The 2016 BMW 3 Series is a mildly updated version of last year's model that features a new top-of-the-line engine, revised styling, additional options and eventually a plug-in hybrid model. The range-topping 340i is now faster and more refined than ever, while the rest of the lineup benefits from an improved suspension and updated features.
What Is It?
The 2016 BMW 3 Series is a compact luxury sport sedan that has defined the segment for decades now. For 2016, the 3 Series has received a light freshening that includes mild styling updates, new options and a more powerful engine for the range-topping model now dubbed the 340i.
The rest of the engine options in the four-cylinder 320i, 328i and diesel 328d are unchanged. All models come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission and offer all-wheel drive as an option. A six-speed manual transmission is available on all models except the 328d. All these updates apply only to the 3 Series sedan and sport wagon, as the 3 Series GT hatchbacks carry over unchanged from last year.
What Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options Are Available?
The BMW 3 Series is available in three body styles (four-door sedan, four-door wagon and four-door hatchback) but only the sedans and wagons have been updated for 2016. The base 320i model offers a wide range of stand-alone options, while the 328i, 328d and 340i models now come standard with what was previously referred to as the Sport Line trim. This includes upgrades like high-gloss black exterior trim, a unique gauge cluster and sport seats.
The upper-level models also offer a Luxury Line trim and a revised M Sport trim package that includes a sport suspension to go with a unique body kit and steering wheel. A new Track Handling package is also new. It bundles adjustable steering, adaptive dampers, upgraded brakes and unique 18-inch wheels.
Another notable new feature is a full LED headlight package. It's standard on the 340i and optional on all other models. There's also a further option to upgrade to adaptive LED lights that follow the curves of the road.
How Does It Drive?
The new 3.0-liter six-cylinder provides the 340i with a potent punch. It now produces 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. That's an extra 20 hp and 30 additional lb-ft of torque. With the added power, BMW says the 340i is good for a 0-60-mph sprint of only 4.8 seconds. That's incredibly fast for any car, let alone a comfortable luxury sedan. Add all-wheel drive and the number drops to just 4.6 seconds.
Curiously, the 340i doesn't always feel that fast, mainly because the car is so civilized. Despite its quietness, the engine issues a pleasantly sporting beat when worked hard and is always smooth, if not as turbinelike as the BMW sixes of the past. It's quick in every gear, not least because peak torque is produced at an exceptionally low 1,380 rpm, making light work of overtaking maneuvers.
Shifts from the eight-speed are superb in the default Comfort mode. There are three additional modes to choose from: Eco Pro, Sport and Sport+. In Sport, a subtle and deliberately introduced jolt occurs with each shift, to intensify the car's sporting demeanor.
These various modes also alter the sensitivity of the accelerator, the speed of the gearshifts and the feel of the adaptive suspension (if so equipped). In Comfort mode the 340i has an excellent ride that's supple, controlled and unobtrusive. It's considerably firmer in Sport, however, to the point that your passengers may grow weary of the ride over undulating roads. But from the driver seat, it feels keenly tied to the road.
The 2016 3 Series' steering system benefits from more rigid mountings intended to introduce more precision and a feeling of stronger connection to the road below. It's generally effective, as the car feels more secure at speed on the interstate and more precise when taking curves, too. The steering's weight increases in the Sport mode, but feels slightly loose on center.
None of these minor quibbles get in the way of enjoying this car, whose character is reminiscent of BMW's better sporting sedans from the past. It's inspiringly quick, satisfyingly agile and makes cultured sounds, while feeling reassuringly secure and civilized. An excellent driving position, easily mastered controls and a decent view out make these dynamic assets that bit easier to exploit, besides providing the ingredients for a fine long-distance car.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
The 3 Series was already big enough to accommodate average-size adults front and rear. Nothing has changed in that regard. Up front there's plenty of room, and the driver-focused design gives it the feel of a car that's easy to drive. It's also very comfortable, with supportive seats and a wide range of adjustment for both the seat and the steering wheel.
The straight-6 issues a pleasing beat when revved, and in Sport mode you'll hear some entertaining commotion from the exhaust when decelerating. None of it is overbearing or objectionable. In Comfort mode, which the car always defaults to, the 340i's sporting potential remains well hidden.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
An all-new Audi A4 is on the way, but the current model is still worth considering. It offers strong performance, a sharply styled cabin and a similar range of features.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class sports high-tech safety features, a luxurious interior and a finely engineered demeanor. On the downside it's a bit expensive, and the infotainment system's touchpad is a fiddly thing to use.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want a true sport sedan that's as fun to drive on a mountain road as it is comfortable on the way to work. Or maybe you like the idea of a sport wagon that's as fast as some sports cars. Either way, the 3 Series in any form is still one of the top cars in the class.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Getting what you want on lesser models requires you to pay careful attention to the options sheet.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.