The Best Premium Compact Sedan
We are living in a world where most of the families are looking for SUVs and it is understandable. They are practical, lots of headroom and legroom space, big trunk, most of them offer all-wheel drive, and they offer a great comfortable ride. However, we are sure there are still many families looking for the more engaging driving experience, that’s why they look for compact sports sedans. Before the SUV tsunami hit the market, especially in the 90s and 2000s, compact and mid-size sedans were the king. Today, circumstances have changed and even some manufacturers stop selling sedans in North America.
Interestingly, BMW 3-Series is still the best-selling BMW all around the world. This year, in Canada BMW introduced the 7th generation 3-Series which had been launched in Europe in 2018. We have had the opportunity to review two different versions of the all-new Bimmer this summer, the 330i xDrive and the M340i xDrive respectively. Both of them are so capable in terms of technological features, overall build quality and driving experience. In this article, we will explain their features and find which one would be a better option for you.
Exterior and Interior
Compared to the last generation, the differences in exterior design are not immediately detectable. Of course, it is not the same, but you need to be eagle-eyed or a “BMW guy” to see the difference. The headlights and taillights look more sleek, and sporty. Definitely an upgrade, but it is having VW Golf or Porsche 911 syndrome, you must be familiar with the 3-Series to see the design difference at first look. Overall exterior design definitely look premium, but we are on the fence which one looks the best as Mercedes C series also look great. At the end of the day, this is a subjective matter.
The new 3-series is slightly bigger than its predecessor; it is 73 mm longer, 15 mm wider and 13 mm taller. It has 40 mm longer wheelbase and increased track width, which affects the overall agility of the car. It looks almost as big as E39 BMW 5-Series from 20 years ago. Unsurprisingly, this is a common trend in the car industry, cars usually get bigger at each generation, but it also helps with overall interior space, as it offers more legroom than its predecessor.
Interior design is much driver focused than the previous generation. In fact, this may be the most driver-focused dashboard in its class. We were speechless when we first got into the 3-Series. Whole dashboard is refreshed and you immediately feel that it is different than the previous gen. Everywhere is soft-touch plastic, leather and high-quality aluminum. Steering wheel leather feels great, overall interior quality is excellent especially for a car marketed as a compact sedan. A few years ago, there was a significant difference between 3 and 7 series in terms of the quality of plastics leather, wood/aluminum trims, but now the gap is much smaller. This generation comes with a bigger screen, and fortunately, it comes with the newest infotainment system.
Engine and Drivetrain
This is where both M340i and 330i really shine, regardless of your choice. Both engines are fast, but M340i is really fast. 330i produces 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is a 2.0L 4 cylinder turbocharged engine. If you choose the M340i, it comes with 3.0L inline 6-cylinder turbocharged engine, which produces 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Both cars feel faster than what is written on paper, both engines have great torque curve and offer extremely smooth operation. 0-60 times in 5.8 second for the 330i and 4.4 seconds for M340i. Both numbers are impressive, but M340i can keep up with exotic cars from 5-10 years ago when it comes to pure acceleration. Both cars are limited to 210 km/h, but it takes way less time for the M340i to reach that speed. If you live or have plans to live in Europe, you may need to remove the speed limiter.
You may be glad to remember that in Germany, in a 13K km section of the highway network allows driving pleasure without speed limit.
This is one of the cars we really had a hard time observing the overall fuel consumption, as it varies a lot. If you drive spiritedly, it is not hard to see over 15.0L/100 km. If you drive normally, you can get it down to 9.0L/100 km. 330i consumes approximately 1.5 – 2.0L / 100 km average less fuel than its bigger brother, as it has two fewer cylinders and missing more than 100 horsepower.
Both engines come with torque converted 8-speed automatic transmission and it works flawlessly. Of course, M340i is tuned for sportier driving, but it can be extremely comfortable. We are glad torque converter automatics are back as they offer performance, comfort, and reliability at the same time. Both testers had xDrive All-Wheel-Drive system and like the rest of the drivetrain, it also works flawlessly. We really enjoyed driving them as it is rear-wheel-drive biased and engages the front wheels when you get less traction in the rear.
