Among all the 3-Series variants—now including sedans, wagons, coupes, and convertibles, as well as the high-performance M3—the standard six-cylinder sedans and wagons can work reasonably well as family vehicles, with functional, well-appointed interiors, strong safety, and even reasonably good gas mileage (especially with the diesel). But their tight back seats make them hard to recommend to anyone other than those with small kids, and that's why the 2011 3-Series scores a 6 out of 10 on the FamilyCarGuide scale.
The 3-Series Wagon is arguably a better family choice than the sedan; it doesn't have any more backseat space, but it does allow more versatile space for stuff. Sedans have just 12 cubic feet of trunk space, which simply isn't enough, even for a large grocery run if you have kids in the backseat. Front seats have plenty of space even for taller drivers, but backseat passengers will likely find knees bumping the backs of the front seats.
Of course, the 3-Series holds its own as a sport sedan, with precise steering and excellent handling no matter which model. There's quite a span of performance, though, with the 230-horsepower 328i feeling perky but far from blistering. Turbocharged 300-hp 335i and 320-hp 335is models are downright quick, and while the manual gearbox is our preference to the optional automatic, the available all-wheel drive requires the automatic.
For families who want to save fuel the 2011 BMW 335d is the way to go. With a clean-diesel turbocharged six-cylinder engine, it achieves EPA ratings of 23 mpg city, 36 highway.
BMW has brought many of its top-tech features from the 5- and 7-Series sedans down to the 3-Series. While standard features on all models includes a 10-speaker sound system, heated side mirrors, push-button ignition, and automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control and an excellent navigation system are among the options. But we're disappointed that a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface is optional, and the latest version of the iDrive, while much improved, still feels needlessly complex.
For more, see the full review of the 2011 BMW 3-Series over at The Car Connection.