Why are 3-series BMWs so well loved? They are not the best in any single attribute, whether speed, acceleration, fuel economy, space, comfort, quality, or appearance. But they are better than all others at doing everything extremely well, because they’ve been honed over the years to provide the absolute best combination of all pertinent characteristics, making them wonderfully agreeable to drive and own.
Walk up to a 3-series–whether coupe, sedan, wagon, or convertible–and you’ll be impressed by the attention to detail in both design and quality. The door handles feel good, the latch and hinge actions are smooth and solid, and the doors open wide. The seats are very comfortable. These are cars developed by people who like to drive and who know what a driver needs. Usually. They forgot that extraneous controls involving another step–like the plastic key that is not a key and a stupid start/stop button so beloved of supercar designers–simply interfere with driving enjoyment. But that lapse aside, they get the basics right.
As a result, you are not only made to feel like a better driver, you become better in fact. The 3-series is easy and satisfying to drive. Smooth clutch and brake actions help, and the steering is linear and precise, but changing gears in the six-speed manual box leaves something to be desired. The new twin-turbo engine in the 335i takes care of that by offering massive torque from just off idle to near the redline. Shifting becomes optional, which, with the long-travel clutch pedal, is a boon in heavy traffic.
In the early 1970s, BMW was the first in Europe with turbocharged engines in production, but it shelved the technology a decade later on grounds of reliability and refinement. The 335i represents a return to the idea of a small engine delivering big-engine performance. The 3.0-liter six delivers the power and torque of a 4.0-liter and the fuel economy of a four-cylinder–better economy than was ever possible with air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles. BMWs are expensive, and their multiple options are even more so. But overall, 3-series cars deliver amazing qualities, both dynamically and in terms of residual value.
BMW offers a huge range of engines for the 3-series on the world market, from four-cylinder gasoline and diesel units through the turbocharged sixes for both fuels and a V-8 yet to come. Careful study of the options list lets customers choose the exact car they need or want (if they can afford it). For all the worldwide uproar over Chris Bangle’s styling, some of us believe the relatively conventional 3-series is a touch plain. It could quite easily be more in-your-face, but if milder styling maintains sales levels while keeping the technological base of the 3-series, we’re all for it. If you owned all ten of our All-Stars, we think your BMW 3-series would rack up the most mileage in four seasons. It really is a great car.