Becoming a legend isn't easy, but BMW's evergreen 3-Series has pulled it off. For years it has offered buyers a uniquely formulated mix of high quality craftsmanship and engaging driving dynamics which now define this Teutonic heavyweight. Through the continuous honing of these time-honored traits, this unassuming four-door has managed to transform the compact sport sedan segment from obscure niche to mainstream mainstay. With a mélange of body styles and engines, the 3 still remains an enticing choice in the hotly-contested segment it created.
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2018 BMW 3-Series Overview
What's New for 2018
LED foglights and headlights are now standard across the line. Buyers can now paint their 3 in Sunset Orange Metallic and finish the (optional) leather interior in Cognac Brown.
Choosing Your BMW 3-Series
BMW makes it easy to lose an afternoon on its website building the ideal 3-Series. Specifically, there are three body styles – sedan, Sport Wagon, and Gran Touring – four powertrains (not counting the M3), and five trim levels to mix and match. To add to the fun, each trim level has multiple packages and tiers. While not every engine, body style, and trim are compatible, there is still ample leeway for even the choosiest buyer.
Regardless of model or body, all 3s come standard with auto stop/start, an eight-speed automatic transmission, automatic emergency collision notification, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, Bluetooth, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen with iDrive.
The base engine, found in the 320i, is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. In this trim, it puts out 180 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, and promises to return 23 miles per gallon city, 35 highway and 28 combined when equipped with the eight-speed automatic. You’ll only find this engine in the four-door sedan body.
The 330i is a step up from the 320i but uses the same 2.0-liter. For this application, BMW corrals some additional ponies, bringing total output to 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy unsurprisingly suffers a bit compared to its lower-tiered sibling, with an EPA-estimated 24/34/27 for the auto-equipped car. The most popular setup, BMW offers this more powerful four-cylinder in all body styles.
Springing for the 340i means getting a 3.0-liter, turbocharged six-cylinder. The inline-six, an engine that has long been a cornerstone of BMW’s character, gives the 3-Series 320 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. With the automatic, fuel economy is 21/32/25. BMW currently sells the 340i as a sedan, Sport Wagon, or Grand Touring.
BMW also has on tap two non-traditional offerings: both are 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinders, but one runs on diesel while the other relies on gas, an electric motor, and a lithium-ion battery pack. The diesel-powered 328d puts out 180 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, and sips fuel at a miserly 31/43/36. The plug-in-hybrid 330e iPerformance has 258 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque – fully charged, it will return up to 71 MPGe in combined driving, not to mention 14 miles of all-electric range. The 328d is available as a sedan or Sport Wagon, while the 330e is limited to the sedan body.
While the entire 3-Series line comes standard with an eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive, BMW does offer a no-cost six-speed manual and an xDrive all-wheel-drive system. The six-speed is available on all gas-powered sedans, provided they aren’t carrying the all-wheel-drive system. You won’t find it on the Sport Wagon or Gran Turismo bodies, though. All-wheel drive is more broadly available – it’s a $2,000 option on all sedan variants except for the plug-in hybrid, which is rear-drive only, while it’s standard equipment with both the Sport Wagon and GT bodies.
The Sport Wagon body is, unsurprisingly, the most versatile. It offers 27.5 cubic feet of cargo volume with the second-row seats in place, and a maximum of 61.5 cubes with the back seats folded. The GT, with its hunched back and wide-opening semi-hatch, isn’t far behind – there’s a minimum of 24.6 cubic feet and a maximum of 56.8.
Once you’ve chosen your body style and powertrain, the next step in the process requires customers choose from one of the many design packages offered on each trim. While the 330i, 340i, 328d, and 330e share their design packages, the 320i gets exclusive Sport Design and Sport Plus Design packages. The former is the default and is free of charge., while the latter demands $3,550 but adds a sporty body kit, an M suspension, more supportive seats, and one of three 18-inch wheel designs.
The four other trims get some combination of the Sport Line, Luxury, Shadow Sport Edition, and M Sport designs. The Sport and Luxury designs are no-cost items that add either a sporty body kit with black accents or a more restrained body with chrome accents. The Shadow Sport Edition is available sporadically and amplifies the Sport Line’s black accents with smoked taillights, black headlight housings, gloss-black grille surrounds, and black-chrome tailpipes. The M Sport Design is usually the priciest, but comes with real, functional upgrades – look for an M steering wheel in the cabin, a sport suspension, 18-inch M-branded wheels, and an even more aggressive version of the Sport Line’s body kit.
You’re not done yet, though. After choosing a design, BMW offers three equipment tiers although unlike the last step, customers are free to pass on this content. The Convenience Tier adds a sunroof, SiriusXM satellite radio, proximity entry with push-button start, and adjustable lumbar support – typically, this equipment tier is included with the M Sport Design.