There are some technical updates with the 7th generation 3-Series. Now it comes with lighter chassis, and body weight reduced by as much as 50kg. BMW also revised the front and rear suspension to get better ride comfort and acoustics. Not only that, but BMW was able to achieve better drag co-efficiency, and reduced it by 0.03 down to 0.26 Cd over the previous 3-Series. They completely sealed the under-body, as well as new aerodynamically optimized wheels. Last but not least, they also used the latest BMW kidney grille which comes with active air flap control.
Unlike the 330i, M340i also comes with adaptive M suspension and differential, which makes it a blast to drive the car. For daily driving, Comfort mode offers sufficient comfort and not overly stiff. When you switch to the Sport or Sport+ mode, there is no body roll at all. It has a great balance of being sporty while still being comfortable. M sport differential is noticeable around tight corners, you really have to try hard to get it out of control, but in the same time, it is super easy to control during oversteering (Yes! It over-steers even if it is an xDrive). This is a type of car which you feel you are a better driver than what you actually are because it makes you feel so confident, and it makes everything easy for you while not being intrusive. It is actually useful if you are cornering hard or taking it to track. You won’t feel a difference if you take your BMW just to work or coffee shop.
Honestly, we really tried hard to find a flaw. If we have to mention some, we are missing steering feeling of E46 M3, but they have to use electronic steering to keep up with the latest technologies, so it’s understandable. At the end of the day, steering feeling is a little bit numb because of that, but it is responsive and predictable. Both testers come with almost all options available for 3-Series, but there were no cooled seats. We checked the website and couldn’t find it even as an option. The 3-series, premium compact sedan definitely deserves this feature, even optionally.
We enjoyed the latest iDrive infotainment system, it is one of the best you can get today. However there is no Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay is not free. This is not acceptable for a premium car that costs over $60.000 and maybe a deal-breaker for many people. For daily usage, we weren’t in love with rear legroom, as it is slightly less than the competition, but not a huge deal as it is still livable. At the end of the day, it is a compact sports sedan, and you should not expect SUV practicality.
Other than that, there are some technologies taken from its bigger brothers, such as Advanced Adaptive Cruise control which allows you to not to touch the steering wheel up to 60 km/h. Also, park assistant works flawlessly and makes life easier for people who are not comfortable parking their cars, both vertically and horizontally. It is going to take forever if we add each feature, but you should definitely get the Premium Excellence Package, as it comes with important features like Laserlight Headlights, Nappa leather seats, Ambient Lighting, Head-up Display, Automatic Trunk, Lumbar Support, Heated Front and Rear seats, Harman Kardon Premium Sound System and so on. Although it costs over $8000, it is a well-worth investment.
Pricing and Conclusion
The base MSRP for the 330i xDrive Sedan is $49,000. Our tester with options called; Premium Excellence Package ($8.900), M Sport Package ($2,000), Adaptive M Suspension ($600) and Metallic Paint ($895), the price exceeds the 60K Threshold ($61,395 to be exact). If you choose the M340i xDrive, it starts from $61,850 and our tester had the same Premium Excellence Package but for $8.300, as well as the Adaptive M suspension option for $600.
The most important question is, is it worth? Definitely. If you are looking for a premium sports sedan, 3-Series is one of the most capable ones out there. If you just daily drive it, we think 330i is more than enough for your needs. However, if you are looking for more spirited driving, as well as occasional track-day events and couldn’t afford the M3/M4, definitely go with the M340i. We think that even at times of the global SUV/CUV surge, this sports sedan will continue to be a leading player and it outperforms current generations of C-Series and A4.
+ Overall interior quality
+ Excellent performance, engine, and transmission
+ Impressive technological features, such as Adaptive+ Cruise Control, or digital instrument cluster
Things can be improved:
- Rear legroom space
- No Android Auto and you have to pay to use Apple CarPlay
- No cooled front seats, not even as an option
Article and Photos by Dan Gunay