Inside the 2018 BMW 3 Series

BMW is like an aging Rockstar, living off past glories. It was once the best in the world — but it’s 10 years since. While BMW can still shock with the odd smash hit, it’s struggling to keep up with the hipper competition. Plus, their old stuff is better.

The compact premium sedan sector is hotter than ever, and BMW has to face the combined might of Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Cadillac. There is no free ride in this class and BMW must step up.

But have they done enough with the 2018 BMW 3 Series? Is this a monster hit, or is it just another album filler?

Performance Specifications

The BMW 3 Series comes with a massive range of power and specifications. The power offered ranges from the $33,450, 320i entry-level model, right through to the M3, which is really a sportscar in a BMW body. The M3 is in another league thanks to its 444 bhp Competition package.

The 320i comes with 180 bhp and 200 lb/ft of torque from its turbocharged two-liter inline-four cylinder. Going up the ladder, you’ve got the more potent 330i, with 248 bhp that also offers a four-wheel-drive and rear-drive system, together with a similarly-powered plug-in hybrid for the environmentally aware.

Now thanks to engine downsizing, the flagship 340i includes a three-liter twin turbo, which pumps out 320 bhp and 330 lb/ft of torque. That’s enough to breach the 60-mph mark in just 3.2s, if you opt for the xDrive version and eight-speed automatic.

Trim levels include the Simplicity Tier, Convenience Tier, Premium Tier, and Executive Tier. In particular, the Premium Tier includes keyless entry, satellite radio, and heated front seats. The Executive Tier offers a Dynamic Digital Instrument Cluster, as well as top and side view cameras.

Plus, the Track Handling Package, meanwhile, raids the M-Sport parts bin for sharper suspension and improved performance at the apex.

Safety and Entertainment

The BMW 3 Series didn’t just get a five-star NHTSA crash rating, it was named as a 2017 Top Safety Pick+ by the IIIHS.

The 3 Series comes loaded with airbags, pedestrian protection, and active cruise control. BMW’s own Frontal Collision and City Collision Mitigation is included as part of the Driving Assistant Package. This optional feature lets the car know when it’s about to crash. It applies the brakes to reduce the impact speed, and provides blind spot warnings, lane departure warnings and parking sensors.

The 3 Series’ entertainment options center around the iDrive system that has improved in leaps and bounds compared to previous offerings, while still being left behind by the competition. BMW always feels at least one generation behind the immediate competition.

You don’t even get a touchscreen, even if you upgrade to the pricey 8.8” Premium Package screen. You’re still stuck with a rotary knob and shortcut buttons. All the software improvements in the world can’t compensate for dated hardware. Apple CarPlay is an expensive option, too, and there is no Android Auto option.

It’s a similar story throughout the interior. The new 3 Series has analogue dials unless you opt for the expensive Executive Tier package, a mass of buttons, and even the HD radio looks a touch aftermarket. Modern interiors are meant to be cleaner than this and the BMW feels old-school in a bad way.

Fuel Efficiency

The 340i xDrive with an automatic box will give you just 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The entry-level 320i, meanwhile, returns 23 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the open road.

The hybrid produces virtually the same numbers as the 320i, which suggests it is almost virtue signaling by BMW to build it in the first place. At best, it’s a compliance car.

It’s no surprise the M3 is brutal on fuel, returning just 17 mpg in the city. This is a sportscar draped in a sedan’s body and if you buy one then you should know what you’re in for.

Image via BMW Canada

How It Stacks Up Against the Competition

BMW has to contend with the Audi A4, the Mercedes C Class, Jaguar XE, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS, and even the new Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Mercedes has leapt ahead when it comes to interior design, luxury, and connectivity as the new C-Class is streets ahead of the BMW. Audi has become the watchword for technology, performance, and safety, thanks largely to clever marketing of the Quattro system and its superb digital dash. Jaguar once was where BMW is now. It was the old man of the group, but with new owners the company has reinvented itself. The Jaguar XE is more fun, more stylish and more advanced. Alfa Romeo relies on styling, passion, sporting performance, and drama. Even the Cadillac has something unique to offer with its gutsy engines and light curbweight. In this company, the BMW is beige.

In the past, BMW could have overcome all these odds to win hearts and minds with sheer precision at the apex. BMW was a driver’s car and people could forgive everything else for the smile it put on our face.

Now, apart from the iconic M3, it doesn’t even do that. Dynamically, the 3 Series is a disappointment and the only real selling points are safety, the rakish styling, and aggressive front end. In summation, BMW’s new 3 Series simply doesn’t cut it in this company.

Pros

  • A massive variety of styling and drivetrain options.
  • It’s safer than Fort Knox.
  • The rakish front end and new LEDs are stunning.
  • The 340i is brutally fast in a straight line.

Cons

  • BMW has lost its mojo as a driver’s machine.
  • iDrive is a relic compared to the competition.
  • Interior is dated.
  • It drinks fuel at an alarming rate.
Image via BMW Canada