For its brilliant ride and handling and for its swift acceleration, we give the 3-Series an 8 here, based on the most popular all-wheel-drive 330i. In M340i and M3 form, it would earn a 9 and a 10, respectively.
Is the BMW 3-Series 4WD?
BMW’s known for rear-drive dynamics, but most 3-Series now are sold with all-wheel drive.
How fast is the BMW 3-Series?
It’s quick, even in base 330i spec, which spools up a 255-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 and connects it to the rear or to all four wheels through a sublime 8-speed automatic. In this combination, 0-60 mph runs of 5.6 seconds put the 330i in the range of what M3s offered just a couple of generations ago.
The 330i succeeds as sport-sedan standard thanks to steering and suspension tuning that offer crisp feedback, particularly in rear-drive M Sport form with grippy 19-inch wheels and tires and a stiffer sport suspension. As it’s grown larger the BMW has lost the tossable feel that gave the brand its luster, but the 330i has regained some of that zest for high-speed cornering and it’s become even surer in its highway-speed stability.
The 330e pairs the same 2.0-liter turbo-4 with a 111-hp electric motor for a net 288 hp. With plug-in capacity it can deliver up to 23 miles of electric driving, then rely on its gas-hybrid output to deliver up to 28 mpg.
It’s a step in the right direction of progress, but the 330e feels misguided at times. It can accelerate as quickly as the 330i, but doesn’t feel like it since its hybrid system has seamlessly integrated at low speeds for smooth driving. At full throttle, it loses that sure-headed feel, and thinks too long before it sorts out the right gear and the right amount of electric motor input.
Still, we’ve been able to drive one for nearly 27 miles on electric power alone and have enjoyed its well-composed feel despite light steering—and despite a 4,039-lb curb weight that feels even heavier.
Back to non-hybrid 3ers, the M340i slips a 3.0-liter turbo-6 under the hood. It’s the gem in the BMW lineup, an inline-6 that’s boosted to 382 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque, which it ushers to the rear or all four wheels through the same 8-speed automatic. The M340i’s a master class in low-end grunt, good for 0-60 mph times in just over four seconds with all-wheel drive.
It’s also a master class in composure, thanks to a double-jointed set of front struts and a five-link rear suspension. With the optional M Sport tuning and adaptive dampers, it rides low, with less wheel travel and a much firmer ride quality—which gets better when BMW’s standard run-flat tires are swapped out at no cost for conventional treads. Those tires, even with the firmer spring rates and resolutely taut damping in Sport mode, generate less body lean without turning the car into a flinty, intolerable road menace.
That’s pretty much the job of the M3, especially in Competition spec, where its 473-hp turbo-6 gets pressed to 503 hp. The former drops power through a 6-speed manual, while the latter makes an 8-speed automatic mandatory.
With the manual and rear-wheel drive it’s slower by two-tenths, at 4.1 seconds to 60 mph; with the automatic and all-wheel drive it’s good for a rocket ride to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. A top speed of 155 mph can be lifted to 180 mph with an M Driver’s Package, which also includes a day at a BMW Performance Center driving school.
In any spec, the M3 seems to cruise naturally at 85 mph and higher, but the steering clarity of past cars isn’t quite there, due as much to all-wheel drive as to the car’s long wheelbase. The M3 Competition leans a bit into a corner, takes a line of attack, then zippers its way through the deepest of bends with almost no sense of normal limits thanks to staggered Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. It hauls down from speed just as quickly as it hauls, thanks to big 6-piston front brakes, too.
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