Come at the king, you best not miss. The BMW 3 Series has been the Omar of the sports sedan game for three decades now, and while its competition is tougher and better than ever, it’s still the reigning champion. What do you need to know before you buy a 3 Series? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything right here in the Ultimate Buyer’s Guide.
Yes, the 3 Series is bigger, more high tech and more complex than ever. But what modern car isn’t? It’s still BMW’s bread-and-butter Ultimate Driving Machine, still probably the best at what it does, and still the top-selling luxury sport sedan around.
From the economical 320i all the way up to the mighty, track-storming M3, you really won’t go unsatisfied driving a 3 Series.
The 3 Series isn’t a single car so much as it is an entire lineup of vehicles on its own, one that includes wagons, sedans, gasoline engines, diesels, rear-and all-wheel drive and a wide variety in price tags. Fortunately, all of them happen to be pretty good to drive.
These days all BMW engines are turbocharged and both the 3 Series’ inline-four and inline-six turbo engines provide plenty of punchy acceleration and torque with respectable fuel economy. Their handling is legendary in the car world, though the numb electric steering on this generation of 3 has left some car reviewers and enthusiasts a little miffed. Save for the Cadillac ATS, it’s still the best handler in the segment. At the same time, we aren’t in love with the newer cars’ artificial engine sounds either.
But the whole point of a 3 Series—and this is an idea that BMW didn’t invent but worked to perfection—is that it can be sporting and fast whenever you want and smooth, comfortable and practical when you do not. All of the models in the current 3 range succeed at this. All have options, tech features and creature comforts galore and can be as luxurious or as spartan as you want, although good luck finding the latter on dealer lots.
If you want to go big, the current M3 is a great way to do it. Rated at 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, the M3’s twin-turbo 3.0L inline-six will go from sedate to demonic at the touch of a button. It’s the rare car that’s equally at home driving you to the office as it is dominating your next track day.
The F30 generation 3 Series launched as a Sedan in 2012 as a 2012 model. It received fresh new styling outside with longer, more flowing headlights and a squished, wider-looking kidney grille. The car also got bigger than its E90 predecessor in almost every dimension.
The new 3 Series added a four cylinder to the carryover N55 inline six. Called the N20, this 180 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder arrived as the first turbo four ever offered in a 3 Series in the U.S. That new engine was dropped into a brand new, cheaper entry-level 320i, and a more-powerful version of the engine made its way into the mid-level 328i trim.
About a year after the new sedan launched, BMW released an all-new 2013 wagon version called the 3 Series Sport Wagon. In addition, a 2014 four-door coupe called the Gran Turismo made its way to the 3 Series lineup. That same year, the the 3 Series Coupe and Convertible, which had remained unchanged from their respective E92 and E93 platforms, went the way of the dodo and were replaced by the 4-Series.
Then in 2015, BMW released their monster: the 425 horsepower track-murdering M3.
In 2016, BMW gave their 3-series sedan and wagon a refresh (the GT remains unchanged). The front and rear bumpers as well as the front and rear headlights got some tweaks. BMW replaced the old inline six in the 335i with a new 3.0-liter B58 inline six. This new engine gets thrown into a new 340i model. The 335i goes away from 2016 forward. In addition, the Sport Line aesthetics package, formerly an option, now becomes standard on all trims sans the base vehicle, the 320i. There’s also a new track handling package, newly available LED headlights and the first ever plug0in hybrid 3-Series, the 330e makes its debut this year.
You want turbos? Well, you’re getting turbos if you buy a 3-Series, because the only options are a 2.0-liter turbo I4, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel I4 or a 3.0-liter turbo I6. The 180 horsepower version of the 2.0-liter is found in the 32oi sedan, while the more powerful 240 horse tune finds its way into the 328i sedan, wagon and four-door coupe.
You want lots of fuel economy? Go for the 2.0-liter turbodiesel, which is the standard engine in the 328d sedan and 328d xDrive Sports Wagon.
Yearning for a 0 to 60 time close to five seconds? The 3.0-liter turbo I6 is the ticket. You can find it under the hood of 340i Sedans and four-door coupes. The all-wheel drive sedan will rocket you to 60 in 4.6 seconds, the two-wheel drive sedan will get you there in 4.8 and the Gran Turismo (GT) four-door coupe takes about 5.1 seconds to get to 60.
But that isn’t fast enough for you, is it? The M3 is the real tire-scorcher, here. Its 425 stallion turbo inline-six will rocket the sedan to 60 in a Holy Crap I Just Swallowed My Tongue 3.9 seconds.
Most 3-Series’s come with eight-speed automatics as standard, though the 320i, 328i, and 340i can be had with a six-speed stick for no additional charge.
Ah, and the M3 comes standard with a 6-speed row-your-own with an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. That auto will shave two tenths off the manual M3’s already impressive 4.1 second trot to 60.
