Full 2014 BMW 3 Series Review
What's New for 2014
The 3 Series wagon returns, as it has finally received the same redesign the sedan got in 2012. In addition, a new four-cylinder diesel engine joins the 2014 BMW 3 Series lineup and a few more standard features are thrown in. The 3 Series coupe is also new, but has been renamed for 2014 as the 4 Series.
Entry-level luxury cars dominate premium-brand vehicle sales in the United States. These are the cars people buy when they get that big promotion at work, and the BMW 3 Series has long been a favorite with consumers and critics alike. There's good reason for its success. The 3 Series comes with some of the most powerful and fuel-efficient four- and six-cylinder engines in this class and arguably the nicest interior furnishings. It also has a reputation for providing sporty handling and a fun overall driving experience. Although the current-generation car puts more priority on ride comfort than previous versions, the 2014 BMW 3 Series remains enjoyable whether you're seeking out roads less traveled or just driving to the office.
The 2014 model year brings plenty of change for the 3 Series line. The BMW 3 Series wagon returns to the lineup after taking 2013 off, and as expected it shares its platform architecture and engines with the 3 Series sedan. This time around, however, the wagon is all-wheel drive only. Meanwhile, the 3 Series coupe and convertible are history, as the redesigned versions of these cars will be known as part of the 2014 4 Series line.
BMW also introduces a brand-new engine for 2014, and if your heart bleeds for mpg, you're probably going to like this 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel. Rated at 180 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, this engine is extremely efficient, as the rear-wheel-drive diesel 3 Series sedan earns an impressive 37 mpg combined EPA rating, while the AWD 328d wagon carries a 35 mpg combined rating. Although the 2014 328d sedan and wagon aren't as quick as other 3 Series models, they're not exactly slow -- BMW claims they can hustle from zero to 60 mph in the low 7-second range.
The high fuel economy numbers on the diesel BMW 3 Series will make the potent but pricey ActiveHybrid 3 sedan an even tougher sell this year (it rates only 28 mpg combined). But every other 2014 BMW 3 Series sedan and wagon is worth serious consideration. Strong competitors like the Audi A4, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS 250 and IS 350, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class will make your decision much harder, but none of these cars can quite match the BMW's combination of fantastic road manners, high-end interior furnishings and outright refinement. If you only test-drive one entry-level luxury car this year, let it be the 2014 BMW 3 Series.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 BMW 3 Series is available in sedan and wagon body styles. (A hatchback model, the 3 Series Gran Turismo, is reviewed separately.) Sedans come in 320i, 328i, 328d, 335i and ActiveHybrid 3 trim levels. For almost all of these, BMW offers all-wheel-drive versions, which it labels "xDrive." The wagon is only available in 328i xDrive and 328d xDrive trims.
Standard features for the entry-level 320i include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way manually adjustable front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, wood trim, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer, Bluetooth, the iDrive electronics interface, a 6.5-inch display and a premium sound system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The 328i sedan adds a more powerful version of the 320i's engine, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, eight-way power-adjustable front seats and driver memory functions. The 328i and 328d wagons are equipped similarly to their sedan counterparts.
The 335i sedan and ActiveHybrid 3 get unique powertrains, although both come equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive and auto-leveling xenon headlights, automatic high beams and a sunroof.
BMW offers three optional equipment lines -- Luxury, Sport and M Sport -- that include different wheel designs, color schemes, trim types, seats, steering wheels and even suspension tuning. There are also a number of available packages to choose from.
Opting for the Technology package brings a hard-drive-based navigation system (with 20GB available for personal music storage), a higher-resolution 8.8-inch display, BMW Apps (including Pandora and Stitcher), BMW Remote Services (which allows many smartphones to lock the car remotely and turn on the climate control, among various other tasks) and a head-up display.
The Premium package is your ticket to leather upholstery, a keyless ignition, power front seats for the 320i, four-way power lumbar support for the front seats and, on wagons, a power liftgate that you can open by swiping your foot under the bumper.
For extra safety, the Driver Assistance package provides a rearview camera along with front and rear parking sensors. The Driver Assistance Plus package gets those items plus side- and top-view cameras, blind-spot monitoring, a lane departure warning system, a driver drowsiness monitor and a speed limit info display. The Cold Weather package comes with heated front and rear seats plus a heated steering wheel. The Dynamic Handling package bundles the sportier suspension tuning from the M Sport line with variable-ratio steering.
Individual option highlights include the Lighting package (provides adaptive bi-xenon headlights), adaptive cruise control, an automated parallel parking system and an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
2014 BMW 3 Series sedans offer a choice between rear-wheel drive and the xDrive all-wheel-drive system, while AWD is standard on 3 Series wagons. A six-speed manual is available on sedans, but the wagon comes only with an eight-speed automatic transmission (optional on the sedan). Automatic-equipped 3 Series cars with the Sport or M Sport package have a "sport" version of this transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters. Both transmissions come with an automatic stop-start function that turns off the engine when the car stops in order to save fuel.
