Marking its seventh generation, the iconic BMW 3-Series is all new for 2019. The original sports-luxury sedan gets new styling, an updated interior, more powerful base engine and additional features. Wheelbase grows by 1 inch to 112 and overall length increases by 3 to 185 inches. With the wagon body style taking an indefinite leave of absence, the 3-Series is offered only as a 4-door sedan. It should be noted that four-door hatchback and 2-door coupe and convertible versions are badged as the 4-series. Competitors include the Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, Cadillac CT5, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Two models are offered, the 330i and M340i. The 330i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 255 horsepower, that's up from 248 last year. The M340i gets a 382-hosrepower twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder engine. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions are offered, the latter tagged with xDrive. A manual transmission and additional engine offerings are expected to be available in 2020 when the M editions are introduced.
Prices start at $40,750 for the 330i and $54,000 for the M340i. Enhancements for 2019 include a new electric power steering system, additional rear-seat leg room, a larger trunk, standard tri-zone climate control, available digital dashboard, improved head-up display, BMW's Intelligent Personal Assistant and BMW's Digital Key smartphone app.
Sport-minded buyers might consider the Track Handling package, which includes electronically locking rear differential, upgraded brakes and sport-tuned suspension. Additionally, there's the M Sport package with 19-inch wheels, performance tires, sport-tuned suspension and steering and special exterior and interior trim details.
Initially only the "base" 330i model was offered. It's turbo four provides solid acceleration and ample passing punch. From a rest it can push the 3500-pound 3-Series from 0 to 60 MPH in about 5 seconds -- about the quickest number in the class for a base engine. Later in the model year, BMW began offering the twin-turbo inline-6. That engine has proven itself in other BMW models to be one of the best in the luxury segment in terms of overall performance.
Both engines are extremely smooth and mate well to the slick-shifting 8-speed automatic. Indeed, this might be the quickest and smoothest shifting automatic in the segment. At part throttle, there's no perceptible hesitation as the transmission upshifts through the gears. Downshift happen at lightning speed, as well.
The added traction provided by the xDrive system is a welcome addition and a worthy expense for those living in snowy climates. It seamlessly delivers power to the wheels with the most grip. As an added benefit, the system also has torque vectoring that's designed to improve handling in all situations. It is something you don't notice until you are accelerating at near full throttle out of a corner. That's when the all-wheel-drive system computer routes power to the inside rear wheel to help rotate the vehicle around the corner. The sensation is as if someone was pushing down on the back of the car, forcing the front to rotate properly. Regardless, if you own a 3-Series or any premium sport sedan, you should consider swapping out the standard performance rubber for snow tires in the winder.
Impressive EPA numbers for the 330i xDrive of 25 MPG city and 35 MPG highway are among the best in the class. As is the case with nearly every model in the segment, premium-grade fuel is required. In routine suburban commuting its easy to average 30 MPG overall. However, if you dive deep into the throttle on a regular basis, expect to average closer to 24 MPG.
Back in the Eighties, when the 3-Series was setting the standard for luxury-car driving dynamics there was little competition. Today, there are a dozen vehicles vying for that title. Still, the 3-Series stands as one of, if not, the best in providing a deft balance of ride control and handling prowess. The 3-Series feels unflappable when rounding bends and traversing expressway on ramps. Body lean is minimal and there's no drama when going over bumps and expansion joints. While some others in the class get nervous as speed increases, the 3-Series stays relaxed and poised.
On the flip side, the ride can be harsh, especially when in Sport mode with the Track pack and 19-inch tires. As is the case with most sport sedans, it's best to avoid the aggressive wheels and tires unless you plan on auto crossing your vehicle. The penalties are just too severe to justify the handling gains -- especially considering the standard 3-Series' impressive cornering capabilities.
Other automakers should pay attention to the details like BMW. The powerful brakes, for example, are confidence inspiring in a panic stop. There's no drama as the 3-Series scrubs speed, just quiet, smooth and, most important, quick stops. The same can be said for the steering, which, thankfully, is greatly improved this year. Road feel is good and the steering is dead true on the highway. There's a noticeable and welcome increase in effort when switching into Sport mode.
Interior noise levels are impressively low. There's nary a hint of wind or road noise at highway speed and the engine emits a refined growl in hard acceleration. The fuel-saving start-stop system generally works well and has a feature that restarts the engine as the vehicle in front pulls away, which makes getting underway quicker.
The 2019 3-Series gets a complete interior makeover -- though the design is familiar if not a bit button heavy. Materials are easily class appropriate and fit-and-finish is excellent. Two instrument clusters are offered: a traditional twin-dial setup and a programmable all-digital display. Both are easy to read. There's also a hi-definition head-up display. The center stack is dominated by an infotainment screen for the iDrive system that sits above an array of buttons for the radio and climate control. The design is clean, but somewhat cluttered.
All-in-all, control operation is fairly straightforward and most switchgear falls right where you would expect it. Still, BMW continues to push its iDrive infotainment system. It's certainly not the easiest to master and can make simple tasks like tuning the radio or setting a destination difficult. Voice and gesture controls have been added, but don't work consistently enough to provide a substitute for a better design. In addition, Apple Car Play is an extra-cost option and Android Auto is not supported.
The front seats are firm and aggressively supportive. In addition to fore-and-aft adjustment and backrest rake, there are several additional adjustments for the seat-bottom cushion and lumbar area. Once settled, the driving position is excellent. Head and leg room are ample for large adults. The rear seat is best left to children, but two adults will fit if the front seats are positioned forward. Entry and exit are only fair as the door openings aren't very wide. Visibility is good forward and to the sides. Though thick rear pillars and a high deck make parking a bit more difficult. Thankfully, 360-degree sensors and an around view camera are offered.
Trunk capacity comes in at 17 cubic feet, which is fairly good for the class. In addition, the rear seats fold 60/40 and trunk hinges do not intrude on cargo space. Interior storage is modest, but the center bin is reasonably sized and has a high-amp USB-C port. The wireless charger sits ahead of the shifter and the space can double as storage. The map pockets are large and will fit a standard water bottle along with a few other things.
Bottom Line -- The new BMW 3-Series returns to its roots in many ways. Dynamically, the car is more rewarding to drive and interior materials are a massive step forward. As always the engines are refined, powerful and smooth. On the flip side, iDrive continues to confound and the rear seat is only marginally better than before. As you might expect, prices are on the high side as well. Unlike in the '80s, the 3-Series has some serious competition today, so shop around to find the car you like most.