2016 BMW 3 Series Engine Options
Engine Max Horsepower (hp) Max Torque (lb-ft) 2.0L Turbo I4 180 @ 5000 rpm (320i)
240 @ 5000 rpm (328i)
200 @ 1250 rpm
255 @ 1250 rpm
2.0L Turbodiesel I4 180 @ 4000 rpm (328d) 280 @ 1750 rpm 3.0L Turbo I6 300 @ 5500 rpm
320 @ 5500 rpm
425 @ 5500 rpm (M3)
300 @ 1300 rpm
330 @ 1300 rpm
406 @ 1850 rpm
The 3er’s fuel economy numbers are very competitive for the segment. The 320i manages 28 MPG combined in two-wheel drive form and 27 with all four wheels getting the power.
The 328i two-wheel automatic drive sedan manages a similar 27 MPG despite its additional 60 horsepower. The manual 328i loses a single MPG, ending up at 26 MPG. All-wheel drive brings the 328i xDrive sedan down to 27. The xDrive 328i Sport Wagon and Gran Turismo score that same 27 MPG fuel economy figure as the all-wheel drive 328i sedan.
The turbodiesel trims are monsters at the fuel pump, with the sedan nabbing 36 MPG combined, and both the all-wheel drive sedan and wagon managing 34 MPG.
The 320 horsepower 340i series cars get 23 combined with a manual and a massive 3 MPG better with the auto. The lower-powered 300 horse 335i xDrive Gran Turismo is rated at a lowly 23 MPG with that fuel-saving automatic.
But of course, no car sucks as much gas as the 425 horse stalwart from BMW’s M Division. Mated to the optional 7-speed auto, the M3’s combined fuel economy doesn’t even break into the 20s.
2016 BMW 3 Series Fuel Economy Ratings (City/Hwy/Comb)
_ 2.0L Turbo I4 2.0L Turbodiesel I4 3.0L Turbo I6 Manual 23/36/28 (320i)
23/35/27 (320i awd)
NA 20/30/23 (340i)
20/29/23 (340i awd)
Automatic 24/36/28 (320i)
23/35/27 (320i awd)
(328i awd-all bodies)
30/40/34 (328d awd)
(328d awd wagon)
(335i xDrive GT)
Trim Level Breakdown
The BMW 3 Series comes in sedan, wagon, or 4-door coupe form. BMW calls the wagon a “Sports Wagon” and the four-door coupe the “Gran Turismo” model. The sedan in either 320i, 328i, 340i or 328d, while the Sports Wagon comes in 328i or 328d forms and the Gran Turismo gets either 328i or 335i trims. Oh, and there’s also the firebreathing M3 sedan.
Steering for all 3ers is electric and suspension is a five-link design in the rear and double pivot type up front, sprung by either coils or air bags.
- 320i: Starts at $33,150. Notable standard features: 180 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo I4 with stop/start, 8-speed automatic, 17” alloy wheels, SensaTec vinyl seats, push-button start, driving dynamics control with various drive modes, automatic climate control, dynamic cruise control, rain sensing wipers, 9-speaker audio system with 205-watt amplifier, HD radio, iDrive infotainment system with 6.5” center screen. Notable options: 6-speed manual transmission ($0); All-wheel drive ($2,000); Track Handling Package: Variable sport steering, M Sport Brakes, 18” alloy wheels, adaptive M Suspension ($2,300); Cold Weather Package: heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel ($800); Driver Assistance Package: Park Distance Control, rearview camera ($950); Lighting Package: LED headlights, LED fog lights ($700); Sport Package: Anthracite headliner, 18” alloy wheels, M steering wheel, Sport seats ($1,300); Premium Package: Auto-dimming mirrors, Storage package, keyless entry, power front seats, satellite radio, lumbar support, moonroof ($3,100): heated seats ($500).
- 328i: Starts at $38,350. Notable standard features over 320i: 240 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo I4 with stop/start, 8-speed automatic, unique 17” alloy wheels, LED fog lights, power folding heated side mirrors, 10-way power front sport vinyl seats, split-folding rear seats, anthracite headliner. Notable options: all-wheel drive ($2,000), Track Handling Package ($2,300); Premium Package: Lumbar support, satellite radio, keyless access, moonroof ($2,450): Technology Package: Navigation, real-time traffic info, head-up display, instrument cluster with extended content ($2,750); Driver Assistance Package: Park Distance Control, rearview camera ($950); Navigation ($1,950); Driver Assistance Plus: Active Driving Assistant, Active Blind Spot Detection, Side and Top View Cameras, speed limit info ($1,700+Navigation System); Cold Weather Package ($800); Lighting Package ($800); M Sport Package: unique interior trim, unique 18” wheels, adaptive M suspension, unique paint colors, choice of vinyl seats or leather for $1,450 extra, M steering wheel, aero kit (3,000); Luxury Package: Leather seats, unique 18” wheels, unique interior trim ($2050).
