A perennial 10Best Cars winner since 1992 and the favorite car of many C/D staffers, the BMW 3-series sees a few minor changes for 2009, all designed to keep it looking fresh against newer competition. Completely redesigned for 2005, the freshening of the 3-series sedans and wagons is subtle, featuring new headlights and taillights, as well as interior refinements. Coupes and convertibles soldier on into 2009 with few changes. Fortunately, BMW has not messed with the 3-series formula of refinement, comfort, amazing driving dynamics, straight-line performance, and value.
The 3-series is available in four body styles: sedan, coupe, convertible, and wagon. All choose from among the same engine options—the wagon is only available with the naturally aspirated engine, however—and available all-wheel drive, the latter of which BMW now calls xDrive. The 3-series convertible, however, is only available with rear-wheel drive.
Aside from the choice of body style, the 3-series buyer also faces several powertrain choices. Models designated 328i feature a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that makes 230 hp and returns between 25 and 28 mpg on the highway. The base engine is available in all four body styles. The next step up is a 300-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six that powers the 335i sedan, coupe, and convertible. New for 2009 is the diesel-burning 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-six that makes 265 hp and a staggering 425 lb-ft of torque in the 335d sedan. The diesel hasn’t been rated by the EPA as of this writing, but it is expected to achieve city and highway fuel economy of 23 and 36 mpg, respectively. Nearly all 3-series come with a standard six-speed manual and offer a six-speed automatic as an option, but the 335d is automatic only. At the top of the 3-series range is the high-performance M3, which comes as a coupe, sedan, or convertible. With 414 hp from its 4.0-liter V-8 and a track-tuned chassis, the M3 is the ultimate 3-series.
Compared with its rivals, the 3-series continues to impress. In a comparison test against the Infiniti G35, Cadillac CTS, and Mercedes-Benz C300, a 328i sedan walked away with the victory. The sporty M3 has similarly vanquished its competition in multiple comparison tests.
The 3-series continues to be the very definition of a sports sedan, offering spectacular sports-car-like handling and impressive straight-line performance in a luxurious package. Nearly perfect handling, engines, and refinement make the 3-series tough to beat. Interior space remains tighter than in some competitors, and the iDrive control system can be a bit difficult to manage, although the latest version is vastly improved over previous iterations. Minor changes to the sedan and wagon are subtle and hardly noticeable.
Click here to read our full review of the BMW 335i sedan.
Click here to read our full review of the BMW 335d sedan.
Click here to read our full review of the BMW 3-series convertible.
Click here to read our full review of the BMW M3 coupe.
Click here to read our full review of the BMW M3 convertible.
What’s New for 2009
The 3-series sedan and wagon enter 2009 with a new front fascia and new taillights. The cars are freshened inside, receiving new window switches and the latest—and much easier to use—version of BMW’s iDrive multifunction interface. A new 50-state-legal turbo-diesel debuts in the 2009 335d sedan; it packs 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. The nomenclature for all-wheel-drive models changes from 328xi, for example, to 328i xDrive.
Highlights and Recommendations
The 230-hp 328i blends performance and fuel economy and represents perhaps the greatest value in the 3-series lineup—the 328i will be the perfect fit for most shoppers interested in the 3-series. The 328i’s naturally aspirated engine is lively and powerful and sounds terrific.
Stepping up to the twin-turbo 335i should satisfy those seeking strong acceleration, as the 335i is nearly as quick as the previous-generation M3. The new turbo-diesel 335d will appeal to those who value fuel efficiency, yet it still offers tremendous performance. It’s pricey, though. At the top of the range is the M3, which will satisfy even the most jaded sports-car lover.
You really can’t go wrong with any 3-series, whether you decide to go with a coupe, convertible, wagon, or sedan. Our only advice, then—besides to go get one immediately—is to be careful with the options list, as the dollars can pile up quickly.
Dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, curtain airbags, front-seatbelt pretensioners, tire-pressure monitoring, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control are standard on all 3-series models. Convertible versions add automatic rollover bars.