- Responsive, smooth, and refined
- Firm but absorbent ride
- Nice, supportive front seats
- Controls not as straightforward as they could be
- Wide center console and narrow footwells
- Backseat space is still too tight for most
The 2008 BMW 3-Series sedan has the best overall driving experience in its class and remains the gold standard among mid-size sport sedans.
The 2008 BMW 3-Series is BMW's best-selling vehicle line--a series of compact sport sedans, wagons, coupes, and convertibles. The 2008 BMW 3-Series sedan covered in this review comes with one of two different inline six-cylinder engines, with models designated 328 and 335. The 328's engine makes 230 horsepower, while the 335 gets the 300-horsepower, twin-turbocharged version. The 328 is available in rear-wheel-drive 328i or all-wheel-drive 328 xi layouts, but the rear-wheel-drive 335i is the only way to pick up the high-performance engine.
Between the two engines, there's quite a variation--both on paper and in execution--and the 2008 BMW 3-Series has a decidedly different personality with each, but both the 328 and 335 deliver satisfying performance. Each model can be had with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission; steering-wheel paddle-shifters are included with the latter. The 328i sedan with the six-speed manual can reach 60 mph in about six seconds, yet gets 28 mpg on the highway; the 335i provides tremendous thrust from almost any speed and doesn't have the lag of most turbocharged engines. With near-perfect driving dynamics, the 3-Series threads through corners with great balance and poise--even on rough pavement surfaces. A sign of great suspension tuning, it does so without a sacrifice in ride quality; the 2008 BMW 3-Series has a ride that's firm, yet absorbent over all but the most threatening potholes and heaves. For a car that provides such engaging handling, the 3-Series tracks well on high-speed highway cruises, too.
The 2008 3-Series sedan has firm, supportive seats that are good for long-haul driving, but the backseats are sorely lacking in legroom, and overall, the interior is rather tight. However, the cabin is a very refined place, with well-muted road and engine noise, a very attractive instrument panel design, and impressive materials. Top-tech options include xenon adaptive headlamps and active cruise control; satellite radio and an iPod/USB adapter are available. Vehicles optioned with the navigation system also get the iDrive system, which requires a complicated, screen-driven interface for some controls.
Good, but not stellar, showings in crash tests from the federal government and insurance industry sully the 3-Series's reputation for being on top. The 2008 BMW 3-Series was rated four out of five stars in the federal frontal test and five stars in the side test, and a sedan was given the top "good" rating in frontal offset and side tests but "acceptable" in rear impact.