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.

Best Value

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

Performance

BMW 3 Series

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.

Style

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?

BMW 3 Series

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.