Review: How BMW Improved the New 3 Series (and What Still Needs Work)

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Pros:

  1. Fantastic ZF transmission
  2. Optional I-6 engine rips
  3. Decent back seat for segment

Cons:

  1. Rough M Sport suspension
  2. Unimaginative interior
  3. Distant brakes and steering

“This latest BMW 3 Series was supposed to show the world that BMW got its mojo back,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle chirped. Politely left unsaid: “Umm, not so much.”

Although the new Bimmer sedan has worked on some of its previous edition’s shortcomings—improving its handling and interior packaging—it’s no longer the segment leader. It is merely competitive, which is a long fall for an icon that once defined the compact luxury sport sedan segment.

“It gets tiring pretty quickly, especially over successive road imperfections where you’re basically bouncing around everywhere,” associate online editor Stefan Ogbac said. “The big stuff? All you hear is a big boom.”

The positive trade-off is sharp, precise handling that is only let down by a slightly overboosted, artificial steering feel. The thick-sectioned steering wheel feels like you’re driving the car with boxing gloves, not your fingertips.

Power delivery is a tricky game with turbo-four engines in a luxury application; people want thrust, passing power, smoothness, and a throaty growl all in one. Road test editor Chris Walton called the BMW’s 2.0-liter mill “all torque and no horsepower”—no turbo lag but a lack of top-end zip, saved only by the well-executed ZF eight-speed transmission.

When mated to the 340i’s zingy 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, the eight-speed’s tuning in Sport mode on winding roads is even more superb. The higher-horsepower engine also provides a more balanced driving feel—like the way a 3 Series used to.

However, a couple judges experienced moments of understeer followed by a feeling of lightness and sudden drifty oversteer that only a skilled driver might catch. Also, the brakes have a distant and unpredictable feel that several judges found disquieting. At least BMW’s vaunted high-speed straight-line stability is still present. And for nighttime drivers like news editor Alex Nishimoto, the laser headlights are “super bright and reach a good distance.”

From the outside, the familiar styling and kidney grille will let everyone know you are driving a BMW—even though designers all but eliminated the signature Hofmeister kink at the C-pillar.

Inside, BMW designers have stuck with the basic layout that has enthralled loyalists for decades. Although there has been some modernization to the interior, what some judges found quintessential and consistent, others found merely dull and dated. “It left the door open for Genesis and Audi in terms of design execution,” bossman Ed Loh noted.

The seats are upright and firm—starkly Germanic—especially in the somewhat roomier back seat. Some of the plasticky trim pieces are off-putting for a luxury car, and there was already some creaking at the joining points around the center console, MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina said.

As this iconic Bimmer moves into its fourth decade of existence, who better to summarize its latest iteration than industry veteran Angus MacKenzie: “The 3 Series was once the benchmark sport sedan others aspired to emulate. Now it feels like an aging rock star desperately trying to stay the headline act.”

2019 330i xDrive 2020 M340i
Base Price/As Tested $43,245/$58,770 $54,995/$67,070
Power (SAE net) 255 hp @ 5,000 rpm 382 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 295 lb-ft @ 1,550 rpm 369 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 5.5 sec 4.2 sec
Quarter Mile 14.1 sec @ 98.1 mph 12.7 sec @ 110.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 114 ft 111 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.91 g (avg) 0.93 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 26.6 sec @ 0.66 g (avg) 25.0 sec @ 0.77 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 25/34/28 mpg 22/30/25 mpg

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