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TheCarConnection.com has driven the 2010 BMW 3-Series to bring you this hands-on review that covers styling, performance, safety, utility, and features from on-the-road observations. TheCarConnection.com's editors also researched BMW 3-Series reviews from other sources to give you a comprehensive range of opinions from around the Web-and to help you decide which ones to trust. High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided BMW 3-Series to produce this hands-on road test.
The BMW 3-Series was last redesigned for 2007, with a handful of mild styling changes last year. A more thorough refresh is expected for 2011, but the 2010 3-Series still owns its segment: four-seat sports compacts. The extensive line includes the four-door sedan, a two-door coupe and convertible, and a station wagon. All-wheel-drive and a clean-diesel engine are optional on certain models. BMW's smooth inline-sixes, whether gasoline or diesel, provide excellent power; the diesel and even the smaller gasoline engine are surprisingly fuel-efficient. Styling is purposeful inside and out. At a base price of $34,025, the simplest 3-Series offers good value in a sports sedan. But start to tick off options or choose the more powerful 335i, and you could see the price soar toward $50,000.
BMW's 3-Series was thankfully spared the excesses of the make's larger models. For the volume car in the 2010 BMW portfolio, even the recently departed Chris Bangle had to go easy. The sedan is handsome and the coupe is beautiful from nose to tail, with an athletic but graceful stance. Subtle touches of the characteristic "flame surfacing" add interest and flair to the 3-Series, but they are thankfully restrained. It's worth noting that no body panels are shared between the coupe and convertible two-doors and the sedan and station wagon four-door models. The "convertible" model actually uses a retractable hardtop, which folds neatly into the trunk (at the expense of luggage space). Inside, the 2010 BMW 3-Series is uber-traditional BMW: purposeful, elegant, and luxurious but restrained.
The base and optional gasoline engines in the 2010 BMW 3-Series line are both 3.0-liter inline-sixes, following BMW's legendary history of smooth and inline-sixes. The base engine in the 328i produces 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque; it feels far more powerful than those numbers would indicate. The twin-turbo engine in the 335i, at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, offers turbine-like smoothness even during blistering acceleration.
The base 2010 BMW 328i model is hardly a slouch, sprinting from rest to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds with the manual (6.8 seconds with the six-speed automatic). But that's to be expected. The pleasant surprise comes from its EPA ratings: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway with the manual (19/28 mpg with the auto). The 335i isn't notably quicker, doing 0-60 in 5.3 seconds with the manual or 5.5 seconds with the automatic. But the 300 lb-ft of torque produced by the quick-spooling twin-turbo setup means no waiting at all for copious power. It makes passing maneuvers just breathtaking, and its fuel efficiency ratings drop only to 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway with either transmission.
Last year BMW launched its first-ever clean diesels for the U.S. market, one of them the 335d. The diesel model is available only as a four-door sedan with a limited range of options, but it maintains the BMW spirit in a very fuel-efficient package. The 265-horsepower twin-turbo diesel generates a locomotive-like 425 lb-ft of torque, thrusting it from 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds, while the EPA rates it at 23 mpg city, 36 mpg highway. Spectators and even some drivers may never realize it's a diesel until it's time to fill up.
All-wheel drive-which BMW calls xDrive-can be ordered with both gasoline engines and both transmissions. There are downsides, though: It is heavy, compromises some of the car's nimbleness, and cuts mileage considerably. It is only really practical in locations with frequent treacherous winter weather.
Ride and handling are what the BMW 3-Series is best known for; they are outstanding. The steering communicates almost telepathically with the driver at any speed, on almost any surface, and it is jarred by only the very worst pavement irregularities. The 2010 3-Series has a plush ride, it is always well-planted and secure on the road, and it's nearly impossible to fluster in corners. Some models offer a pricey active-steering option, which has been criticized by some for an artificial feel. Why tamper with perfection?
The front seats of the BMW 3-Series offers excellent space, even for tall riders, but the rear seats are less accommodating. The sedan can be tight, and the smaller rear seats of the coupe and convertible are best reserved for short distances. Clever seatbelt extenders eliminate the awkward reach in the coupe, and despite admirable solidity, the long doors avoid being too heavy or unwieldy. Interior noise is admirably suppressed, and the build quality, interior materials, and switchgear operation are first-class.
The 2010 BMW 3-Series does well in crash tests. In testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 3-Series scores better than average. In fact, the BMW 2010 lineup of 3-Series vehicles is a top performer in IIHS tests, earning a "good" rating, the highest possible, for both frontal offset and side impact categories. While NHTSA is often thought to have less rigorous test procedures, the BMW 3-Series does less well in its ratings. For both driver- and passenger-side front impacts, the BMW 3-Series earns four out of five stars for occupant protection. But it redeems itself somewhat in NHTSA's side-impact category for both driver and rear passenger, where it garners perfect five-star ratings. The 2010 BMW 3-Series also boasts a number of first-rate safety features that help keep driver and passengers safe, including a full suite of airbags, anti-lock brakes, and a stability control system-complete with niceties, like periodically wiping the brake rotors clean of water whenever the windshield wipers are on. New for 2010 is an optional automatic high-beam system to improve night visibility.
The BMW 3-Series has an almost bewildering array of models, packages, options, and accessories. All but the base 328i model come with the rightfully maligned iDrive navigation/infotainment system ($2,100), though its latest iteration adds shortcut buttons to make it simpler and less unintuitive. But the iDrive-free model, with its unbroken dash and simpler controls, lets drivers focus on devouring every foot of road.
For 2010, high-definition radio is now standard on all models. The 10-speaker sound system includes two subwoofers and is as crisp, usable, and powerful as everything else on this vehicle. Regrettably, only an auxiliary input jack is standard; if you want the radio to interface with your iPod (and charge it), you must pony up an extra $400 for the USB option (or $320 for a dedicated iPod interface adapter). A long list of electronics options quickly ramps up the price and adds little to driving capability, but 3-Series buyers appreciate and often buy such items as the Logic7 Surround Sound system ($875), adaptive cruise control ($2,400), and power front seats ($995).
The all-wheel-drive xDrive option adds $2,000. A Sport Package, at $2,050, ups wheel size to 17 or 18 inches and includes grippy run-flat tires and well-bolstered sport seats; this is a good pick for the serious driver. The most compelling options for the 2010 BMW 3-Series are the aforementioned USB/iPod interface and the $750 BMW Assist with Bluetooth. The pricey $2,650 Premium Package-including moonroof, auto-dimming mirrors, digital compass, Bluetooth, power seats, lumbar support, and universal garage door opener-doesn't represent a great value unless you simply have to have all those features.