- Excellent handling and poise
- Strong, efficient powertrains
- Elegant cabin ambiance
- Electric power steering, done well
- Unique 3GT hatchback
- Uninspiring sound of 328i (and 320i)
- For BMW Apps, you'd better like the iPhone
- Interior trims can look busy
The 2015 BMW 3-Series lineup is a sport sedan at heart, but with Sports Wagon and Gran Turismo (hatchback) models, it's a lot more than that.
BMW definitely hasn't forgotten that the 3-Series is first and foremost a sport sedan. But for 2015, the 3-series loses its coupes and convertibles (they're now called the 4-Series), making the lineup look quite different than it did just a couple of years ago. Yet the 2015 BMW 3-Series catalogue is by no means simplified, as it adds Gran Turismo (3GT) hatchback models to the lineup, as well as a Sports Wagon—plus many under-hood choices.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a model in the lineup that isn't rewarding to drive on a curvy mountain road; yet nearly every model in the lineup today will return more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway if you keep it smooth and responsible.
It's out in the open about that intent, with classic sport-sedan proportions on the outside. With aggressive headlights, a modern take on the kidney grille, and flared air intakes, all the right details are here to enhance the profile. The hood is lower at the nose, but rises higher than the previous model thanks to pedestrian safety regulations; the cabin is larger and longer; and we especially like how the greenhouse doesn't get pinched by a rising beltline near the back. Inside, the BMW 3-Series' cabin is spacious for those in front, and roomy for cargo, although back-seat space is still a bit limited. The modern interior design makes good use of the space, though; just beware that some of the many trim combinations can get a little too 'splashy,' visually.
The 320i is the base model of the 3-Series now with the same turbo-4 powering the sedan as the 328i, but detuned for the 320i to make only 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The 320i most directly competes with the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and Audi A3, which are all entries into the luxury brand. The next step up (and it's a worthwhile one, if you ask us) is the 328i which makes 240 hp and 255 lb-ft from the same turbo-4. The top tier is still the 335i, which bolts on turbochargers to an inline-6 to make 300 hp and 300 lb-ft, and is hilariously fun. More frugal-minded buyers may opt for the 328d, which is a turbodiesel inline-4, that makes only 181 hp—but is far more fuel efficient. All models come with rear-wheel drive as standard, with all-wheel drive optional on some models. A 6-speed manual is standard on most models, while an 8-speed automatic is available everywhere.
The 3-Series makes its bones on good handling and balanced vehicles, although rear-drive sedans are our favorites. The 3-Series isn't as edgy as it once was; this version has a noticeably softer feel and a more comfortable bent, but it's still a back-road hustler when pressed into detail. The 335i is still the performance pick among the lineup, but the potent turbo-4 found in the 328i offers nearly the same performance and fun —especially in keeping the busy engine on full boil —with a better mileage return. A 3-Series Sports Wagon is available as well, but all wagons now come standard with all-wheel drive. Wagons can be equipped with a choice between two turbocharged 4-cylinder engines: the gas-powered 328i or the diesel-powered 328d version. All tall-riding 3-Series Gran Turismo models are similarly equipped with all-wheel drive, but offer gas-only engines, the 328i or 335i.
The new 3-Series Gran Turismo versions don't look all that different in some respects, but they drive quite differently, with a little more weight and a softer suspension calibration and a tune that simply doesn't feel as sporty, but adds up to a very agreeable family vehicle.
Pricing for the 2015 BMW 3-Series can be daunting, but the flip side is that loads of a la carte options let you essentially build the car you want. Available options include a cold-weather package with heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and headlight washers. A useful head-up display is available too, or a driver assistance package that bundles in a rearview camera, a surround-view camera system, blind-spot monitors, and front and rear parking sensors.
Most versions of the BMW 3-Series are well-equipped, but the 320i strips out many infotainment and tech features to get down to its low price. From 328i models and up, the standard iDrive infotainment system comes standard, with a multi-function controller placed in the center console to set entertainment, navigation, and car functions. Although we've had our problems with BMW's system for being menu-heavy and complex, the system includes helpful 3-D maps for navigation.
For 2015, the 3-Series lineup gets a number of minor trim and feature changes. Wood, leather, and other trim materials have changed in some cases; and functionality-wise, Bluetooth audio streaming is now included in all models.