Vehicle Overview Randy Newman once mused that, despite fame and adoration, it's pretty lonely at the top. BMW might be able to sympathize but probably doesn't mind too much. The company practically invented the compact luxury car decades ago, and the 2017 BMW 3 Series continues that heritage. Although the 3 Series is far and away the best-selling car in its class, there are plenty of rivals seeking to overthrow it. But the 3 Series' constant evolution keeps moving the bar further, and the competitors seem to be forever playing catch-up.
So what does constant evolution look like? Last year brought mild exterior and cabin upgrades, along with a new engine and a name change for the top-end model. For 2017, the popular 328i changes its name to 330i to signify its new engine, which gets a mild power bump (240 horsepower to 248 hp and 255 pound-feet of torque to 258 lb-ft). Entertainment options have been expanded with the availability of Apple CarPlay, wireless device charging and an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot.
As nice as these revisions are, the real star of the show is the 3 Series itself: a small luxury sedan or wagon that makes few compromises. It's simultaneously comfortable and sporty, compact without being confining, and its engines are fuel-efficient and powerful. It's a truly fantastic all-rounder with no significant flaws to speak of.
But that doesn't mean the 3 Series is for everyone. The compact luxury sedan market is flooded with compelling choices that might better suit your tastes. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class boasts a more modern cabin design than the BMW, with high-end materials throughout. The fully redesigned Audi A4 (and its Allroad wagon variant) is more tech-heavy, with a beautiful widescreen display right in the instrument panel. The Lexus IS, Acura TLX and Volvo S60 (and V60 wagon) are less expensive but offer similar levels of refinement and feature availability. Overall, though, the 3 Series is a complete package with plenty of personalization possibility. Randy Newman might be lonely at the top, but at least he'll be pretty happy driving a 3 Series.
Performance and MPG All 2017 BMW 3 Series sedans offer a choice between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (xDrive), except for the 330e plug-in hybrid, which is available only in rear-wheel drive (RWD). All-wheel drive (AWD) is standard on 3 Series wagons. A six-speed manual is a no-cost option on RWD, gas-powered sedans (minus the 330e) and the 320i and 340i AWD, but the wagon comes only with the eight-speed automatic transmission. Certain automatic-equipped 3 Series cars have a "sport" version of this transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.Both the manual and the automatic come with an automatic stop-start function that turns off the engine when the car stops in order to save fuel.
The 320i has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 180 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. EPA fuel economy ratings are good at 28 mpg combined (23 city/35 highway) for a RWD sedan with the automatic and 27 mpg combined (23 city/35 highway) for the manual. We duplicated the EPA's combined target on our own 115-mile mixed-driving evaluation route of an auto-equipped 320i. The xDrive automatic is rated at 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway).We recorded a decent 7.3-second time from zero to 60 mph at the track for a rear-wheel-drive 320i.
The 330i also uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but it produces a more robust 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Considering the big bump in performance over the 320i, EPA estimates are impressive. An automatic-equipped 330i will achieve 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway), while the manual version earns 25 mpg combined (21 city/32 highway). All-wheel-drive versions (including the wagon) split the difference at 26 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway). BMW estimates 330i models will sprint from zero to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, depending on body style and powertrain configuration.
The 328d models have a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder rated at 180 hp and a healthy 280 lb-ft of torque. This engine comes only with the automatic transmission. While the EPA has not yet released estimates for the 2017 model year, we don't expect them to be any different from last year. Rear-wheel-drive 2016 328d sedans are rated at 35 mpg combined (31 city/42 highway), while the 328d xDrive sedan and wagon are both rated at 34 mpg combined (30 city/40 highway). On our 115-mile evaluation loop, we achieved an admirable 34 mpg in a 328d wagon. The diesel is also pretty quick; we recorded a 7.2-second 0-60 mph time for the wagon at our test facility.
The 340i sedan has a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine rated at 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. With the automatic, it's EPA-rated at 25 mpg combined (21 city/32 highway) with RWD and 25 mpg combined (21 city/31 highway) with AWD. Regardless of powertrain, the manual 340i drops to23 mpg combined (19 city/29 highway). In Edmunds performance testing, a 340i xDrive sedan sprinted from zero to 60 mph in a remarkable 4.4 seconds.
