Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s chief designer, considers the 3 Series the face of the brand. If anything, that undersells its importance.
BMW struggled in the years following World War II until, in the mid-1960s, its engineers invented a two-door named the 1600-2 and, later, the 2002. The tiny German sedans blew the competition out of the water. The BMW turned better, stopped better, accelerated harder, got better fuel mileage, and carried people in comfort more reliably than anything else in its day. The 3 Series, which superseded it in 1975, simply carried on the same formula. The sports sedan was invented, and BMW’s business boomed.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the 3 Series put BMW on the map in North America, making the brand somehow both ubiquitous and aspirational. It’s still the brand’s most successful product, with more than 15 million sold since 1975. For many, a 3 Series was their first taste of luxury motoring — smooth, powerful, confident and slightly exotic. The 3 Series is your first quality suit, your first taste of something above bar-rail whisky.
It took a while, but competitors did finally catch up to BMW. There are now many fine alternatives from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar, Genesis, and Volvo. Not to mention that SUVs continue to take an ever-larger slice out of the car market. As drivers, we are spoiled for choice. So why put a 3 series in your garage?
The answer, despite all those choices, is because the new 3 Series is simply awesome. The new design may be conservative, but behind the wheel — where you’ll spend all of your time — the driving experience is second to none. Turn-in is as crisp and immediate as an ice-cold shower. Flex your right foot and the chassis responds accordingly, its rear-based all-wheel drive system ensuring the car tucks into a corner. It’s eager like a greyhound. No SUV handles like this.
The power on tap in the 3 Series would be sensible if it were a sports car. It isn’t. This thing has four doors and a generous trunk, and yet the M340i is quicker than last year’s Porsche 911 Carrera from 0–100 km/h. The turbocharged straight-six under the hood provides a velvety slingshot to the horizon. The engine’s sound is fairly mundane, but 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque are absolutely not.
Even the basic 330i with its 255 hp four-cylinder motor is more than quick enough to entertain (and probably the smart choice for those lacking in self-control).
All of this, frankly, comes as a relief. The 3 Series had its sports sedan crown stolen away by Mercedes and Jaguar as of late. But now, the 3 Series — the original sports sedan — has earned back its rightful place at the top of the pack.
2.0-litre turbo I4; 3.0-litre turbo I6
255 hp; 382 hp
7 Generations of 3 Series
75–143 horsepower. Available as coupe or convertible.
90–238 horsepower. Available as sedan, coupe, convertible, wagon, and M3.
99–321 horsepower. Available as sedan, coupe, convertible, wagon, hatchback, and M3.
105–360 horsepower. Available as sedan, coupe, convertible, wagon, hatchback, and M3.
122–450 horsepower. Available as sedan, coupe, convertible, wagon, and M3.
116–460 horsepower. Available as sedan, coupe, and convertible (4 Series), hatchback and M3.
148–XXX horsepower. Available as sedan only so far, with more variants to come.