Launched during the 2011 model year, the BMW 3 Series is getting long in the tooth. The current, sixth-generation models are older than their classic rivals, the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. The 3 Series has expanded along the way: The 2017 BMW 3 Series comes in three bodies, six engines, two transmissions, with rear-wheel drive or awd. Performance in some configurations is standout.
The models are 320i, 320i xDrive, 328d, 328d xDrive, 330i, 330i xDrive, 340i, 340i xDrive sedan; also the 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid sedan, 330i xDrive Gran Turismo, 340i xDrive Gran Turismo, 330i and 328d xDrive wagon, and the almighty M3 that gets its own review.
Engines include the 328d diesel, 2.0-liter turbo four and 3.0-liter turbo six, from high mileage to everyday to scorching performance from the 340i with its 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. All the engines need premium (or diesel) fuel, even the lowly 180-horsepower engine in the 320i. The turbocharged four-cylinder in the 330i gets 248 horsepower, an increase for 2017.
In addition to so many models, the 3 Series comes in different trims, resulting in some startling configurations. It’s difficult to speak generically about the 3 Series, because the distinctive models are many. The Sport Line, optional last year, is now standard on the 328i, 328d, and 340i. There’s also an M Sport package, and for 2017 there’s a Track Handling package with big blue brake calipers.
The Gran Turismo is a five-door hatchback that’s nearly eight inches longer than the sedan, on four inches longer wheelbase, and three inches taller. Forget what we said about old design, Gran Turismo leads the styling way, as part crossover, part fastback, and part wagon.
The BMW 320i ($33,450) starts with manual front seats in leatherette upholstery, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, 6.5-inch display, iDrive. Options include wheels, infotainment, heated seats, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, wireless Apple CarPlay, rearview camera, and is powered by the 180-hp 2-liter turbo. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) 320i xDrive sedan ($35,450) includes awd.
The 330i ($38,750) gets a 248-hp 2-liter and is available with xDrive ($40,750).
The BMW 328d ($40,250) has the 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine. The BMW 330e ($44,100) is a plug-in hybrid.
The 340i ($47,900) features the 320-hp inline-6 turbo.
BMW 330i Gran Turismo ($44,700) and 340i Gran Turismo ($50,550) body styles come standard with xDrive.
The classic and elegant sedan was recently tweaked with bigger headlamps and air intakes, and a distinctive back end with restyled bumpers. It still looks sharp and expressive, compared to the aero wedge shape of others. We don’t need no stinkin’ aero, says BMW.
The striking Gran Turismo pushes design in a new direction, a big hatchback fastback coupe. A smooth Frankenstein that’s part crossover, part coupe and part wagon. The rising beltline visually lowers the hood.
The Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class will blitz you with their high-tech capabilities that make the BMW 3 Series feel outdated, in other words feel its age. The cabin materials may be rich and luxurious or muddled and fussy, or even cheap, depending on trim level. The flat dashboard’s horizontal line is broken only by a standing screen that may be modern but needs new materials.
Although the 3 has never been bigger, it’s still a compact car. The good front seats have decent bolstering and nice leg support.
The back seat squeezes adults, but there’s good headroom. There’s good cargo room, with a big trunk of 15.8 cubic feet.
Bravo to BMW for hanging onto the six-speed gearbox, remaining true to its drivers. The 320i, 330i, and 340i models all have one, especially with rear-wheel drive. However the eight-speed automatic is way good; it shifts quick, precise, right on time, and never is at a loss for gears. We like its logic, because it’s smart enough to agree with ours. Sport programs can make it nearly as much fun as a manual.
Speaking generically, every model of 3 Series handles sharply and stays flat. The steering is weighted nicely, pushing back when the car begins to lose grip.
The biggest new thing for 2017 is the increase in horsepower for the BMW 330i: from 240 to 248 hp. 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, says BMW. And it sounds better than before.
The 340i with its 3.0-liter turbo six is super quick and very talented. The massive torque is right there for you. Cool that it’s still the classic inline six, not a V6.
Mercedes has been making a traditional diesel for many years, but to find one nowadays is fairly rare. The 328d makes 180 horsepower and a ton of smooth torque, with the standard eight-speed automatic. It might be most popular as a wagon. The brown one is classic. There won’t be a lot of them, so hurry.
The base 320i is a four-cylinder turbo making 180 horsepower. It accelerates from zero to sixty in 7.1 seconds. It feels relatively weak.
The 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid makes 248 combined horsepower from a 7.6-kwh hour lithium-ion battery and turbo four engine.
The ride in any 3 Series is smooth. The suspensions have been softened to compensate for hard run-flat tires, which edge up fuel mileage as well. It harshness still sometimes comes through the ride, blame the tires.
The electric power steering lacks the feedback through the steering wheel hydraulic power steering used to provide.
The optional variable sport steering system mechanically alter the steering ratio depending on the immediate task, making parking easier and high-speed cornering tighter.
Driving Dynamics Control, using a switch on the console, has Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus modes. Sport mode sharpens the steering and transmission, while Sport Plus loosens up the stability control.
If you really want to go down the handling trail, the M Sport package lowers the chassis by 0.4 inches, stiffens the springs and shocks, fattens the anti-roll bars, and bolts on 18- or 19-inch alloys with fat tires. The new Track Handling package adds the variable sport steering, adaptive suspension, and bigger brakes with blue calipers.
The BMW 3 Series offers a wide range of models sporting a range of performance, all with crisp handling. The sedan is dated, the Gran Turismo offers distinctive styling, cargo convenience. An all-new 3 Series is on the horizon and is expected to be introduced soon.