The 2018 BMW 3 Series should appear on the short list for shoppers seeking a compact luxury sport sedan. Whether enjoying its blend of features and refinement or pushing its smooth power and sharp handling to the limit, you’ll be happy.
Today’s 3 Series increase the heritage that BMW established decades ago when it practically invented the compact luxury vehicle. The 3 Series is the best-selling Sedan in its class, and for good reason. Few can match its artful blend of performance and refinement, though that doesn’t stop other automakers from giving a try.
In either sedan or wagon style, the 3 Series makes few compromises. It’s a truly fantastic all-rounder with no much flaws — it’s simultaneously comfortable and sporty, small without being confining, and offers fuel-efficient and powerful engines. There’s a 3 Series for seemingly every flavor. Fuel economy a priority? The diesel-powered 3 Series gets 36 mpg combined. Want maximum cargo space? The 3 Series wagon offers 53 cubic feet of room. Just want to test the waters of BMW ownership? The base model 320i, while sparsely equipped for a luxury sedan, gives the model’s hallmark balance and performance for a reasonable price.
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It’s true that the present generation of the 3 Series is getting a bit dated, and newer rivals might hold an advantage in stylistic appeal. Overall, though, the 3 Series is still one of the best.
For 2018, BMW made minor adjustments to the 3 Series’ feature availability and option packages.
The 330i packs good punch from its turbo four-cylinder engine and offers many desirable features when also equipped with the Premium, Executive or M Sport bundles. If driver aids and safety are a priority, the Driving Assistance package is a worthy inclusion.
trim levels & features
The 2018 BMW 3 Series is offered in sedan and wagon body styles. Sedans come in 320i, 328d, 330i, 330e and 340i trim levels with standard rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive (called xDrive) is optional on all but the 330e plug-in hybrid. The wagon is offered only in 330i xDrive and 328d xDrive trims.
The 320i is the most affordable means into a 3 Series, but it lacks many standard and optional creature comforts. It starts with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (180 horsepower, 200 pound-feet of torque) and a choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard feature highlights include 17-inch wheels, remote locking and unlocking, push-button start, automatic wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium vinyl upholstery, BMW help emergency telematics, Bluetooth connectivity, the iDrive infotainment interface, a 6.5-inch display and a nine-speaker sound system.
The 330i gets a more powerful 2.0-liter engine (248 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque) as well as LED headlights, power-adjustable front sport seats, power-folding and heated side mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, paddle shifters for automatic transmission-equipped models, driver-seat memory settings and split-folding rear seatbacks.
The 328d and 330e sedans land similarly equipped. Both use a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired only to the eight-speed automatic, but the 328d engine uses diesel fuel and generates 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The 330e engine takes conventional gasoline but is augmented by an electric motor for a combined 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.
The 328d and 330i wagons are equiped like the sedans and also come with a panoramic sunroof, roof rails, a power liftgate and the eight-speed automatic transmission.
Finally, the 340i sedan gets a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine (320 hp and 330 lb-ft), the contents of the Premium package (see below), keyless entry and ignition, a sunroof and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system (optional on most other models). The M Sport package (see below) is also standard, but its contents can be changed by those from the Sport or Luxury packages.
There are several option packages for the 2018 3 Series. In our believe, the main ones to look out for are the Premium and the Executive since they further equip the 3 Series with a host of desirable convenience and tech-oriented extras. The Premium package, for example, includes heated front seats, a head-up display, a navigation system, a 8.5-inch display screen and BMW’s Remote Services (can lock and unlock doors or find vehicle in a parking lot via smartphone app). The Executive package includes adaptive LED headlights, side- and top-view parking cameras, and upgraded leather upholstery.
Other popular picks include the Track Handling package (improves handling and steering) and the Driving Assistance package that iincludes many advanced driver safety aids.
Each car typically comes in multiple versions, although trim levels share many aspects. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2016 BMW 328i xDrive sedan (2.0L turbo inline-4 | AWD | 8-speed automatic). NOTE: Since this test was carried out, the 328i has received some revisions, chief among them a new name (now 330i) and a boost of 8 horsepower and 3 pound-feet of torque. A rearview camera also now comes on every 3 Series. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year’s 330i.
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The BMW 3 Series’s turbocharged engines are typically overachievers, and the eight-speed automatic is always on point with exquisitely curated shifts. Handling is excellent despite generous suspension travel to improve ride comfort. A great performer.
