2015 BMW 3 Series Driving Impressions

In any BMW 3 Series variant, refined handling and near 50/50 weight distribution make them a joy to drive. With the switch of a drive mode, the 3 Series can go from comfortable daily driver to racy canyon carver. Engine, transmission, steering and brakes work in harmony.

The BMW 328i gasoline engine is perfectly suited to everyday driving, while the BMW 328d diesel engine excels when it comes to long-range efficiency. The BMW 335i is the most fun, with its powerful engine and plentiful torque.

Around town, the BMW 328i is perfectly able but doesn't sound particularly refined. The clatter of the direct-injection engine is noisy, especially from outside the car when idling, and audible in the cabin at lower speeds. On long road trips, it comes into its own, however. The turbocharger provides boost through a broad torque range, delivering 255 lb.-ft. of torque from 1250-4200 rpm. We found the torquey motor plenty peppy climbing steep mountain terrain at freeway speeds while cars around us were struggling to keep up. Getting from just about any speed to 80 mph is a breeze, and passing is easy.

By contrast, the BMW 335i's turbocharged six-cylinder engine purrs like a contented cat. In normal driving around town, we found the power advantage of the 335i over the 328i to be negligible. But put the pedal to the metal on a freeway onramp or a racetrack straightaway, and that power bump is instantly noticeable. The 335i has more torque, with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6. It makes 300 hp at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from 1300-5000 rpm, a broad power band that gives the 335i strong response to throttle input at all engine speeds. In other words, just stand on it and she goes. Turbo lag feels nonexistent, and 0-60 mph comes quickly, just 5.4 seconds with either transmission, according to BMW. While the 335i is slightly more enjoyable, we heartily recommend the 328i.

The 8-speed automatic transmission works very well. Some drivers prefer to shift with the paddles, but most will simply put it in Drive and let it do its thing. We still enjoy the manual transmission available on the gasoline-powered sedans; clutch-pedal effort makes taking off easy, and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced for either engine. Gran Turismo, 328d and both Sport Wagon models are only available with the automatic transmission.

Handling is excellent on all variants of the sedan, and all offer a good balance of ride quality and handling response. The steering is light at low speeds, with proper resistance and feedback at higher speeds. Near-50/50 weight distribution, aided by locating the engine behind the front axle, leaves the driver in full command. It's an easy car to drive fast. We drove hard up a primitive mountain road, overdriving the tires, allowing the active safety features to limit speed around the bumpy switchbacks. At Laguna Seca Raceway, we strapped on helmets, switched off the electronics, and pushed hard around the turns. These cars are very easy to control at the limit, giving the driver confidence, delivering joy.

Traction control kicks in when accelerating hard out of low-speed corners, eliminating wheelspin and reducing the chance of a spin. When driving hard, on a racetrack, for example, we found it beneficial to switch the system off, allowing the car to slide more and the tires to spin to achieve higher cornering speeds and more responsive acceleration performance coming out of the turns. Traction control is useful on an unfamiliar mountain road, but won't help you win an autocross. The active safety features can be switched off or dialed back in degrees, allowing the driver to tune the system to conditions and his or her preferences.

Braking is excellent in all models. The large brake calipers and rotors deliver more clamping force than most competitors. And thanks to BMW's electronic management, the brake pads move within a hair of the rotors if the driver suddenly releases the gas pedal, even if the driver hasn't yet considered slamming on the brakes. The pads also lightly sweep the rotors every few seconds if it's raining, just to be sure there is no significant moisture build up.

The diesel engine found on the 328d is surprisingly smooth and quiet. There is still an audible ticking noise at lower speeds and the slight rumble characteristic of all diesels, but it's quite refined in comparison to the old rough, smelly diesel engines of years past. Although torque is a healthy 280 lb.-ft., the 328d is still the slowest 3 Series of the bunch, with a 0-60 mph time of more than 7 seconds, according to BMW. There's sufficient thrust off the line, but you won't win any drag races. Tall gearing designed to maximize fuel economy keeps the 328d running at low rpms most of the time. The real reason to get the 328d is its efficiency, with excellent range at highway speeds and an EPA fuel economy rating of 32/45 mpg City/Highway for 328d sedans, and 31/43 mpg City/Highway for 238d xDrive sedans and Sport Wagons.

The BMW 328 xDrive Sport Wagon models use the same engines as the 328i and 328d, and are both paired with the 8-speed automatic transmission. Each boasts very similar driving dynamics to its sedan counterpart, and the 328i in particular is every bit as nimble. Around corners, you'd be hard-pressed to remember you have a copious rear end bolted onto the back. That is, until you look in the rearview mirror; the wide D-pillar and rear center-seat headrest reduce rearward visibility.

An automatic Stop/Start function comes standard on all 3 Series models. It helps fuel economy, but it annoys us. Although the latest version doesn't shutter quite so violently as the first iteration, it continues to be invasive and, in our opinion, kicks in way too soon. After only a couple of seconds of idle, even if you're just pausing briefly, the engine shuts off. We found this especially disconcerting to crossing pedestrians who looked startled when they heard our car fire up just as they crossed our front bumper. The system can be turned off.

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