The BMW 3-Series has rightfully earned its place among the top of sport sedans since it was introduced thanks to competent moves and thrilling performance in some models. And while BMW has made a tremendous effort to increase the efficiency of its powertrains, the 3-Series thankfully hasn't lost any of its sharp driving character.
Whether you opt for the sedan or the Sports Wagon, what you get fully lives up to those long-held standards for handling and dynamics. Opt for the Gran Turismo (3GT) and what you get is a little softer and more comfort-oriented, yet still confident and responsive.
With an all-turbocharged lineup (and yes, the model numbers don't correspond to engines anymore), the 2015 BMW 3-Series gets a lot of forward thrust from four- and six-cylinder engines.
To make the 3-Series more affordable for entry-level luxury buyers, BMW offers the 320i and 328i with a 2.0-liter turbo-4 in different tunes. Underhood of the 320i, the turbo-4 pushes 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The same engine planted in the 328i makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft, which may be the performance and efficiency sweet spot for many buyers. Opting for the bigger 335i brings a turbo-6 that makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft and its predictably brisk. A turbodiesel inline-4 found in sedan and wagon models is the efficiency champ, and provides adequate thrust from its 181-hp turbo-4.
None of the BMW's all-turbo lineup feels laggy or hesitant under power. The boost comes on quick enough, and if it weren't for the sound of the turbo-4, the 328i may confuse many into believing that it's the inline-6 model that was used only a few short years ago. Peak torque comes on early and thick, with most of the engine's available grunt turned on down low, around 1,250 rpm.
The 328i is our pick for a balance between power, fuel economy and overall price. Equipped with a manual transmission, the 328i can run up to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds—only a few ticks shy of the 335i—and the engine's quickly available torque feeds the needy automatic well, if that's your thing. Step up to the 335i, and its performance is on par with many M3 models in the not-so-distant past.
You can add some of that seriousness, if not the outright punch, to the lesser cars, though. BMW makes available its M Sport package on most models that drops the ride height by nearly half an inch, adds bigger anti-roll bars with firmer dampers and springs, and 18- or 19-inch M-branded alloy wheels. Other performance upgrades include adaptive suspension, which can dial in or out ride firmness, but we've found that even the base setup can be a blast on back roads. The good ride quality isn't spoiled by moderate performance, and we've found that M upgrades only make sense for serious track-day users.
There's still the M3, by the way. It was completely new this past year, and 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 and Active M Differential make a dreamy pair on the track, but we can't help but think we'd rather have the precise-shifting manual (yes, you can still get it) for ours.
And a manual is widely offered in the lineup, rather than reserved for an entry model or high-end performance trim. Most of the 328i and 335i sedan models are equipped with a 6-speed manual as standard, an 8-speed automatic is available—the exception is the 328i xDrive model is equipped with an automatic only. Sport models equipped with an automatic programmed for faster shifts and are competent enough to make us forget about the manual transmission for most track days. Enthusiasts may scoff, but we mean it—it's that good.
One of the other changes that enthusiasts have noted is BMW's switch to electric power steering in the 3-Series. The system is weighted well and provides some feedback when you approach the 3-Series' impressive limit of grip. We'd only ask for a little more feedback during normal circumstances, which is what the older hydraulic setups provided. A variable steering option is available, which helps control the 3-Series at lower speeds by quickening the ratio mechanically and avoids the digital transitions that can sometimes make those systems frustrating to use.
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. We'd definitely choose them over a taller crossover, though.
BMW includes a Driving Dynamics Control setup for the 3-Series lineup that adjusts throttle response, steering effort, and transmission behavior depending on the selected mode. The rocker switch near the driver's knee can toggle between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes on some cars. Sport+ grants more slip from the stability control system and enables an electronic limited-slip differential mode that shifts more grip to rear wheels.