2014 BMW 3-Series Performance

9.0
Performance

The BMW 3-Series has topped driving enthusiasts' wish lists for decades, and a performance bench mark among sport sedans. For decades, the BMW 3-Series has pretty much been the performance benchmark for sport sedans.

With the current-generation (F30) 3-Series, BMW mads some major technology and engineering advances that boosted safety and fuel-efficiency, all without muddling the sharp behind-the-wheel character of this model. The Sports Wagon model fully lives up to those long-held standards for handling and dynamics, although the new Gran Turismo is still confident and responsive, albeit a little softer and more comfort-oriented.

No matter which model of the 3-Series you go with, confident handling and dynamic excellent are a given.

The 2014 BMW 3-Series an all-turbocharged lineup (and it gets confusing as the model numbers no longer correspond to engine size). BMW 320i and 328i both come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, while the 335i gets the latest N55 version of BMW’s 3.0-liter in-line six. In the 320i, the four makes 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, while in the 328i it makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Step up to the turbo six in the 335i and you get 300 hp and 300 lb-ft.

Laggy turbocharged engines are a thing of the past. In all cases, these turbocharged engines have boost that comes on so quickly that you probably won’t guess that they’re turbos; if it weren't for the sound, the 328i's four, especially, feels like a larger-displacement six most of the time (peak torque happens at just 1,250 rpm).

In manual-transmission form, the 328i sedan can get to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds with the manual transmission—only 0.3 faster than the 335i—and it churns out the torque in the low-to-mid rev range, where it matters to feel perky with an automatic transmission. Ante up to the 335i models and you get performance that just a few years ago would have been the exclusive domain of the top-performance M3.

The 2014 BMW M3 sedan, like the M4 coupe, is completely new this year, and will arrive later in the model year. It's lighter overall, yet more powerful than its predecessors, with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six making 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. A special M-DCT dual-clutch gearbox does the shifting, and it can get to 60 mph in an official 3.9 seconds. A manual will also be offered, and an Active M Differential will help handling and stability. We'll update this section as soon as we've driven the new M3. 

In the meantime, an available M Sport package drops ride height for sedans by 0.4 inches, firms up springs and dampers, and includes larger anti-roll bars along with larger 18- or 19-inch M alloy wheels. Other performance options include the Adaptive M Sport suspension package, with electronically controlled damping. While both of these options do provide improvements you can feel, the base car’s setup is still a hoot, with good ride quality combined with satisfying, crisp control for all but serious track use.

In any of the 328i or 335i sedan models, you can opt for either a six-speed manual gearbox or eight-speed automatic transmission. The only exception to that is 328i xDrive models, which are automatic-only. Sport-model automatics come with special programming for faster shifts, and in sedans with the eight-speed it’s so good out on the racetrack that we might actually choose the automatic over the manual. Otherwise, we’d have to go for the precise-feeling six-speed manual for the inspiration it brings daily driving.

Driving Dynamics Control is included for the entire 3-Series lineup. With a rocker switch that’s right beside the driver’s knee, you can toggle between Eco Pro, Comfort (default), Sport, and Sport+ modes. With Sport, you get sharpened steering response, delayed shift points, and such, while Sport+ allows more slip from the stability control and permits an electronic limited-slip diff mode to give the rear wheels more traction.

All the 3-Series sedans now get an electric power steering system that loads and unloads nicely, and gives you—when you finally reach the 3’s impressive limits of grip—a little feedback from the road. We'd only wish for a little more sense of the roadway surface before you approach those limits, which is what the hydraulic steering in the former F90 (and the current Coupes) provided. A premium Variable Sports steering option permits easier parking along with sharper handling, by altering the ratio mechanically (avoiding the digital transitions that sometimes make electric power steering systems frustrating.

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. That said, they're quite enjoyable to drive.

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