with the built-in cable or optional dock. BMW Apps also offers access to Pandora, subscription-based music service MOG and more.
Rear-seat roominess was increased for the 2012 BMW 3 Series sedan, providing slightly more legroom and headroom. A pair of us sat in the back seats and found them roomy with good headroom. We think the 3 Series sedan would be a fine choice for transporting four adults out to dinner. Getting in and out of the back seats is easy. When we swung our feet out, our toes didn't hit the B-pillar.
Getting into the trunk is easy. Kick your foot under the rear bumper and the system will sense your remote control and pop the trunk lid for you, handy when walking up to the car with two armloads of groceries. The trunk is about average for the class at 13 cubic feet.
Cargo space on coupes measures 11 cubic feet, while the convertible is relegated to a measly 9 cubic feet.
The BMW 3 Series sedans are pleasant to drive, whether motoring slowly through a neighborhood, cruising on a highway, winding down a back road, or sliding around a racing circuit. Both engines are more than up to the task as are both transmissions.
The BMW 328i delivers great acceleration performance, which we experienced in Northern California's Carmel Valley. The 328i gets to 80 mph quickly. The turbocharger provides boost through a broad torque range, delivering 255 foot-pounds of torque from 1250-4200 rpm. We found ourselves giving little thought to the engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (one turbo with twin scrolls). The only time we really thought of it being a four-cylinder rather than a six was when we got out and walked to the front of the car when it was running. That was when we noticed the 328i engine clatters like a diesel when idling.
The BMW 335i six-cylinder engine purrs like a contented cat when idling. But we found the power advantage of the 335i over the 328i to be negligible in most but not all situations. The 335i has more torque, with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6. It makes 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from 1300-5000 rpm, a broad power band that gives the 335i strong response to throttle input at all engine speeds. In other words, just stand on it and she goes. Turbo lag is nonexistent, and 0-60 mph comes quickly, just 5.4 seconds with either transmission, according to BMW. While the 335i is slightly more enjoyable, we heartily recommend the 328i. We noticed the 335i powered up the power-robbing steep back straight at Laguna Seca that leads to the Corkscrew better than the 328i.
An automatic Stop/Start function comes standard on all sedans. Although it helps to save fuel, we found it to be an annoying feature. The re-start is rough, reminiscent of manually cranking the key to re-start the car at every intersection. It lacks the elegance of the system in, say, a Buick Regal with eAssist, where the restart is so smooth and seamless that it's difficult to discern when it occurs. For those who would sacrifice gas mileage for a smoother ride, the Start/Stop feature can be completely overridden by pressing a button, though you'll have to press that button every time you start the car or every time you are annoyed by the re-start. Our guess is that the feature is there primarily to garner credits from the Environmental Protection Agency to help BMW with U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy ratings. In other words, the feature is more useful to BMW than to the car owner.
Choosing between the manual and automatic transmissions comes down to personal preference. The 8-speed automatic works very well. Some drivers prefer to shift semi-manually, but it often seems just as effective to put it in Drive and let it do its thing. We still enjoy the available manual transmission, though. The connection through the manual allows the driver to more thoroughly exploit the car. Clutch-pedal effort makes taking off easy, without having to think about it, and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced for either engine.
Handling is excellent, and all 3 Series models offer a good balance of ride quality and handling response. The steering is light at low speeds, with proper resistance and feedback at higher speeds. Near-50/50 weight distribution, aided by locating the engine behind the front axle, leaves the driver in full command. It's an easy car to drive fast. We drove a 328i hard up a primitive mountain road, overdriving the tires, allowing the active safety features to limit speed around the bumpy switchbacks. At Laguna Seca, we strapped on helmets, switched off the electronics, and pushed hard around the turns in both the 328i and 335i. These cars are very easy to control at the limit, giving the driver confidence, delivering joy.
Traction control kicks in when accelerating hard out of low-speed corners, eliminating wheelspin and reducing the chance of a spin. When driving hard, for example on a racetrack, we found it beneficial to switch the system off, allowing the car to slide more and the tires to spin to achieve higher cornering speeds and more responsive acceleration performance coming out of the turns. Traction control can help the driver stay out of trouble on an unfamiliar mountain road, but it won't help you win an autocross. The active safety features can be switched off or dialed back in degrees, allowing the driver to tune the system to conditions and his or her preferences.
Braking is excellent in all models. The large brake calipers and rotors deliver more clamping force than most competitors. And thanks to BMW's electronic management, the brake pads move within a hair of the rotors if the driver suddenly releases the gas pedal, even if the driver hasn't yet considered slamming on the brakes. The pads also lightly sweep the rotors every few seconds if it's raining, just to be sure there is no significant moisture build up.
We have not yet driven a 320i.
The ActiveHybrid3 is an impressive machine. It allows driving at low speeds in electric-only mode but most of the time it drives like the other 3 Series models.
The BMW 3 Series sedan remains the benchmark in its class. Sedans improve on the previous generation in every way. The 3 Series coupes and convertibles still look and perform great but are at the end of their lifespan; we recommend waiting for the all-new versions that will be introduced shortly. The ActiveHybrid3 offers lower emissions and better fuel economy, but it's expensive.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Monterey, California, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.
BMW 320i sedan ($32,550); 320i xDrive sedan ($34,550); 328i sedan ($36,840); 328i xDrive sedan ($38,850); 335i sedan ($43,150); 335i xDrive sedan ($45,150); 328i coupe ($38,700); 328i xDrive coupe ($40,400); 335i coupe ($45,100); 335i xDrive coupe ($46,800); 335is coupe ($52,100); 328i convertible ($47,600); 335i convertible ($53,800); 335is convertible ($60,800).
Options As Tested
BMW 328i sedan ($36, 850).
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