The last-generation 3 Series disappointed legions of BMW enthusiasts by being less involving and fun to drive, while also not exactly wowing traditional luxury car shoppers with its well-built-but-drab interior. Last year’s complete overhaul addressed both areas and the 2020 BMW 3 Series is a far more appealing car as a result. It’s both better to drive and a more obvious luxury car, while also impressing with its safety ratings and an engine lineup that manages to deliver both eye-popping acceleration numbers and thrifty fuel economy.
That said, its age-old rivals, the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, aren’t far off its dynamic pace despite their aging designs, while the Alfa Romeo Giulia retains the driving fun crown that used to rest resolutely upon the 3 Series’ head. There’s even an upstart challenger in the Genesis G70, while more luxury-minded shoppers would be wise to consider the Volvo S60 as well. So although the 3 Series has regained some of its old mojo, choosing one isn’t easy like it once was.
What’s new for 2020?
The 3 Series was completely redesigned last year, but there was something missing in the latest G20 generation. Well, besides a manual transmission. That would be an inline-six engine, which makes its return to the lineup for 2020 in the new M340i model pictured above. Besides the more powerful engine, the M340i represents a comprehensive collection of performance-enhancing elements that bridges the gap between the regular 3 Series models and the future M3.
The plug-in hybrid 330e arrives next model year.
What’s the 3 Series interior and in-car technology like?
The latest 3 Series interior sacrifices some ergonomic functionality in favor of a more eye-catching design with richer materials. It was a good call, as the 3 Series now looks and feels more luxurious, especially when compared to segment standouts the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and Volvo S60. At the same time, functionality hasn’t been written off – controls are still easily reached and there’s ample storage space. We go in-depth about the 3 Series interior in the video above and in our 2020 3 Series Interior Driveway Test.
The 3 Series can be optioned with the latest BMW iDrive 7.0 tech interface, which we review here. We generally like it, especially the myriad ways to accomplish the same tasks – knob, buttons, touchscreen, voice controls. Basically, it allows you to operate the car as you’d prefer. That said, iDrive is still pretty complex, and some may find its menu structure a little overwhelming, especially at first. Android Auto is also not available, and while Apple CarPlay is thankfully now standard and works wirelessly, we have had connectivity issues with some BMW test cars.
How big is the 3 Series?
This is the biggest 3 Series ever, growing to proportions that would’ve rivaled the 5 Series 20 years ago. While this isn’t great news for its role as a sport sedan, it does improve its luxury credentials by providing an impressive amount of back seat legroom. Four adults can happily fit aboard, even with tall occupants seated up front. You’ll still find far more space in a non-luxury sedan like the Honda Accord or Mazda6, but the sacrifice to luxury has definitely been lessened.
The same can be said for trunk space, even if we discovered in our 3 Series luggage test that BMW’s cubic-foot trunk measurement inflates the car’s actual space relative to competitors.
This also seems like a good place to note that there is now only one 3 Series body style. The wagon is not sold in the United States and the oddball hatchback 3 Series Gran Turismo has been discontinued. The 4 Series is still effectively its coupe, convertible and sleeker four-door “Gran Coupe” versions, but those still use the previous-generation platform.
What’s the performance and fuel economy?
Each BMW model is tied to a different engine. The word “xDrive” tacked onto the end indicates the presence of all-wheel drive, versus the standard rear-wheel drive. The letter ‘i’ indicates gasoline, while ‘e’ is for plug-in hybrid.
The 330i has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 255 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque. Like every 3 Series, an eight-speed automatic is mandatory; there is no manual available. Tear. BMW says it’ll go from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds with RWD or 5.3 with xDrive. That’s a speed realm once occupied by the M3; so not too shabby for the base engine. Nevertheless, fuel economy is exceptional at 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with RWD. Take 2 mpg off with xDrive.
