What's New for 2011
The 3 Series coupe and convertible have been slightly restyled for 2011, and have been given an additional model in the form of the more sport-oriented 335is. All 335i models receive a new, more fuel-efficient turbocharged engine. The upgraded stereo is also once again branded as a Harman Kardon.
They say that variety is the spice of life. If that's true, the 2011 BMW 3 Series can make things hotter than a habanero. You can get a sedan, a wagon, a coupe and a convertible; there are two turbocharged six-cylinders, a wickedly torquey diesel engine and a regular six-cylinder that's hardly a slouch. Then there are more add-ons to be had than ornaments for a Christmas tree. Yep, there's really something for everyone, which partly explains why the 3 Series has been so popular for so long. Oh, and the fact that it's one of the finest automobiles on the globe may have something to do with it, too.
Now in its sixth year since the last full redesign, the BMW 3 Series soldiers on with key changes for 2011. The coupe and convertible get a mild styling refresh that only the keen eyes of Bimmerphiles will notice. More important, though, is an all-new engine for the 335i models. Its output remains the same, but the switch to a single twin-scroll turbocharger in place of the old engine's dual single-scroll turbochargers combines with direct injection to improve fuel economy. Not only is the new 335i thriftier than the old one, it sips slightly less fuel than the 328i.
The old twin-turbo inline-6 lives on, however, in the new 335is coupe and convertible. This sport-tuned version produces 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, with an overboost function that can briefly bump torque up to 370 lb-ft. We're guessing that the 335is will hit 60 mph in just a hair under 5 seconds. In many ways bridging the gap between 335i and M3, the 335is also features a sport-tuned suspension and exhaust, an aerodynamic body kit, sport seats and a chunkier steering wheel.
Otherwise, the 3 Series remains one of the most desirable vehicles on the road. Quite simply, no other entry-level luxury model can match the Bimmer's exquisite combination of athletic handling and premium ride comfort. Even the base suspension setup is more capable than most, while the Sport package gives it sports-car-grade cornering capabilities without the slightest hint of impact harshness. This sophisticated dual nature has often been imitated, but never duplicated.
Automotive journalists like us often wax poetic about the 3 Series, but there's a reason for that: It's just that good. With the updates made this year, we see no reason why the 2011 BMW 3 Series should fall from its perch. Of course, there are worthy rivals and the 3 Series certainly doesn't provide the most equipment for your buck. The Audi A4/A5/S4/S5, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class certainly deserve test-drives. But if you just make a single trip to the BMW store, we can't say we blame you.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW 3 Series is available in sedan, wagon, coupe and hardtop-convertible body styles. The base model for all styles is the rear-wheel-drive 328i, while the coupe, sedan and wagon also come in all-wheel-drive 328i xDrive guise. All but the wagon are available as the rear-drive 335i, and the sedan and coupe can be had in 335i xDrive form. The coupe and convertible are available as the sport-oriented 335is. There is also a diesel-powered sedan known as the 335d. Got all that?
Standard equipment on the 328i models includes 16-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, foglamps, "leatherette" premium vinyl upholstery, automatic climate control and a 10-speaker sound system with CD player, HD radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The coupe comes with a sport-tuned suspension, while the convertible gets a power-retractable hardtop, an upgraded stereo and power front seats with driver memory. Both two-door 328i's get 17-inch wheels and adaptive xenon headlights.
In addition to their different engines, the 335i and 335d add 17-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlights (sedan and wagon), a sunroof (not convertible) and power front seats with driver memory. The 335is coupe and convertible get a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, a special body kit, sport seats and a sport steering wheel.
The Premium package adds leather upholstery (heat-reflective in the convertible), auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, BMW Assist telematics and, on 328i models, a sunroof and power seats with driver memory. The Sport package (all but 335is) specifies the sport-tuned suspension for convertibles, sedans and wagons (the coupe already has this as standard) and all get larger wheels, the sport seats and steering wheel, and special "Shadowline" exterior trim. The M Sport package adds many of the 335is features.
The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, retractable headlight washers and fold-down rear seats (though the latter are unavailable in the convertible). The Convenience package adds adaptive xenon headlights (328i), front and rear parking sensors, power rear sunshade (not convertible or wagon), keyless ignition/entry and manual side window shades (sedan and wagon).
