I recently had the chance to review the all-new 2019 BMW 3 Series, which is — if you can believe it — the seventh-generation 3 Series to go on sale since the car launched back in 1975. Think about that for a second: the seventh-generation 3 Series, spanning 45 years. And that’s not counting the BMW 2002, which came before the 3 Series and effectively carries the lineage back to the mid-1960s.
It’s been an impressive run, and the latest model just seems to continue what we already knew: this is the gold standard sport sedan. This gets better with every redesign. This is still the car you want if you want one of these cars.
And yet, things seem to be changing quite a lot for the 3 Series.
I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a little overview: the seventh-generation BMW 3 Series is debuting for the 2019 model year, and it’s first being released solely as the 330i, which comes with 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque — 7 more horsepower than the outgoing model, but 37 more lb-ft. A new M340i version will debut soon, with an amazing 382 hp — 62 more than the outgoing 340i, and more than even the M3 from just over a decade ago. It’s an impressive boost. Automatic will be the only transmission, and both models will be offered in rear- or all-wheel drive.
Now that all that stuff is out of the way, let’s focus on maybe the most interesting aspect of the latest 3 Series: it just isn’t getting all that much attention. In past years, when a new 3 Series would debut, it was the talk of the automotive industry at the time — the latest version of this iconic car that’s been on sale for years and years. Well, now the latest 3 Series is here, and the industry seems far more focused on the BMW X7 SUV that’s also coming out shortly — and the 3 Series just doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance it once did.
It’s a reality of the entire auto industry these days — a razor-sharp focus on SUVs and crossovers more than sedans and cars, even sedans and cars that have been staples of the business for so long, like the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The 3 Series is effectively the Toyota Camry of the sport sedan game — the gold standard, the most common choice — and yet even the dealership who lent me the car told me customers are far more interested in the latest X3 than the latest 3 Series.
Which is a shame, because the new 3 Series is wonderful — and, in fact, clearly the best 3 Series yet. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the purists, who will bemoan the lack of a manual transmission and the increasing size and heft of this popular BMW. But for the bulk of customers, it’s exactly what is desired: more interior space, more technology and better fuel economy, all without a huge increase in price.
That technology, it should be noted, really is amazing. I drove a 330i with a sticker price of about $54,000, and it includes camera angles you can barely believe, with dozens of views all around and over and above and next to the car. It has every safety feature you can think of, an advanced infotainment system with a tremendously responsive touchscreen, a good voice control system and a nice, well-laid-out, well-appointed interior. It’s just an excellent vehicle, and there’s very little to say about it negatively.
And that’s also true of the driving experience. The 330i — formerly the top model in the 3 Series range — certainly isn’t as peppy as the M340i will be, but it has enough guts to make highway passing and onramps easy and predictable. I’d love more power, but that’s generally true of vehicles (what car couldn’t use an extra 50 horses?), and it’s exciting enough. Steering and handling remains sharp, though steering is obviously lighter (and the car obviously heavier) than the E30 and the E36 3 Series purists love. But it’s still engaging and exciting, by the standards of today.
Simply put, the new 3 Series is an excellent car — and while the latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class is also wonderful, the 3 Series seems to stand out as the car to beat this segment in the same way that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class carries that mantle among full-size luxury sedans. The 3 Series just has the best combination of performance, styling, technology and pricing. And the market seems to want all that stuff. Just with four additional inches of ground clearance.