Going for the Premium Tier brings adds a head-up display, navigation with real-time traffic, and heated front seats to the Convenience Tier’s gear. Finally, and only available on certain models, is the Executive Tier. It takes the previous two setups and adds adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beams, a surround-view camera system, an automatic parking assistant, and a digital instrument cluster. These packages vary slightly based on the selected trim. There are also an array of standalone options, which we’ll note where applicable.
But before you get to choose from that list, there’s a lone package to grab – the $500 Driving Assistance Package. It’s a worthwhile purchase, adding BMW’s Active Driving Assistant (forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning), on top of speed limit recognition.
The 330i’s power level is just right for most consumers, while the Premium Tier adds just enough gear without making causing a huge price increase. While the sedan is undeniably the most popular version of the 3-Series, we recommend the Sport Wagon for its modest premium, standard all-wheel drive, and increased versatility. If it were up to us, we’d be driving a 330i xDrive Sport Wagon with the Premium Tier, the Driver Assistance Package, a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay, and blind-spot monitoring. Total cost? Just a hair under $51,000.
2018 BMW 3-Series Review
The BMW 3-Series remains the executive car by which all other compact luxury sedans are measured. It delivers handsome classic looks, several body styles, and an assortment of powertrains. Prices can quickly climb and the competition is sharper than ever.
The 2018 BMW 3-Series is a compact luxury sedan with room for five. It comes with standard rear-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive. BMW offers gas, diesel, and plug-in hybrid powertrain options and a variety of ways to build one.
You'll notice when shopping BMW that the automaker requires shoppers to choose one of three designs when they craft their build. The Sport Line and Luxury designs are priced identically; the Shadow Sport Edition design adds a modest $1,350 to the price. For our example, we chose the Luxury Design that features chrome design elements.
You’re not done with the basic foundation just yet. BMW also requires customers to choose a trim tier: Base, Convenience, Premium, or Executive. The Convenience Tier adds $1,750, the Premium tier adds $4,650, while the Executive tier adds $7,750.
Here's how we'd build ours:
- Model: 2018 BMW 330i
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder
- Output: 248 hp / 258 lb-ft
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
- MPG: 24 City / 34 Hwy
- Options: Luxury Design ($0, chrome design elements), Premium Tier ($4,650, head-up display, navigation, advanced real-time traffic information, heated seats), Metallic paint ($550), Driving Assistance Package ($500, lane departure warning, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection), Apple CarPlay Compatibility ($300).
- Base Price: $41,245 (including a $995 destination charge)
- Best Value Price: $47,245
You have several engine choices with the BMW 3-Series. We went with the one just above the base engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four with 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The base engine is simply too weak for this model, while the upgraded engine represents a very good starting point. BMW pairs this engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, the stick shift is available with the base model only.
The chosen engine is peppy, moving this compact luxury cruiser from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. It's sharp and enjoyable to drive and we don’t miss the “straight six” engine it replaced – it's that good. The BMW 330i is a joy to drive as it hangs corners with precision and pulls out of corners cleanly. In every sense of the word, it truly is a driver’s car.
The 3-Series’ classic style never gets old. BMW manages to keep it fresh from generation to generation. At the heart of the matter are the twin kidney grilles, but what places a stamp of approval on this handsome sedan is its crisp lines and attractive cutouts. Some of the more rakish designs from competitors look stunning now, but we don’t think most will age especially well.
Inside, the cabin is classic BMW, but that isn't always a good thing. The design has aged and this is one area where competitors have the upper hand. The standard infotainment system rests on top of the dashboard and has a bolt-on look. You’ll find a mix of materials, including brushed aluminum and real wood trim. The fit is excellent and the feel is reassuring. Most shoppers will find this model suitable for four.
The driver’s seat is firm, yet comfortable. The seat extender ensures your comfort for the long drive ahead.
The Best and Worst Things
If you are a driving enthusiast, the 3-Series satisfies. The more ardent among them will opt for the powerful 340i. But shopping for a BMW, not just the 3-Series, means carefully working through tiers, packages, and options to find what you want. Price creep is very real and frustratingly so.
Right For? Wrong For?
Consider a BMW 3-Series if you're a first-time luxury buyer. It offers a terrific place to whet your appetite for all things BMW. The wagon and Sportback options attract a special group of buyers. On the other hand, the 3-Series has stiff competition and may not please shoppers wanting a more modern interior.
The Bottom Line
The 2018 BMW 3-Series remains a driver’s car, although we would prefer to see wider availability of the manual transmission. That said, the eight-speed automatic in manual mode delivers crisp shifts and is well suited for each engine choice.
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