The 320i comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine rated at 180 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. Considering we recorded a decent 7.3-second 0-60-mph time at the track, the EPA fuel economy ratings are impressive at 28 mpg combined (24 city/36 highway) for a rear-drive sedan with the automatic. The manual version and xDrive versions are nearly as good, rating 27 mpg combined.
The 328i model uses a more powerful version of the 320i's engine, rated at 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. The EPA estimates an automatic-equipped 328i will achieve 26 mpg in combined driving, an outstanding number for this class. But perhaps this is the best combination of performance and efficiency within the entire 3 Series lineup. With a 328i M Sport's 5.4-second sprint to 60 mph that we recorded at our own facility and a remarkable 33.6 mpg on our 120-mile loop, we can't recommend this version of the 3 Series enough.
The 328d models have a 2.0-liter, turbocharged diesel four-cylinder rated at 180 hp and a robust 280 lb-ft of torque. This engine only comes with the automatic regardless of which body style you choose. Rear-drive 328d sedans are rated at 37 mpg combined, while the 328d xDrive sedan and wagon are both rated at 35 mpg combined. On our 120-mile evaluation loop, we achieved an admirable 34 mpg in a 328d wagon. Perhaps more surprising, we also recorded a 7.2-second 0-60 mph time for the wagon at our test facility.
The 335i sedan has a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine rated at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. With the automatic, it's nearly as fuel-efficient as the 328i, boasting a 25 mpg combined EPA rating. Getting the manual gearbox drops the combined rating to 23 mpg. With AWD, you're looking at 24 combined for the automatic and 23 mpg for the manual.
Finally, there's the ActiveHybrid 3, which pairs the 335i's engine with the eight-speed automatic, a rear-drive electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. This combination provides 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. The ActiveHybrid 3 sedan is quick. At our test track, we recorded a scorching 5.1-second sprint to 60 mph, but don't expect huge mpg numbers, as the EPA rates it at just 28 mpg combined. And we essentially validated the EPA's estimate on the Edmunds evaluation loop, where we earned a little over 29 mpg.
Every 2014 BMW 3 Series comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags.
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 communications is standard and includes automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle recovery and on-demand roadside assistance.
Options include parking sensors (front and rear), a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, a lane departure warning system and an automated parking system.
In Edmunds brake testing, a 328i sedan with 18-inch summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 115 feet, while the 328i M Sport stopped in 109 feet -- average distances for an entry-level luxury sedan with summer tires. The 320i, on all-season tires no less, took just 111 feet in the same test, which is excellent. Book-ending this group were the 328d xDrive wagon with all-season tires at 126 feet, and the ActiveHybrid 3 at 106 feet on summer tires.
In government crash testing, the sedan received five out of five stars for overall crash protection, plus four stars for frontal protection and five for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the sedan the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. It received the second-worst rating of "Marginal" in the Institute's small-overlap frontal-offset crash test. Its seat/head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the 3 Series cabin has a contemporary feel, BMW has taken pains to make sure it's still a comfortable and inviting place. The company's classic analog gauges provide a historical link with BMWs of previous decades, while the optional thematic equipment lines allow plenty of personal customization. Materials quality is exceptional throughout, and it's all put together with care.
In terms of technology, the basic 6.5-inch display screen is adequate, but you'll want to get the larger, optional screen for a true luxury electronics interface. This year's iDrive system has been updated slightly, with the most noticeable change being a touchpad on top of the controller that can be used to hand write inputs using your finger. Overall, iDrive is pretty easy to use, thanks to straightforward menus, crisp graphics and quick processing times. But compared to some rival systems, it typically requires a few more twirls and clicks to get what you want.
The base-model front seats are comfortable and supportive, while those in the sport packages are even more so. Both offer an impressive amount of adjustment regardless of whether you get manual or power operation. If rear-seat accommodations are a priority, you won't find a more spacious backseat in the entry-luxury car class. Rear legroom is particularly generous. Trunk space is above average in the sedan (13 cubic feet), while the wagon offers a maximum cargo capacity of 53 cubic feet with its seats folded. That's more than BMW's X1 and about the same as the Audi Allroad.
Although the latest 3 Series has lost a bit of the previous car's hard-edged athleticism, the reality is that this car still delivers the best all-around driving experience in the entry-level luxury sedan class. The ride is smooth and quiet, no matter which wheels and tires you choose, so the car is fantastic for road trips. Although we haven't driven the 2014 BMW 3 Series wagon, its handling should be similar to the sedan, which feels nicely composed when going around turns.
The steering is the weakest link in this package: Most consumers will find it very precise, with ideal weighting, but more demanding drivers might notice that it lacks the detailed feedback that made older BMWs feel special.
Still, we have no complaints about the engines. The 320i and its 180-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides a punchy power delivery and acceleration on par with rivals. That leaves the former base model, the 328i and its turbo-4, as a desirable upgrade model. The six-cylinder 335i might seem like overkill at this point, but its huge wallop of power and distinctive inline-6 sound still make it the best choice for those wanting the top sport sedan experience.