In two years since spinning off coupes and convertibles from the 3-Series to its own 4-Series nameplate, the venerable BMW 3-Series has already grown into its skin. The 3-Series lineup—a pioneer in the luxury compact segment—is already mature with varied powertrains and body styles, ranging from sedans to wagons—even hatchbacks. Each delivers what the 3-Series always has—driving satisfaction both in everyday driving and on curvy mountain roads—yet with better fuel economy than in the past, with most 3-Series cars now returning more than 30 mpg on the highway if you keep it smooth and responsible.
Exterior design is defined by the classic proportions of a sports sedan. The hood is lower at the nose, but rises higher than the previous model thanks to pedestrian safety regulations; the cabin is larger and longer; and we especially like how the greenhouse doesn't get pinched by a rising belt line near the tail. BMW gave the 3-Series a few styling tweaks for 2016. Headlights and taillights have been redesigned with even more distinctive signatures when illuminated. Front and rear fascias were also reshaped.
The cabin is spacious for those in the front seat, and there's plenty of room for cargo, but space in the rear seat is still a bit tight for adults. Modern interior design makes good use of compact dimensions, though. Just beware of splashier trim combinations—they can get visually fussy. Often maligned in years past, iDrive has matured into a more usable, if still complex, system, and the available navigation system includes excellent 3-D maps.
With the same basic turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 as found in the 328i, but de-tuned to 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, the 320i is BMW's answer to the Mercedes-Benz CLA Class and Audi A3 sedan. The next step up the ladder is the 328i, rated at 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. The 328d delivers outstanding fuel efficiency with a turbodiesel inline-4 that makes 180 hp.
The 340i replaces the 335i at the top of the standard model's pecking order. Its new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 produces 320 hp (20 more than the 335i) and 330 lb-ft of torque.
It's not yet available, but BMW has announced the 330e plug-in hybrid with 72 MPGe, 75 mph top speed on all electricity, and 14-mile range in full electric mode—or a 5.9-second 0-to-60 mph time.
Rear-wheel drive is standard on all sedan models, with available all-wheel drive. An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard, but BMW offers a 6-speed manual as a no-cost option for 320i, 328i, 340i, and 340i xDrive models.
A 3-Series delivers balanced handling and dynamics regardless of body style or drive type, but sedans with rear-wheel drive have a slight edge. It's important to note that the 3-Series isn't as sharp as it once was; it has gotten softer and more comfortable, but it's still a capable back-road hustler. The 340i is undeniably potent, but the 4-cylinder turbo in the 328i still offers a lot of speed and fuel efficiency, and working to keep its performance at full boil might make it more fun.
A 3-Series Sports Wagon is also available; all wagons come with standard all-wheel drive, and with one of two engines: the same 240-hp unit found in the 328i sedan, or the 180-horsepower 4-cylinder diesel for 328d xDrive Sports Wagon.
All 3-Series Gran Turismo models also come with standard all-wheel drive. The 328i Gran Turismo uses the same 2.0-liter inline-4 as the 328i sedan, while the 335i Gran Turismo continues to use the 300-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-6 from last year's 335i. While Gran Turismos look similar to the 3-Series sedans, they're heavier, have softer suspension settings, and drive quite differently. The result is a less sporty but very agreeable family car.
The 2016 3-Series sedan was once again crash-tested by the IIHS, and it failed to improve on its "Marginal" rating in the small overlap frontal test. But the 3-Series does maintain good occupant-safety ratings, including mostly "Good" ratings from the IIHS and a five-star overall rating from the federal government.
Base prices for the 3-Series tend to be fairly reasonable, starting in the mid-$30,000s and rising almost to $50,000. Standard equipment is somewhat sparse in the entry-level 320i, though, and we don't imagine you'll find many 3-Series cars without a few pricey options on dealer lots. The Sport Line's cosmetic enhancements are now standard on the 328i, 328d, and 340i, and there are a host of desirable amenities in Luxury, Premium, Cold Weather, and Technology packages. Driver Assistance packages are also available. New this year is a Track Handling package with sport-tuned steering and suspension, alloy 18-inch wheels, and brakes with distinctive blue calipers.
With six engine choices, two powertrain options and two different body styles, nailing down the 3-Series' fuel economy is predictably hard to do. The most frugal pick is the 328d turbodiesel powerplant that manages up to 32 mpg city, 42 highway, 36 combined in rear-drive. The thirstiest is the 340i with all wheel drive and a manual that's rated by the EPA at 20/29/23 mpg. The base 320i in rear-drive with an automatic is rated at 24/36/28 mpg.