Until the advent of the smaller, less expensive 1 Series, BMW's 3 Series has been the marque's entry-level model line, sales leader and luxury-sports-compact segment leader since it first arrived on U.S. shores in 1977. Competitors target its character and appeal but rarely come convincingly close.
You'll Like The 2013 BMW M3 If...
If you are a true driving enthusiast (or want to be seen as one) and can afford a true enthusiasts' compact sports sedan, equipped as you want it and wearing that pricey propeller badge, you will enjoy the BMW 3's image, driving dynamics and (down the road) strong resale value.
You May Not Like The 2013 BMW M3 If...
If you can see beyond the vaunted BMW badge and would like an equally satisfying luxury-sports compact for similar or significantly less money, there are a lot of excellent alternatives beginning with the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS and the new Cadillac's ATS.
At nearly $3,300 less than the previously entry-level 328i, the new 320i gives BMW a lower entry point for the 3-Series without compromising its luxury pretentions. Other noteworthy additions for 2013 include available xDrive AWD and a new ActiveHybrid model, which teams a 55-hp electric motor with the TwinPower turbo-6 for a combined 335 horsepower and a modest boost in fuel efficiency.
BMW calls its 2013 3 Series interior "straight out of the BMW design handbook," meaning an uncomplicated look with tight fits, simple shapes and upscale materials. The cockpit, angled toward the driver by seven degrees, presents important controls within easy reach, and the rear cabin is a bit roomier than before. The four circular dials are speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and oil temperature – but there's no coolant-temperature or oil-pressure gauge. The console-mounted iDrive controller is handy to both driver and front passenger, and its freestanding central screen boasts a flat-TV-like trans-reflective, high-resolution display.
When BMW's 1977 3 Series replaced the respected but ungainly 2002, its styling was a pleasant surprise. Thirty-six years later, its evolving design has never again surprised, and that's a good thing. Line up all six generations, and the evolution is apparent. Each new 3 Series logically follows the one before it, remaining conservative but contemporary for its time. Even to the casual observer, there is never a doubt what it is. Today's slightly longer and taller model differentiates itself mostly by adding more character lines and creases and visually connecting its headlamps to its signature twin-kidney grille. Similarly, the equally-iconic M3 maintains its long-standing tradition of elevating the 3 Series' athletic looks to the next level by way of distinctive front and rear fascias, quad exhaust outlets, and a wider, more aggressive stance.
A major element of the 3 Series' appeal is its grin-inducing driving dynamics. We've tested the sedans and coupes on slow, fast, twisty and hilly roads and on challenging race courses, and they go, steer, corner and brake as well as, or better than, anything in their segment. Especially impressive is the balance of cornering prowess with comfortable ride. The fuel-saving stop-start feature shutters when it kills the engine at rest, and again when it restarts as the brake is released, but it can be switched off. The delightfully torquey turbo-6 is good for 5.4-second 0-60 bursts, but the surprising turbo-4 is only about a half-second slower, with the down-powered 320i version turning in a time of roughly 7.1 seconds. As a bonus, the twin-scroll turbo used on both powerplants are virtually free of turbo lag. But if the standard variety fails to arouse your senses, the 414-horsepower M3 is sure to plaster a smile on the face of even the most discerning enthusiast.
Starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2013 turbo-4-powered 320i sedan is right around $34,500, with the 328i starting at around $37,400. A base 335i stickers for close to $43,700, with well-optioned examples easily approaching $60K. The new ActiveHybrid 3 starts just north of $50K. For xDrive AWD on non- hybrid models, add $2,000. The 2013 BMW M3 coupe begins just over $62,000, while the hardtop convertible commands a hefty $9,000 premium over its fixed-roof counterpart. The 2013 3 Series coupe and convertible models range from about $40K to $62K base MSRP, but keep in mind that those are still on the old 5th-generation platform. A comparably-equipped Infiniti G37, Audi A4 or Cadillac ATS will be slightly less expensive, but the BMW badge and image typically return a higher percentage at resale time. To see what others are paying for the BMW 3 Series in your area, be sure to check out KBB.com’s Fair Purchase Price at the bottom of this page.