Most of the upper trim and package add-ons are also available as à la carte options. Other items include a hard-drive-based navigation system with the iDrive controller, active cruise control, an active steering system (335i and 335is only), a heated steering wheel, paddle shifters for the optional automatic transmission, satellite radio, an iPod adapter and a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 BMW 3 Series comes standard with rear-wheel drive, but all models but the convertible, 335d and 335is can be equipped with xDrive all-wheel drive.
The 328i features a 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. In performance testing, we clocked a 328i sedan with the manual from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, while the heavier convertible is a few tenths of a second slower. According to the EPA, fuel economy is an estimated 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The wagon and/or all-wheel-drive models are a smidge worse.
The 335i features a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 that produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. It gets the same transmission choices as the 328i. Although this engine is new, its power numbers are the same as before, so we doubt its 0-60 times would be much different than the approximate 5-plus-second times we recorded in the past. Fuel economy is now actually slightly better than the less powerful 328i, at 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
The 335is features a more powerful version of the 335i's previous twin-turbocharged inline-6, and produces 320 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. There is a temporary overboost function, however, which bumps torque up to 370 lb-ft. A six-speed manual is standard, and a seven-speed automated dual-clutch manual known as DCT is optional. The 335is should be even quicker than the 335i. BMW's estimated fuel economy is 18/26/21 with the manual and 17/24/19 with DCT.
The 335d has a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged diesel inline-6 that produces 265 hp and a massive 425 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard. In performance testing, we clocked the 335d from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Its EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23/36/27.
Standard safety equipment on the 2011 BMW 3 Series includes antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The convertible lacks the side curtains, but the regular front side airbags extend up to head level and there are also pop-up rollover hoops. The stability control system integrates several features designed to improve braking performance, such as periodically wiping the brake rotors dry when the windshield wipers are in use and automatically snugging the pads to the rotors when the driver abruptly lifts off the throttle. BMW Assist Emergency telematics are optional.
In government crash tests, the sedan and wagon received four out of five stars for frontal collision protection and five stars for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 3 Series the top rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset crash test. The 3 Series also scored a "Good" for side crash protection except for the convertible, which received the second-lowest "Marginal" score.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 BMW 3 Series interiors will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in a BMW product. Classic analog gauges, sensible ergonomics and a restrained overall aesthetic combine to create a pleasant driving environment, though there's less visual pizzazz here than in some rivals.
The base seats are comfortable and supportive, while the Sport package's purpose-built seats are even more so. Materials and build quality are exceptional; even the standard leatherette (vinyl) upholstery looks and feels better than one would expect. The convertible's available heat-reflective leather does a wonderful job of keeping occupants' posteriors cool. The recently improved iDrive electronics interface that comes with the optional navigation system is intuitive and one of the best interfaces of its kind.
The rear seats are adequately roomy for adults on shorter trips, but taller passengers will complain that their heads are crammed into the roof. Trunk space is average in sedans and coupes, while the wagon offers a maximum cargo capacity of 61 cubic feet. The convertible offers a reasonable cargo hold when the hardtop is up, but predictably shrinks considerably when the top is lowered.
Driving is what the 2011 BMW 3 Series does best. The 328i's naturally aspirated inline-6 is otherworldly in its smoothness from idle to redline, and it has enough power to suit most tastes. Those in search of something more will be well served by the 335i, which maintains the 328i's refinement while adding a huge wallop of turbo torque that's always on tap. This year's new 335is doesn't feel much different from the regular 335i until you floor the throttle, at which point the overboost function provides a noticeable uptick in acceleration. For maximum mpg, the 335d is the car to get, and it serves up face-flattening torque off the line, too.
The 3 Series' sublime suspension, steering and brakes will provide endless, easily accessible entertainment. Sport package-equipped models can even keep pace with many genuine sports cars. At the same time, the 3 Series is a wonderful long-distance cruiser, boasting both a supple ride and a hushed cabin. The 3 Series' long-running double act is truly extraordinary: It speaks the language of driving enthusiasts, yet its upscale image and comfortable interior give it unrivaled mass appeal.