BMW’s obsession to fill every niche isn’t new. Before the BMW 3-Series, a “luxury sport compact” could have applied to a versatile woman’s handbag or described Ricardo Montalban’s suit.
The 3-Series changed that more than three decades again.
For 2017, the BMW 3-Series comes in three body styles, with a choice between six different engines, two powertrains, and two transmission choices. Want details? The 3-Series comes in 320i, 320i xDrive, 328d, 328d xDrive, 330i, 330i xDrive, 340i, 340i xDrive sedan flavors; a 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid sedan; 330i xDrive Gran Turismo and 340i xDrive Gran Turismo tall hatchbacks; 330i and 328d xDrive wagon; and the almighty M3 (which we cover separately). Inhale, exhale.
The 2017 BMW 3-Series earns a 6.8 overall on our scale, which reflects its good fuel economy, safety, and performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Style and performance
The BMW 3-Series is dressed for dinner with the parents. The sharp exterior was updated for 2016 and carries on this year, still sharp. The grille and headlights were made bigger slightly and the back end is more distinctive than before.
It’s a elegant and classic look from the 3-Series, and one that won’t get old soon.
We can’t say the same about the 3-Series everywhere else. The interior is starting to look a little plain and outdated, compared to the techno-blitzes from Audi and Mercedes-Benz in their A4 and C-Class, respectively. Interior materials range from rich and luxurious to muddled and fussy—even a little cheap. Spend more and get more, it’s a recurring theme.
Under hood is a variety of powerplants that range from efficient (328d diesel and 330e hybrid) to blistering fast (M3 and 340i) or more commonly commuter (320i and 330i).
New for 2017, the 330i probably hits the goldilocks spot for most drivers. Its uprated 248 horsepower and improved feel from last year’s model should make it a more competent performer for most buyers. We’ve driven the new turbo-4 in the 5-Series (which is a heavier car by 300 lbs) and it feels aptly powered there—it’s hard to imagine it’d feel worse in a lighter car.
The 340i’s turbo-6 and 320 hp will brighten anyone’s day and tempt every right foot. Mash the throttle and the 340i spins up an overwhelming and instant 330 pound-feet of twist that used to only come with M3 badges.
Lessees may consider the 320i’s tempting entry price, but we say skip the Starbucks each month and skip the 180-hp 320i—the 330i’s turbo-4 will be worth it.
In 320i, 330i, and 340i models, a 6-speed manual transmission is available at every stop (the 330i doesn’t offer a manual with all-wheel drive) and we applaud BMW’s efforts for bringing those models to the U.S. We cheer even louder for the 8-speed automatic that seems telepathic and instant in its shifiting, and sport programs that make us almost forget how much we love a manual. (We said almost.)
In any case, every 3-Series is a sharp handler with an excellent feel and flat attitudes. The electric-assisted steering is weighted nicely and manages to push back when the 3-Series is running out of grip and we’re running out of talent.
Comfort, safety, and features
Although this is the biggest 3-Series yet, it’s still very much a compact car. Front seat riders get good seats with adequate bolstering and nice leg support. The rear seats are good for children or small adults on long trips; tall riders may want to consider horsetrading with front riders to get enough room to be comfortable.
Unlike trendier shapes that cut into rear head room, the 3-Series offers good space for tall torsos in back, and it’s traditional design makes for better cargo room too. The trunk’s 15.8 cubic feet of space is enough to swallow plenty of gear.
The 3-Series improved its rating by the IIHS this year to be a Top Safety Pick+ (when equipped with a lighting package and $4,000 in options) and has a five-star overall rating from federal testers.
Outward visibility is surprisingly good in the 3-Series, but BMW frustratingly saddles a rearview camera with a $400 price tag.
Base 320i sedans are fairly spartan, considering their mid-$30,000 price tag. Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, manually adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control, and a 6.5-inch display for its infotainment system, which BMW calls iDrive.
Bigger wheels, better infotainment, and more creature comforts all come with a higher price tag, some of which seem excessive. Heated seats help in northern states, and we’d always suggest better performance. A $745 carbon fiber rear spoiler? Maybe not.
Before you scoff at $300 for Apple CarPlay, which other automakers seemingly throw in for free, consider that BMW’s system runs without wires. That may help justify that big bill for BMW’s new feature for 2017. (We said may.)