Pros: Efficient and powerful turbocharged inline-4; superstar inline-6 engine range; smoother ride and bigger cabin in sedan and wagon; excellent handling in carryover coupe and convertible.
Cons: Sedan and wagon aren't as sporty as the others; new ActiveHybrid sedan is a questionable value.
What's New: The 2013 328i Touring wagon gets treated to the same thorough revisions as last year's sedan lineup, and the first 3 Series hybrid (dubbed Active Hybrid 3) makes its debut. The coupe and convertible continue to employ previous-generation architecture.
The 2013 BMW 3 Series is once again a tale of two generations, but the plot has thickened. Following its introduction last year, the larger, more luxurious and generally awesome sedan is joined for 2013 by a wagon sibling. That means the previous-generation wagon, sold as new for 2012, has been officially put out to pasture. Also new for 2013 is the sedan-only Active Hybrid 3, a 335-horsepower breath of fresh air among traditionally stale luxury hybrids.
But those who value the focused performance of the previous 3 Series can still choose the carryover coupe or convertible. This outgoing platform been praised by virtually every publication, including ours, for its sublime blend of athleticism and manners. It doesn't pamper you as much as the new one, but it's arguably more of a driver's setup. If that's your preference, don't tarry, because the two-doors are due for overhauls of their own next year.
The long and short of it is that you can't go wrong with the 2013 3 Series. Whether you're drawn to the latest and greatest or the tried and true, you'll be treated to one of the best all-around drives at any price.
Comfort & Utility
The new 328i sedan and wagon come standard with the turbocharged inline-4 engine; 17-inch alloy wheels; fog lights; Driving Dynamics Control with three different settings for throttle sensitivity and steering effort; push-button ignition; power front seats; leatherette upholstery; dual-zone automatic climate control; iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity; and the iDrive infotainment system with a 6.5-in screen.
The 335i sedan upgrades to the turbocharged inline-6 and niceties like 18-in wheels, adaptive Xenon headlamps, and a sunroof. The Active Hybrid 3 shares the 335i's engine and most of its equipment, adding a 55-hp electric motor along with the expected hybrid-specific readouts.
In addition to the usual laundry list of options, the new 3 Series can be outfitted in Sport Line, Modern Line, or Luxury Line trim. These trims are comprehensive appearance packages (the Sport also has a lowered sport suspension) that include unique wheels and interior decor. There's also an M Sport package that adds Shadowline exterior trim, a sport suspension, an M steering wheel, sport seats, a short-shifter kit (manual transmission only), and extensive M badging inside and out.
The carryover 328i coupe and convertible come with largely the same standard feature set as the new 328i range, but there are notable exceptions. The coupe, for example, comes standard with a sport suspension, and neither two-door comes standard with iDrive, which requires a different dashboard in these models. The Driving Dynamics Control and auto stop/start features are also unique to the new sedan and wagon. As for the old 335i, its standard extras are pretty close to those of the 335i sedan.
BMW also still makes the 335is, a coupe or convertible that gets an older twin-turbocharged inline-6 with extra boost. Numerous sport-oriented features are along for the ride here, as the company has tried to position this model between the 335i and the M3.
In our interior evaluation, we noted that the new 3 Series models carry on the tradition of offering superb seats. The front chairs come in multiple forms, but there's really not a bad apple in the barrel. The gauges in the new car are thankfully of the classic white-on-black variety, changing to orange-on-black at night.
Perhaps the most significant change in the new 3 Series interior is the cohesive design of the standard iDrive screen, which now sits comfortably atop the center stack like an integrated iPad. In the old cabin, conversely, an unsightly separate hump is required to accommodate the optional iDrive screen. Materials quality in both cabins is excellent, but the new interior layout scores points for its stylized, contemporary look, even if some might feel it goes over the top in Sport Line trim with that red stitching on the seats and such.
The new 3 Series sedan and wagon have grown in both overall and wheelbase length, and BMW has used the extra space widely, creating a back seat that can finally accommodate 6-ft-plus non-contortionists. Audi achieved this with the A4 a few years ago, so it's high time BMW joined the party. The other 3 Series models are a mixed bag in back: the coupe has decent rear space by class standards, but the convertible is pretty tight.
The sedan's trunk has grown, too, to a respectable 13 cu-ft or so (though the Hybrid's trunk loses a few cubes), while the wagon's maximum cargo capacity has increased to approximately 65 cu-ft, an improvement of over 10 percent. The coupe's trunk, meanwhile, measures a respectable 11.1 cu-ft, while the convertible has a robust 12.3 cu-ft with the top up, but just 7 cu-ft with it down.
Speaking of the convertible, the standard power-operated hardtop doesn't do the car's styling any favors, but we suppose that's a small price to pay for the added security and all-weather capability of a retractable hardtop.
