The ultimate driving machine, even in Texas.
I’ll come right out and tell you that I’ve been a fan of BMW and the 3-Series for decades now. I’ve driven the E30 (1988 318is), an E36 (1994 328i), and recently I’ve had the opportunity to drive multiple 2013 and now this 2014 F30 sedan. The 3-Series is BMW’s best-selling model, making up 30% of their total annual sales, so changing this vehicle up is always risky business. The F30 chassis puts this sedan into its sixth-generation spanning 39-years. In that time, it’s managed to win numerous awards and become a staple for sports enthusiasts. Although it’s touted as an enthusiast car, it’s always offered up a little something for everyone. Luxury, comfort, sportiness, and style are just a few reasons why people come looking for a BMW.
For 2014, the lineup loses the coupe and convertible trims as a sacrifice to BMW’s new naming conventions. Those are now offered up as 4-Series models. You can also get the 3-Series in Sports Wagon and Gran Turismo trims. This sixth-generation is also longer and wider than the previous generation and is now as big as the 5-Series was when it first came out. So have the loss of a coupe and the overall growth of the 3-Series made it less fitting for the title, Ultimate Driving Machine? I guess we’ll have to find out.
Before we get too deep, let’s take a look at the updated styling. The 3-Series underwent some major updates first unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. The styling is definitely an evolution making the car look more tight and sporty. Similar to previous generations, you get a sweeping hood with short overhangs in the front and rear. The staple kidney grille now has a slightly forward-leaning posture with the slimmer headlights coming in and touching the edges of the grille. Around the back, the taillights return to a more traditional L-shaped design and wrap around the edge of the rear. In my opinion, it’s a great looking design and I especially like the front-end as it’s more sporty and aggressive looking.
The interior is exactly what you’d expect from BMW offering up luxury mixed with heavy doses of sportiness. Sitting in the driver’s seat, they’ve continued the tradition of angling in toward the driver giving you a true cockpit feel. This is great for ergonomics towards the driver, but not so much if you’re the passenger looking to change the radio. The dash is no longer one long, straight piece as it now integrates sweeping lines and a better overall design. The iDrive monitor is now freestanding and positioned up above the instrument panel. The iDrive control rests to the right of the shifter and is actually perfectly positioned for easy reaching and controlling. Overall, the interior seems more minimalistic with few buttons and most operations controllable from iDrive.
One thing that you wouldn’t expect, which I actually appreciated with the 320i, is in the way you move the seat. There are no motors under the seat to move you up and down, forward or back. Nope, you have manual seat adjusters which at first may seem crazy for a luxury car, but ditching those allows you to save weight and it actually works well as I never missed having power adjustable seats.
One of the biggest benefits to increasing the size of the vehicle is more interior space. This was very apparent as we fit adults in the front and rear with ease; a task not so easily done in previous generations.
Although you have fewer trims, you still have a slew of trims from which to choose. The new entry-level trim, which is what our tester was, is the 320i. You also have a 328i, a 328d, and the 335i. Obviously, if you’re going for the big-boy, you can still opt for the M3 which now has a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with TwinPower turbo technology pushing 425-horsepower. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten my hands on that one.
The 320i comes with a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder twin-scroll turbo engine that pushes 180-hp and 200-lb-ft of torque. You can get this setup with an 8-speed automatic transmission and get up to 36-mpg on the highway. Luckily, our tester was equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. When I drove the 2013 model, it was equipped with the automatic and it was okay, but the manual really helps bring this small engine alive.
Pushing through the gears, it’s easy to tell that this car can handle, and needs, more power. That being said, the chassis and steering is exactly what you’d expect from BMW. It’s a tight and responsive car, and despite the larger size and smaller engine, it’s actually really fun to push hard. Hitting max-torque at 1250-rpm also helps with the feeling of having more power than the engine actually does.
One quirky, yet very efficient, addition to this setup is the auto start-stop function. I’ve driven plenty of cars now with this feature, but this is the first manual I’ve driven with it. Having your car die at a stoplight is pretty discerning, even when you know it’s coming. Also with this engine, the restart is pretty jerky and way too noticeable for my liking. What it does do, though, is save on fuel and that’s always a good thing.
Overall, I was pretty impressed with the car. It hasn’t shaken my love or faith in BMW; it’s only helped to solidify it. Even though I’d probably be looking more at a 335i over the base 320i, I do believe it’s a good value for people wanting to jump into the brand. The base MSRP is just $32,750 which isn’t cheap, but it’s not bad either. This is still a great car to drive, the interior is a nice place to be, and in the end, you’re driving a BMW!