2011 BMW 3-Series — Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Customers shopping for sheets at Sears have three choices, labeled "Good," "Better" and "Best." The Good sheets are bargain-priced but low quality, the Better sheets offer the best combination of price and quality, and the Best sheets have the best quality with a correspondingly high price tag.
For 2011, BMW has decided to follow the same formula with its compact 3-Series, adding a performance-oriented 335is to the lineup. It slots in just below the top-of-the-line M3, giving customers the choice of five iterations that start at "Fantastic" and get better from there.
All 3-Series are well equipped. Notable standard equipment on the base 328i includes leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, HD radio and run-flat tires with 16-inch wheels on sedans and wagons and 17s on coupes and convertibles. Coupes also come standard with a sport suspension. Moving up to the 335i adds driver's seat memory, adaptive headlights, a sunroof for coupes and sedans, and leather upholstery for the convertible.
The new 335is, which is offered as a coupe and convertible, adds equipment otherwise offered only in the M Sport package, including the M Sport steering wheel, M Sport seats, an anthracite headliner, 18-inch wheels and stiffer engine mounts. The 335is also has a slightly modified look front and rear.
The M3 comes with a limited-slip differential, larger brakes, performance suspension and staggered 18-inch tires. The M3 coupe also has a carbon-fiber roof.
All 3-Series iterations come with a full slate of safety features, including dual front airbags, front side airbags, anti-lock brakes, a tire-pressure monitor, traction control and electronic stability control. All but the convertible also have side curtain airbags, while the convertible has automatic pop-up roll bars. Manual-transmission versions also get a hill-holder clutch.
Under the Hood
The new 335is gets a more powerful version of the twin-turbocharged six from last year's 335i. It now makes 320 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque thanks to additional boost pressure. Fuel economy for the 335is is 18/26 mpg with the manual transmission or 17/24 mpg with BMW's 7-speed double clutch automated manual (DCT).
Also offered are two specialty engines. The high-performance M3 comes with a 4.0-liter V8 that produces 414 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. EPA figures are 14/20 mpg and transmission choices are the 6-speed manual or the DCT. The 335d uses a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder diesel engine that makes 265 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque while delivering 23/36 mpg. It comes with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
BMW's iDrive control interface, which operates many entertainment, climate and communications functions, is optional in the 3-Series, though it is standard when the navigation system is ordered. The system now includes several buttons around the central control knob that ease access to their underlying functions. It also incorporates programmable preset buttons that can be used to store anything from radio stations to common navigation destinations to audio balance. These changes make the system easier to use than in the past, but it will still be daunting to technophobes.
All variants have plenty of space up front, and the various seat and steering-wheel controls make it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The 3-Series qualifies as a compact car, and as such rear seat room is not plentiful. It has enough room for adults, provided the front seat occupants aren't very tall. The coupe and convertible seat only two, while the others have seating for five. Getting in and out of the back seat of the coupe or a top-up convertible requires some acrobatic ability.
Cargo space varies by body style. The convertible has 9 cubic feet of space, but barely any with the top down. The coupe has 11.1 cubic feet of space, while the sedan has 12 cubic feet. The wagon has 25 cubic feet, but that expands to 60.9 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded. The rear seats in the sedan and coupe can also fold to expand cargo capacity, but that's not the case for the room-restricted convertible. In addition, a ski pass-through is available to accommodate long objects without folding the seats down.
On the Road
The standard steering is heavy but quick, and it provides lots of feedback. The available Active Steering is quicker at low speeds and slower at high speeds, making it easier to perform parking lot maneuvers and keeping the car stable at speed.
For even more handling prowess, BMW offers a Sport package (standard on coupes and the 335is variant) with tighter suspension settings and a lowered ride height. The M3 has even firmer suspension settings and larger tires. On a racetrack, the M3 performs like a world-class sports car, not just a sports coupe or sedan.
Despite its handling prowess, the 3-Series also rides fairly well. Base iterations have a firm ride, but they do a great job of ironing out road imperfections. Those with the sport suspension and larger tires start to pound over bumps and ruts.
The 3-Series engine lineup is also hard to beat. All of the 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engines are inherently smooth. The base engine in 328i variants provides linear power that most drivers will find more than adequate. The new single turbo 3.0-liter in the 335i has V8 thrust, lacking turbo lag and launching the car from zero to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. Both engines come with a slick-shifting manual transmission or a smooth 6-speed automatic.
The 335is's steering-wheel shift paddles are noteworthy. Instead of two paddles that you push down to downshift or pull up to upshift, the left paddle downshifts and the right paddle upshifts. We like this setup better. When paired with the quick-shifting and responsive DCT, the 335is can reach 60 mph in just five seconds and it's only 0.1 second slower with the manual. Any 335 will let you pass with ease, but the 335is will do it just a touch quicker.
The 335d is no slouch, either. Its massive torque gets it moving with gusto, and it can reach 60 mph in an impressive six seconds. The M3's V8 is small but it revs willingly all the way to 8000 rpm. This peaky engine makes cool sounds, responds quickly to driver inputs, rockets to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and tops out at an electronically limited 155 mph.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, BMW provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.