The BMW 3-Series has a well-earned reputation for being a competent performer among compact luxury sedans. This year’s version is no different, albeit with one exception.
We give the 2018 BMW 3-Series a 7 out of 10 for performance with a hat tip for a strong turbo-4 and a very competent 8-speed automatic. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The BMW 3-Series offers a relatively exhaustive list of powertrain possibilities, so we hope the rest of your day is clear.
There are four available turbo-4 configurations available in the 2018 BMW 3-Series, including one hybrid option and an increasingly rare turbodiesel.
Base 320i models will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque mated to an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. That kind of power is adequate for the 320i, which weighs 3,320 pounds, but it’s hardly overwhelming. Broadly speaking, the 320i will be a tease for many interested shoppers who will be attracted to the mid-$30,000s price more so than the engine output. All-wheel drive, which BMW calls “xDrive,” is available on all models, including the 320i, but we’d hesitate to burden the small turbo-4 with the 140 pounds of additional running gear that all-wheel drive requires.
For your long term enjoyment and opinion of your new-car purchase (or lease), we suggest the uprated turbo-4 that’s making the rounds as the corporate standard-bearer for efficiency and performance.
The 2018 BMW 330i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 248 hp and 258 lb-ft mated to the same 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. The 330i is sharper and more enjoyable to drive, with plenty of highway pull that BMW shoppers are likely looking for. In multiple drives with the same engine across many models, the turbo-4 helped us all but erase wistful memories of the vaunted BMW “straight-6” that was so beloved and recently retired. The new turbo-4 is that good.
A small number of sedans (and perhaps wagons) will sport a 180-hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel under their hoods. It’s the long-legged highway champ of the 3-Series lineup—up to 40 mpg highway, although it’s relatively expensive and exceedingly rare. Like most diesels, we admire the 328d’s strong pull, but its high cost of entry and bad press may not be enough to lure buyers.
The 330e hybrid is the last of the turbo-4s, and perhaps the rarest. It mates the 320i’s 180-hp engine with a 7.6-kwh battery and 87-hp electric motor for a combined output of 246 hp. In very limited drives with the 330e we’ve noted the car’s seamless power delivery, effortlessly mixing engine power with electric drive. We’ve also noticed the car’s prodigious weight: the batteries and electric motor add more than 500 pounds to the car’s weight.
Available in Gran Turismo and sedan body styles (sorry wagon, no fun for you), the turbo-6 behind the 340i badges is a compelling alternative to the Mercedes-AMG C43 and Audi S4.
The 2018 BMW 340i spins out 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque from its 3.0-liter turbo-6, and it’ll do the dash up to 60 mph in less than five seconds. BMW offers the 340i in rear-drive with a manual transmission, both of which are more than Audi and Mercedes can say for their near-performance sedans.
The manual, which is available on gas-powered sedan models (no diesel nor hybrid), feels crisp without being too notchy, and a smooth clutch uptake will be welcome for drivers who’ll expect their 340i athletes to compete in daily stoplight grand prix duty too.
Normally, we’d stop at that, but the automatic is just too good to ignore. A traditional 8-speed automatic fires through shifts in all models and almost telepathically reads our right foot on downshifts. We like the 8-speed and wouldn’t begrudge any buyer for succumbing to its easygoing charms. It’s the only option for GT models.
All-wheel drive is available for the 340i in the sedan, and is standard on GT models.
Handling and steering
The 3-Series’ historically famed je ne sais quoi of good steering can be distilled down to three parts: good weight distribution, adequate power to the rear, and communicative steering. The current 3-Series possesses the first two while largely skipping the third. The tiller on the 3-Series builds weight nicely, but lacks any of the feedback we loved in prior generations. To be sure, the new 3-Series has impressive grip in most configurations, but you would be hard-pressed to know behind the wheel.
A variable sport steering package can be added to most cars that mechanically alters the steering ratio (rather than using electronics to do it) that helps the 3-Series progressively quicken its rack when carving up canyons.
Mostly, the 3-Series rides comfortably and competently, despite its rolling-rock standard run-flat tires.
Review continues below