- 328i xDrive GT: Starts at $43,000. Notable standard features over 328i: all-wheel drive, 18” alloy wheels, halogen fog lights. Notable options: Dynamic Handling Package: Variable sport steering, adaptive M Suspension ($1,000); Cold Weather Package: heated front seats, heated steering wheel, retractable headlight washers, heated rear seats ($950); Driver Assistance Package ($950); Driver Assistance Plus ($1,700); M Sport Package: unique interior trim, unique 18” wheels with all-season or summer tires, aerodynamic kit, M Steering wheel, unique exterior trim, unique white color, standard suspension with optional $700 Adaptive M suspension, brown or black vinyl seats ($2,600); Luxury Package: leather seats, unique 19” wheels ($2,350); Premium Package: keyless entry, lumbar support, satellite radio ($950); Technology Package ($2,750).
- 328i xDrive wagon: Starts at $42,650. Notable standard features over 328i: All-wheel drive, panoramic moonroof. Notable options: Same as 328i except Premium Package excludes moonroof and costs $1,700.
- 328d: Starts at $41,850. Standard features over 328i: 2.0L turbodiesel engine. Options similar to 328i.
- 328d wagon. Starts at $44,150. Standard features over 328i wagon: 2.0L turbodiesel engine. Options similar to 328i, except no Track Handling Package available.
- 340i: Starts at $45,800. Notable standard features over 328i: 320 horsepower 3.0-liter turbo I6 with start/stop, unique 18” alloy wheels, interior wood trim, lumbar support, Harman Kardon 16-speaker audio system with 600-watt amplifier. Notable options: all-wheel drive ($2,000); Driver Assistance Package ($950); Navigation ($1,950); Driver Assistance Plus ($1,700+Navigation System); Cold Weather Package ($800); Lighting Package ($800); Luxury Package: Leather seats, unique 19” wheels, unique interior trim ($2350); Technology Package: ($2,750); M Sport Package (3,000).
- 335i GT: Starts at $49,200. Notable standard features over 328i GT: 3.0-liter 300 horsepower I6. Notable options similar to 328i GT.
- M3: Starts at $63,200: Notable standard features: 420 horsepower turbo I6 with start/stop, track-ready cooling system, 6-speed manual transmission, unique aero package, unique electric power steering, M Drive and M Driving Dynamics Control, lightweight subframe, aluminum suspension components, Active M differential, M Compound 4-wheel vented brakes, Forged light 18” alloy wheels, xenon adaptive headlights with dynamic auto leveling, Corona headlight-rings, cornering lights, Sport exhaust system with quad tailpipes, rear spoiler, power folding heated mirrors, carbon fiber roof, aluminum hood with powerdome, unique interior and exterior trim, anthracite headliner, anthracite cloth/leather upholstery, automatic climate control, heated front seats, iDrive with on-board touchpad controller, navigation, Harman Kardon Surround Sound 16-speaker audio system with 600-watt amplifier, HD radio, rain sensing wipers. Notable options: Executive Package: head-up display, retractable headlight washers, heated steering wheel, park distance control, rearview camera ($3,500); Driver Assistance Plus: Active Driving Assistant, Active Blind Spot Detection, Side and Top View Cameras, Speed Limit info ($1,700+Executive Package); Lighting Package: Adaptive full LED lights, automatic high beams ($1,900).
There are several 3 Series models we’re partial to across its large range.
First, you can’t really go wrong with what we’ve termed the “Jalopnik Spec” 320i ZSP + ZMT, which is the base model 3 Series with a turbo four, the sport package—high performance summer tires, M sport suspension, increased speed limiter, 18-inch alloys, and Anthracite headliner—and a manual gearbox. All that for just $35,445. Not bad at all.
Next, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the 328i Sports Wagon, which comes in gasoline and diesel variants. In the U.S. they’re xDrive all-wheel drive only, and automatic only, but still lots of fun.
And at the top of the ladder there’s the BMW M3. You don’t need the carbon ceramic brakes, but we actually do prefer the dual clutch option to the manual gearbox. It’s more fitting of the current M3 as a super high-tech sport machine than a stick shift, but if you want to row your own, we won’t stop you.
MSRP: $33,150-$63,200 Top Speed: ~155 MPH [M3]
Acceleration: 3.9s to 60 [M3 Auto]
MPG: 24 city / 36 hwy / 28 combined [320i auto]
Engines: 2.0L Turbo I4, 2.0L Turbodiesel I4, 3.0L Turbo I6
Max Horsepower/Torque: 425hp/406 lb-ft [M3]
Curb Weight: ~3,320-4,010 IIHS Safety Rating: Not A Top Safety Pick
Transmissions: 6-Speed Manual, 8-Speed Automatic, 7-Speed DCT (M3)
Drivetrain Layout: Front Engine, RWD/AWD
Photo credit: BMW