As expected, 2013 BMW 3 Series sedans come well equipped with Leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, cruise control, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, halogen head- and fog lamps with automatic headlight control, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive brake lights, run-flat all-season tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 9-speaker audio system with HD Radio and a USB port. Still, a power driver seat and a fold-down rear seat are extra-cost options. Standard Driving Dynamics Control offers ECO-PRO, Comfort and Sport settings, while standard safety features include stability and traction controls, anti-lock braking, active head restraints and eight airbags.
The 3 Series option list boggles the mind. Among the more interesting are a Parking Assistant and the Surround View camera (see Favorite Features), navigation with real-time traffic, Active Blind Spot Detection, lane-departure warning, collision warning and automatic collision notification. Available Comfort Access pops the trunk lid when you wave your foot under the bumper, Variable Sports Steering offers different steering ratios for varying conditions, and a head-up display projects key information in the driver's line of sight. An M Sport package adds adaptive sport suspension, aero aids and M wheels, while three packages called "Lines" (Luxury, Modern and Sport) let buyers customize their car's appearance.
BMW PARKING ASSISTANT
This feature helps you to maneuver into parallel parking spaces by first measuring a potential space's size to be sure the car will comfortably fit, then automatically steering into it. The driver just has to operate the accelerator and brake and keep an eye on the area around the car.
SURROUND VIEW SYSTEM
Cameras in the outside mirrors provide a bird's-eye top view of the area around the car to aid maneuvering in tight spaces, while the selectable Side View function uses cameras in the sides of the front bumper to monitor traffic crossing in front of the car.
Under the Hood
Three gasoline engines are offered in 2013 3 Series lineup: A 2.0-liter turbo-4 in 320i and 328i models (detuned in the 320i), the 3.0-liter inline turbo-6 (now available in nearly all BMWs) in 335i models, and a potent 414-horsepower naturally-aspirated V8 reserved for the range-topping M3. Each boasts the unique combination of BMW "Valvetronic" fully variable intake-valve lift, "Double Vanos" dual-cam phasing, and direct gas injection. Both turbocharged mills offer a choice of 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission driving the rear or (with newly-available xDrive) all four wheels. A 6-speed manual gearbox or a quick-witted dual-clutch 7-speed automatic is available on M3 models. Unlike its high-performance challenger, the Audi S4, the M3 is not available in all-wheel-drive configuration. The new ActiveHybrid 3 marries a 55-hp electric motor (packaged inside the 8-speed automatic housing and driven by a lithium-ion battery) to the turbo-6 for a combined 335 hp (not the sum of both peak outputs, since both engine and motor can't operate at max power simultaneously).
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
180 horsepower @ 5,000-6,250 rpm
200 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/36 mpg (manual), 24/36 mpg (automatic), 23/35 mpg (AWD)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
240 horsepower @ 5,000-6,000 rpm
255 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/34 mpg (manual), 23/33 mpg (automatic)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
300 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,200-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/30 mpg (manual), 23/33 mpg (automatic), 23/28 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (hybrid)
335 horsepower @ 5,800-6,000 rpm
330 lb-ft of torque @ 1,200-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/33 mpg
414 horsepower @ 8,300 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 3,900 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/20 mpg, 13/20 mpg (convertible, manual)
The iconic BMW 3 may be the industry's most benchmarked vehicle. Virtually all competing automakers – most notably Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus – have tried to match (or surpass) its beautifully balanced dynamics, upscale image and enthusiast appeal with luxosport compacts of their own, and some have come close. But none so far has quite bulls-eyed that elusive target. Making that challenge even more difficult is the 2013 addition of available xDrive all-wheel drive (AWD), a still-quick but more fuel-efficient ActiveHybrid 3 model and (soon) a sports wagon. To make the nameplate more accessible to the masses, BMW offers a new entry-level 320i model that delivers 3-Series prestige at a buyer-friendly price. The previous-generation coupe, convertible and performance-based M3 variants are carried over as 2013s for now, but all-new versions on the new platform are not far away.