Other than the 320i, which is expectedly slow because of its 180 hp, acceleration is strong. We’ve tested a bunch of 3 Series models, and all have impressed. In a tests, a 340i xDrive sprinted from zero to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds. Expect the 330i to take about 5.5 seconds.
The brake pedal has no bite to speak of and that’s a compliment. It’s progressive and never abrupt. In panic halts from 60 mph, a 328i xDrive required just 113 feet to halt, despite wearing less grippy all-season tires. A 340i xDrive was at 118 feet. Either way, it’s outstanding.
The current 3 Series’ steering feels more synthetic than past iterations, but it’s still a job well done. Words like “telepathic” may no longer apply, but there’s gratifying responsiveness and accuracy.
The supple ride attests to BMW’s focus on luxury, but a true sport sedan is found beneath. The harder you push a 3 Series, the better it feels. The optional M Sport lowered suspension increases athleticism without a stiffer ride penalty. Retains a sense of refined performance that puts it apart.
Always-on turbo torque means great flexibility in daily driving; there’s no need to downshift if you want some oomph. The transmission is expertly programmed, always shifting with grace and precision. The auto stop-start system stays off if you turn it off.
BMW has taken comfort a top priority lately, and the 3 Series is a case in point. From its absorbent ride to its remarkably quiet interior at highway speeds, it meets luxury buyers’ expectations across the board. You needn’t care about sportiness to enjoy this ride.
The front seats find a nice middle ground between plushness and snug support. The side bolsters are modestly sized but should be ok for most. There’s an ample range of adjustments. The armrests are nicely placed and padded.
The 3 Series has a lot of suspension travel for a performance vehicle, giving it very good shock-absorption capability. Older 3 Series tended to ride firmly, but this one has true luxury-grade compliance yet still feels sporty.
noise & vibration
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BMW now pipes in a pleasant, throaty synthetic soundtrack through the speakers that you’d never guess was fake. It’s quiet while cruising, however, as is the cabin in general, impressively so.
You’ll have to spend a little bit of time familiarizing yourself with the climate control buttons, but overall the system works very well. The ability to vary the upper air vent temperature independent of the floor vents remains a BMW hallmark. But ventilated seats aren’t offered on the 3 Series.
The 3 Series interior gives an attractive yet restrained design and a sensible control layout with familiar BMW ergonomics. The rear passenger space is better than ever but may still leave a bit to be desired. Small-item storage is hard to come by. Still a strong effort overall.
ease of use
Most buttons and stalks are well-positioned. The cruise control buttons on the wheel are particularly intuitive. The iDrive controller is complex, but there’s a logic to it that becomes second nature. The Tech package includes a wider and better 8.8-inch screen.
getting in/getting out
The short doors facilitate access in tight spaces. You can’t fall down into this sport sedan as you would into a sports vehicle; seat height is where it should be. The front seatbacks can impede rear access a bit if taller folks are up front.
The driver’s seat gives a lot of adjustment range in the up-down and fore-aft directions, and the telescoping steering wheel pulls back far enough for even the tallest of drivers. Once situated, the mirrors, gauges and controls all feel close at hand.
The front seats have abundant head- and legroom. The backseat legroom is generous, too, and even our 6-foot-2-inch tester had enough headroom. But backseat elbow and shoulder room do feel tight on the door side.
Visibility is great all around thanks to reasonably thin pillars and plenty of glass. We applaud BMW for keeping these traits over time. But a rearview camera and parking sensors should be standard at this price, not optional. (Note: a rearview camera now comes with the 2018 3 Series.)
Quality materials abound, including real metal inlays on the dashboard and the center console. The sun visors feel flimsy, though, and do not slide for extended side-window coverage. Buttons, knobs and levers feel solid and precise.
The wagon gives max versatility with 53 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The sedan gets handy 40/20/40-split folding rear seats, except for 320i, which presents them as optional. Multiple bike, board, boat racks and carriers are available from BMW Accessories.
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The standard 6.5-inch iDrive display is adequate, but the 8.8-inch screen is the true luxury touch. The iDrive system is easy to use with straightforward menus, crisp graphics and quick processing. The controller touchpad can be used to handwrite inputs using your finger.
long-term road test
To learn more about the BMW 3 Series of this generation, read our updates from a full year of living with a 2016 BMW 340i. We cover everything from seat comfort to real-world fuel economy.