2011 BMW 3-Series Road Test

Bread and Butter Model is Still the Benchmark

2011 BMW 3 Series Silver Exterior Driver Side Front View

The BMW 3 Series has been the bread and butter of the BMW line-up since its inception in 1975. Long considered the benchmark of small European sports sedans, only recently have the competing brands started to produce cars that will compare in driving dynamics to the 2011 BMW 3 Series.

The current generation BMW 3 Series was launched as a completely new model in 2006. It received minor updates during its production run and received a facelift for the 2011 model year. The front and rear fascias of the 3 Series have become more sculpted and aggressive. The front end looks lower and wider with more stretched out headlights and wider openings in the grill and below the bumper line. The is-coupe and convertible models are even more differentiated from sedan versions looking a little closer to M-models than standard 3s.

Inside, the all-business interior remains unchanged for 2011. A dark dashboard allows the driver to focus on driving with minimal fuss given to interior controls. The often-maligned iDrive navigation and entertainment system has received constant refinement from BMW over the years and is now at a point that it can almost be considered easy to use. It will still require some time to learn, but once educated it becomes a powerful tool for electronic car control.

Front seats are comfortable and supportive for both long hauls and spirited driving. A wide range of adjustments means most body sizes and shapes can easily find a comfortable riding or driving position. The back seats can become cramped with larger passengers in front. Road trips may become cramped with four adult passengers, but trips around town will be easily tolerable. The interior is quiet and relaxed during even high-speed cruising. At high RPMs BMW lets the signature sound of the engine filter inside, this is after all a driver’s car.

If you are thinking about checking out a 3 Series at the local BMW dealership you may want to prepare yourself beforehand. A total of 15 different variations are currently for sale in the United States, this is not including option packages. First, you will need to decide on a body style. The 3 Series is available in 2-door coupe, 4-door sedan, hard-top convertible and a sport wagon. Within those models you will find multiple engine and drivetrain options.

The base engine in 328 models is a 230-horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine. Inline engines are well balanced and known for their smooth operation. The BMW engines are no exception, delivering smooth power with a growling noise now famous to BMWs. The 335i and 335ix models use BMW’s brand new single turbo 300-horsepower 3.0-liter I-6. Spritely performance is an understatement with these models as the turbocharger adds power and torque throughout the powerband. The xDrive models feature all wheel drive allowing all that power to get to the ground in all weather conditions.

For the fuel conscious, BMW offers the 335d sedan which is powered by a 265-horsepower turbodiesel I-6. While not as lively as other 335 models, it will be able to return an EPA rated 36 mpg on the highway. Unlike diesels of the past, the 335d is quiet, smooth and smoke free. The diesel provides plenty of torque for low end pulling power making it well suited to American driving needs.

BMW says its customers have been requesting a model in between the 335i and the top performance model the M3. Apparently even a 300-horsepower 335 is still just another 3 Series in some eyes. To meet the demands of the enthusiasts who want more performance and styling with the M3’s price tag, the 335is has been introduced for 2011. Powered by a twin-turbo 320-horsepower I-6 which powered older 335s, the new 335is packs extra punch and has front and rear valances closer in appearance to the M3.

The 335is models normally come equipped with a manual 6-speed transmission but a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is available as an option. Other 3 Series models will use a 6-speed manual transmission or offer a 6-speed conventional automatic. In the past, serious enthusiasts would have settled for nothing less than a manual transmission, but with the constant improvement of automatics they are becoming prevalent. At this point, it will be more likely to have to special order a manual than an automatic, even in a BMW.

A 328i sedan is the least expensive of the 3 Series. It base at $35,475 including destination. One of the few complaints you will hear about BMWs results from how fast the price soars with options. With only a few options the base level 3-series quickly crests the $40,000 mark. BMW does offer a 4 year/50,000-mile maintenance program that will help offset some of the enthusiasm when checking option boxes. The 3 Series has gotten some pretty stiff competition in recent years from the likes of Mercedes and Audi. BMW is still playing hardball in the category. Offering 15 different models, all excellent, might keep them at the top of the game.

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