If you think BMW scrimps on standard features, the 3 Series will force you to think again. Across the board, you get standard iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity for 2013, and the sedan and wagon add features like the 3-mode electronic throttle/steering calibration (4-mode in Sport Line models). They even come standard with iDrive, which is optional on the older 3 Series models.
So let's talk about iDrive--specifically, let's talk about how good it is these days. Remember when everyone loved to criticize it for not having enough buttons? Well, BMW has apparently learned its lesson, as the new iDrive controller is surrounded by no fewer than eight programmable buttons. The screen is crisp and colorful--one of the best on the market--and iDrive is now hard-drive-based, which gives you higher processing speeds and the fringe benefit of digital music storage.
Performance & Fuel Economy
All 3 Series models start with rear-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission. Note that all-wheel drive can be added to every 3 Series model except the convertible, the Active Hybrid 3, and the 335is range.
The 328i sedan and wagon feature a 2.0-liter inline-4 that's turbocharged to the tune of a claimed 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. This is the only engine offered in the wagon. The actual output numbers are significantly higher, independent testing has confirmed, which explains why this little motor feels so eager.
Unless you're sensitive to sound and prefer the turbine-like hum of the turbocharged inline-6 (standard on all 335i models), you might find that this stronger engine isn't worth the extra cash. But for the record, the 335i checks in at an even 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, and it brings sports-car-like acceleration to the table.
The Active Hybrid 3 pairs the 335i's engine with an electric motor for a total system output of 335 hp. Despite the added weight of the hybrid system, the Active Hybrid 3 is genuinely fast car, using that electric motor as more of a performance aid than a fuel saver. Indeed, fuel economy is hardly impressive by hybrid standards at 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway. See the end of this section for how that compares with the rest of the lineup.
The "old" 328i models are motivated by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. This engine can't come close to the turbo four's fuel economy (or thrust, for that matter), but it's smoother, and it pulls like a champ all the way to redline.
The 335is gets a twin-turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter inline-6 that's good for 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. This engine might feel a little stronger than the regular 335i's engine, but is it really worth the extra thousands? Not unless you plan to modify it, in our opinion, as the twin-turbo six is more receptive to aftermarket massaging.
If you don't want the slick 6-speed manual transmission, your options depend on what model you're looking at. The sedans and wagon offer a wonderfully responsive eight-speed automatic (mandatory in the wagon and Hybrid), while the rest give you a decent six-speed automatic--except the 335is, which offers a sharp 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
Fuel economy gets as high as 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway for the automatic 328i (22/34 mpg with the manual), while the 335i sedan turns in an identical 23/33 mpg rating with the automatic (20/30 mpg with the manual). The older 3 Series models don't do as well, though, topping out at 18/27 mpg with the 328i and 335i coupes and dropping as low as 17/24 mpg with the 335is. Expect all-wheel drive to cost you a few mpg regardless of model.
The 2013 BMW 3 Series comes with standard stability control and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes. The new sedan and wagon have eight airbags (front, front-knee, front-side, full-length side curtain), while the coupe loses the knee bags, and the convertible loses the side curtain bags as well.
In government crash tests, the 2013 3 Series sedan scored five stars out of five overall, including four stars for driver protection and five stars for passenger protection. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) generally concurred, giving the 3 Series sedan its top rating of Good in every category except the new small overlap front test, where the sedan received the second-lowest Marginal score. The previous sedan, on which the coupe is based, scored Good in all categories except roof strength, where it garnered the second-highest Acceptable rating. The convertible, however, received the second-lowest Marginal rating for side impacts, even though frontal-offset protection was deemed Good.
The new 3 Series sedan and wagon drive like luxury cars more than ever, prioritizing comfort and isolation over all-out athleticism. That's a mix that will probably suit most buyers just fine, though don't get us wrong, the new 3 Series can definitely handle. That's especially true if you throw the M Sport package into the mix.
The previous 3 Series, however, was built more with the enthusiast driver in mind, so the coupe and convertible have a tighter, more focused feel without sacrificing that air of refinement. This is particularly apparent in the steering, which feels more substantial and responsive in the older cars. It's also a function of the old platform's relatively compact dimensions.
Other Cars to Consider
Mercedes-Benz C-Class: Armed with a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine of its own for 2013, the C-Class is also down on power relative to its BMW brethren, but it can still get out of its own way, and it's got that premium Benz vibe.
Infiniti G37: The G37 is plenty strong for the price and packed with features, though it's a bit uncouth by comparison.
We love the outgoing 3 Series, but we can't resist the strong fuel economy, performance, and practicality of the new 328i Touring. Look for the wagon to hit dealerships in Spring 2013.