Finally, there's the 330e hybrid, which utilizes a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission, an electric motor and rear-wheel drive. Total combined output for the engine and motor is 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The 330e's battery can be charged from a 240-volt outlet in 2.2 hours. According to the EPA, the 330e achieves 71 miles per gallon equivalent with a 14-mile EV range factored in, and 30 mpg combined in regular gas-electric mode. At the Edmunds test track, a 330e sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds.
Safety Every 2017 BMW 3 Series comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. BMW's standard adaptive brake light system illuminates a secondary set of brake lights to denote heavy braking.
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 moving the pads closer to the rotors when the driver abruptly lifts off the gas. 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, surround- and side-view cameras, blind-spot monitoring, a lane departure warning system, forward collision warning and forward collision mitigation with automatic braking (includes pedestrian detection). The BMW Remote Services option allows select mobile devices to lock the car remotely, turns on the climate control and includes a stolen vehicle recovery service, among other things.
In Edmunds brake testing, 3 Series sedans with summer tires took between 109 and 115 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph; these are decent stopping distances, though many other small luxury sport sedans on summer tires are a bit better. With all-season tires, 3 Series sedans took 113 to 118 feet, better than most rivals with all-seasons. A 328d xDrive wagon failed to impress, requiring a long 126 feet with all-season tires.
In government crash testing, the 3 Series sedan received five out of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for total front-impact protection and five for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the sedan the highest possible rating of Good in the moderate-overlap front-impact test but a second-worst Marginal in the small-overlap front-impact test. In the remaining tests, the 3 Series received a Good rating in the side-impact, roof strength and head restraint/seat (whiplash protection) tests.
Additional Information The 2017 BMW 3 Series should be near the top of your list if you're in the market for an entry-level luxury sedan. It's been the benchmark for years when it comes to driver engagement, and the current version manages to be more things for more people thanks to its generous cabin size, comfortable ride and lineup of surprisingly efficient engines.
For 2017, the engine and model lineup are updated with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that results in the 328i becoming the 330i. Last year's new arrival, the 340i, now comes standard with the M Sport package, although the Sport and Luxury packages can be substituted as no-cost options. There are also new features for 2017, most notably Apple CarPlay and updated iDrive infotainment interface.
Despite these changes, though, a big part of the 3 Series' appeal remains its variety of choices. There is a sedan and wagon body style (not to mention the mechanically related 4 Series lineup), along with the 320i, 330i, 340i and diesel-powered 328d. All but the 340i have a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but they are in fact different engines. The 320i's produces sufficient power (180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque), and returns strong fuel economy for a luxury sedan at 28 mpg combined (23 city/ 35 highway). However, the 330i represents a more powerful proposition, as it boasts 248 hp and 258 lb-ft, while only losing 1 mpg combined compared to the 320i. It really is the best-of-both-worlds choice.
Although it's ultimately no quicker than the 320i, the 328d's torque-rich engine will feel stouter and returns a superb 35 mpg combined (31 city/42 highway). Meanwhile, the 340i's turbocharged inline-6 is good for 320 hp and 330 lb-ft. And when we tested it with all-wheel drive, it went from zero to 60 mph in a remarkable 4.4 seconds. Its fuel economy also isn't that bad at 25 mpg combined.
So the 3 Series certainly isn't wanting for performance, and while its driving experience isn't as sharp as those of its predecessors, its newfound balance of engaging handling and a comfortable ride should appeal to a larger number of drivers. Now, a few choice options (the adaptive suspension in particular) will dial up the fun-to-drive quotient a bit higher, but those seeking the "ultimate driving machine" may find certain competitors a bit more thrilling.
And while some competitors deliver more equipment for the money or offer more traditionally luxurious interior than the 3 Series, there's no arguing that the 3 Series is a remarkable car.
So whether you're looking at the most basic model or a fully loaded specimen, the 2017 BMW 3 Series is a top luxury car choice. Make sure to research which might be the best version for you here on Edmunds, including inventory near you.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.