The M340i has a 3.0-liter turbo inline-six good for 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It’ll hit 60 in 4.4 seconds with RWD or a ridiculously quick 4.1 seconds with xDrive. You can hear what that sounds like in the video below. Fuel economy is still comparatively good at 22/30/25 mpg with RWD and xDrive.
The 330e is the plug-in hybrid 3 Series, which is technically a 2021 model. It has a 2.0-liter turbo inline-four paired with an electric motor and batteries. Its combined output is 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. BMW says it’ll hit 60 mph in 5.6 with RWD, but it oddly gets slower with xDrive despite the increased grip. EPA range estimates indicate it’ll go 22 miles on a charge, which is typical for this type of plug-in hybrid. If you don’t plug it in, the rear-drive 330e actually gets worse fuel economy than the gas-only versions (added weight has to be the reason) at 28 mpg combined with RWD and 25 mpg combined with xDrive.
What’s it like to drive?
The previous-generation 3 Series rightly caught flack for losing the driver-focused mojo that had made its predecessors famous. It just wasn’t as good to drive. This latest version rights the ship, to a point. The steering in particular has improved, imparting more information to the driver’s hands and gaining an increased-yet-uncontrived amount of effort. However, there’s still a certain numb, artificial feeling present and in general, the steering’s still not the benchmark it once was.
Its handling may be, however, especially with the M340i. It feels like a proper driver’s tool with an impeccably composed suspension that allows you to maintain rapid, effortless speed. It doesn’t feel particularly light or playful – like other BMWs, it’s going for speed with confidence and competence – and won’t necessarily delight with its responses. If that’s important to you, visit the Alfa Romeo store.
The upside of the 3 Series losing its edge over the years is that it’s a quieter, more comfortable car more in keeping with a luxury sedan than a sport sedan. The suspension ably sops up even big bumps and is never tiresome, while the cabin is so quiet that BMW actually has to enhance the engine and exhaust with the stereo speakers to make things a bit zestier when you want it to be (see video above).
What more can I read about the BMW 3 Series?
2019 BMW 330i First Drive
Our first review of the current-generation 3 Series and specifically the 330i. This includes more information about its design, engineering and what changed.
What features are available and what’s the price?
The base price for each 2020 BMW 3 Series model can be found below. Their equipment is broadly the same and there are no trim levels. Rather, BMW offers copious options, packages and equipment groups (Sport Line, Luxury, M Sport).
Standard features include 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, power-folding mirrors, some driver assist features (see Safety section), automatic wipers, a sunroof, three-zone automatic climate control, power front seats with memory settings and multiple lumbar adjustments, a 40/20/40-split folding back seat, “SensaTec” vinyl upholstery, a no-cost choice of five accent trims, a 10-speaker sound system and a previous-generation iDrive interface with 8.8-inch display and wireless Apple CarPlay. The optional upgrade system, featured above and included in the $4,700 Premium package, features a 12.3-inch all-digital instrument panel, a 10.25-inch center display and the latest iDrive 7.0 interface.
The M340i adds bigger wheels, unique styling flourishes and various mechanical components tuned and developed by BMW’s M division.
You can find a full breakdown of the various options plus specs and local pricing here at Autoblog for the 330i, M340i and 2021 330e. All prices below include the $995 destination and are for the rear-wheel-drive model. Adding xDrive is a $2,000 option for each.
330e: $45,545 (pricing for 2021 model)
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
Every 3 Series comes standard with a basic “Active Driving Assistant” suite of driver assistance features that consist of forward collision warning, low-speed automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning. BMW Assist eCall emergency communications are also standard.
Each of the three option packages include blind-spot warning and parking sensors, and can be upgraded with the “Active Driving Assistant Pro” suite that upgrades the base features with a higher-speed automatic emergency braking system, evasive steering assistance and an adaptive cruise control system with stop-and-go capability and steering assist on highways (shown in action in the photos above).
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2020 3 Series a Top Safety Pick for its best-possible ratings in crash tests and for its accident avoidance tech.