2011 BMW 3-Series

8.4
2011 BMW 3-Series

The Basics:

With updated engines and an all-new 335is model, the 2011 BMW 3-Series improves on its formula of luxurious performance.

Stunning performance is still the calling card for the 2011 BMW M3; the weight it's gained may just be a sign of its success.

The 2011 BMW 3-Series is a sporty midsize luxury car available in coupe, sedan, and convertible models. It competes primarily with the Audi A4/A5 family, Infiniti G37, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, each offering a different take on the concept of a luxury midsize sports vehicle.

The 2011 3-Series goes on sale toward the end of the summer and sits between the 1-Series and 5-Series in BMW's range. The core of the range is built around 328i, 335i, and 335is models, with both rear- and all-wheel-drive models available. It starts at a base price of $33,100 for the sedan.

Whether you choose coupe, sedan, wagon, or convertible, the 2011 BWM 3-Series is handsome, graceful, and athletic. The athletic and graceful character stands out most in the coupe and convertible, while the sedan and wagon convey a sense of purposeful, handsome solidity. Updates for 2011 are subtle, with small changes to the front and rear ends adding up to a fresh look.

Interior styling is likewise attractive, with stalwart and elegant lines making for a luxurious feel without being over the top. That tendency toward conservativeness may not inspire love in all buyers, however.

Nevertheless, the styling doesn't get in the way of functionality, which anyone can appreciate, though some find the location of the audio and climate controls a bit awkward.

Three gasoline engines are available for 2011, including the 230-horsepower standard inline-six found in the 328i, the new single-turbo 300-horsepower, 300-pound-foot inline-six, and the twin-turbo, 320-horsepower inline-six found in the new 335is. A turbodiesel engine is also available in the 335d. All of the 3-Series engines displace 3.0 liters. Both manual and automatic transmissions are available, and while the auto offers a manumatic mode, enthusiasts will prefer the manual. The standard rear-wheel-drive layout is supplemented by an all-wheel-drive option, but only when paired with the automatic gearbox.

The driving experience of the 2011 3-Series is still at the forefront of the experience despite the move toward larger, heavier cars. All four of the available engines sing, while steering and handling are precise and refined. Well-damped and controlled suspensions provide a careful balance between comfort and minimized body roll.

With sedan, coupe, wagon, and convertible models, there's a 2011 3-Series for nearly any purpose, from focused sport touring to hauling the kids.

Up front, the seats are well-made and ample, with plenty of legroom and headroom even for taller adults. A unique seatbelt extender in the coupe makes it easy to find the front belt. The rear seats are less spacious, with both headroom and legroom compromised, particularly in the coupe and convertible.

Storage inside the cabin isn't immense, but it is sufficient. Cargo room is good in the wagon but only fair in the sedan, totaling 12 cubic feet in the trunk with the rear seats up. The coupe's trunk has a smaller opening that limits the size of items that can be stowed. With the rear seats folded down, both coupe and sedan can hold larger items. The convertible has even less space than the coupe due to the folding top.

The 2011 BMW 3-Series hasn't been tested yet, but the nearly identical 2010 model performed well in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, returning better-than-average scores. The IIHS rated the 3-Series “good,” its highest rating. NHTSA awarded five-star ratings for front and rear side-impact safety, while frontal crash tests scored four stars.

Standard safety features include a full suite of airbags, run-flat tires, anti-lock brakes, and a stability control system. An optional automatic high-beam system helps improve nighttime visibility. Overall visibility from the driver's seat is good, though thick front pillars can occasionally make it tough to see around corners.

Features of the 2011 BMW 3-Series commence with a choice of body styles. The two-door, four-seat coupe starts from $36,200 in 328i trim, while the four-door, five-passenger sedan starts from just $33,150. The wagon sits between the two, starting from $35,700, while the convertible is the priciest, starting from $45,000.

Upgrading to the 335i spec adds about $6,000 to the 328i base price of each style, while the coupe, sedan, and wagon can upgrade to all-wheel drive in 328i xDrive or 335i xDrive trim for about $2,000. The coupe and convertible are also available in 335is trim, which adds $13,000 to the base 328i price. Finally, the 335d diesel model starts from $43,950 and is only available as a sedan.

Standard features include push-button ignition, automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, sunroof, leatherette upholstery, and a 10-speaker stereo. Finding cars equipped in base spec may be tough, though, as most of the cars on dealer lots are already fitted with the Premium Package, bringing leather upholstery, Bluetooth, auto-dimming mirrors, and more.
 
A range of technology and convenience upgrades is available, including USB iPod connectivity, navigation, upgraded audio systems, adaptive cruise control, power front seats, and more.

BMW's optional iDrive system, which controls the entertainment, information, and navigation displays, has received much criticism over the years for its complexity.  The latest version simplifies and improves the feature-rich technology, however, making it the best iteration yet—though still not completely intuitive to use.

Most of the 2011 BMW 3-Series models are powered by either a 3.0-liter in-line six (328) or a turbocharged six (335). Fuel economy ranges from 18 mpg city, 28 highway for the base 328i sedans with rear-wheel drive down to to 16/25 for the 335ci Convertible. 335i sedans earn an EPA rating of 17/26. On the green scale, that's only average to a bit lower than average for the class.

What gives the 3-Series extra green kudos is the existence of the 2011 BMW 335d in the lineup. That model, featuring a fuel-efficient clean-diesel six-cylinder engine, gets far better fuel economy. With EPA ratings of 23 mpg city, 36 highway, the 2011 335d is more fuel-efficient than a number of sporty four-cylinder models like the Mazda3 or Acura TSX, yet its torquey engine feels nearly as quick as the 335i models.

Buying Tips:

BMW, nearly alone among even luxury brands, offers a four-year, 50,000-mile free maintenance plan standard. Standard maintenance, some wear-and-tear items, and four years of roadside assistance are also included.

Other Choices:

  • 2011 Audi A4
  • 2011 Audi A5

Reason Why:

Infiniti's G37 is bawdier in every way, with more dramatic styling, a raucous exhaust, and, unfortunately noise within the cabin. Audi's A4 sedan is an attractively styled option, with more interior space than the BMW, but less power and sportiness. Mercedes' C-Class sedan (the CLK-Class coupe was deleted in the 2010 model year, replaced by an E-Class Coupe) offers a more comfort-oriented ride, but its materials and quality are top-notch for the segment.

The Bottom Line:

The 2011 BMW 3-Series continues the tradition of excellent handling, brisk performance, and high quality, though its relatively compact size does result in some compromises.

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