The 2018 BMW 3 Series faces tough competition among premium compact sedans, and there’s a new generation anticipated for the 2019 model year. Despite all that, the 3 Series is always worth a test drive. If the competition is so good, it’s because BMW has set the benchmark for as long as this class has existed.
The 3 Series dominates because it offers a finely balanced combination of comfort, class, tech and driving thrills. For a little extra variation, there’s also a wagon version with all-wheel drive as standard.
The high-performance M3 sedan and Gran Turismo hatchback versions are each reviewed separately.
What’s New for 2018?
Some cosmetic offerings, like a gloss-black surround for the double kidney grille. LED headlights and fog lights are now standard throughout. The iDrive infotainment system with touchscreen function is now at version 6.0. And the optional sport leather steering wheel has a modified rim, so its leather feels softer and grippier. See the 2018 BMW 3 Series models for sale near you
What We Like
Powerful and fuel-efficient engines; spacious interior with top-notch materials; up-to-date technology; confident driving character; wagon variant has 53 cu ft. of cargo space, while the sedan’s trunk can still accommodate a respectable 13 cu ft.
What We Don’t
This generation tends to skew more toward comfort than previous waves; selecting the ideal set of options gets expensive in a hurry
The rear-wheel-drive 320i (sedan only) is propelled by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 180 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. Paired with the 8-speed automatic transmission, this engine is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to achieve 24 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in combined driving. There’s also a 6-speed manual transmission that returns 23 mpg city/35 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined. The all-wheel-drive 320i xDrive manages 23 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined with its automatic transmission.
The 328d starts with rear-wheel drive (sedan only) and offers all-wheel drive (sedan and Sports Wagon). Its turbodiesel 2.0-liter 4-cylinder makes a respectable 180 hp but also a glorious 280 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is the 8-speed automatic. EPA estimates are a remarkable 31 mpg city/43 mpg hwy/36 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive, and 30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy/34 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.
The 330i comes with either rear-wheel drive (sedan only) or all-wheel drive (sedan and Sports Wagon). It’s a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder unit producing 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Despite the extra muscle, fuel economy doesn’t really suffer. The rear-wheel-drive sedan registers 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/and 27 mpg combined with the 8-speed automatic and 21 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined with the 6-speed manual. All-wheel-drive 330i xDrive models (including the Sports Wagon) return 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined.
The 330e iPerformance is a plug-in hybrid sedan. The drivetrain consists of a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, an electric motor (with energy stored in a lithium-ion battery) and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Total output is 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, and that goes solely to the rear wheels. The EPA gives it a combined miles per gallon equivalent (mpge) figure of 71. When using the combustion engine only (on premium gas), it’s rated at 30 mpg combined. Range in electric mode only is 14 miles.
The 340i (sedan only) features a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder developing 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. With the 8-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive, it runs to 21 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined. Adding xDrive still achieves 26 mpg combined. Opting for the manual transmission yields 19 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined with both rear- and all-wheel drive.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 BMW 3 Series range starts out with the basic 320i sedan ($35,895), which comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, push-button start, auto stop/start (a fuel-saving feature that tends to make its presence felt but can be disabled), Driving Dynamics Control (offering three settings for throttle sensitivity and steering effort), manually adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, HD Radio, iPod/USB connectivity and the iDrive infotainment system with a 6.5-in screen.
The 330i ($41,245), 328d ($42,745) and 330e ($46,595) are generally equipped like the 320i but add a few more conveniences like an auto-dimming rearview mirror and power-adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory settings
The 330i xDrive Sports Wagon ($45,445) and 328d xDrive Sports Wagon ($46,945) enjoy a panoramic sunroof, a powered lift gate and roof rails to go with their station-wagon body style.
The 340i ($49,945) is mostly about the powerful 6-cylinder engine but also gets other upgrades, such as 18-in alloy wheels, 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio, a sunroof and keyless entry/ignition.
Most models can be customized with a choice of appearance packages that offer bespoke wheels and interior decor. The M Sport package includes exterior trim, a sport suspension, an M steering wheel, sport seats, a short-shifter kit (manual transmission only) and extensive M badging throughout.
The options list is extensive and expensive. The Premium package varies slightly by model (although standard in the 340i), adding power lumbar support and keyless entry/ignition with a foot-activated trunk-opening-and-closing feature. The Cold Weather package brings a heated steering wheel along with heated seats front and rear.
Options are limited on the 320i but seemingly limitless for the rest of the range, highlighted by dynamic cruise control, a self-parking system, remote lock/unlock, Harman Kardon audio, navigation and the larger 8.8-in iDrive display. All models are eligible for the BMW Apps program, which brings social media via a smartphone. Optional safety equipment is mentioned below.
The 3 Series comes with stability control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, forward-collision mitigation and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain). The optional BMW Assist telematics system adds automatic crash notification and roadside assistance; the Driver Assistance Plus package bundles front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree parking camera system, blind spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and a front-collision warning system with low-speed automatic braking.
The current 3 Series received a perfect five stars overall in government crash testing, including four stars for front impacts and five for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 3 Series its top "Good" rating in all categories except the newer small-overlap front crash test, where the car only received a "Marginal" rating.
Behind the Wheel
There’s no mistaking the 3 Series’ heritage from the driver’s seat. Classic round gauges shine subtly with BMW’s trademark red illumination, and the central control panel is canted toward the driver. There’s a high-tech feel, with a classy central display whose graphics and responsiveness are pretty much perfect, and the latest iDrive controller is a smart way to deal with an infotainment system.
Anyone familiar with older 3 Series models will notice how spacious the current car feels — big enough to question whether it’s really worth stepping up to the 5 Series. Optional front sport seats add some snugness in all the right places.
As the 3 Series has matured, some trademark playfulness has been lost, but there’s still an overall sense of confidence and control. The smooth, quiet ride is impressive, and there’s plenty of power, particularly in the downright fast 340i. This BMW delivers a true premium driving experience.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Audi A4 — One year into a new generation. Packed with tech and highly acclaimed.
2018 Jaguar XE — Fabulous styling and suspension, and the supercharged V6 is an ideal engine choice. Might feel a tad small to some, though.
2018 Lexus IS — Bold styling, athletic handling and a much-improved interior over earlier versions.
2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class — Exceptionally graceful styling, slick dashboard and a pleasure to drive.
Used BMW 5 Series — BMW’s certified pre-owned (CPO) program could provide a low-mileage 5 Series for the price (or even less) of a new 3. The 535i is smooth and swift, but a suitably priced 550i with twin-turbo V8 power deserves serious consideration.
Some buyers may want to wait and see how the 2019 generation looks and drives. For this year, we think the 330e has a good mix of power and economy, while a 330i with some options could be a good all-rounder. However, a BMW inline six engine is a thing of automotive beauty, so the more enthusiast-leaning buyer really ought to check out the 340i.