- The new 3 Series is a vast improvement over the disappointing previous-generation car
- But while the 3 Series is good at almost anything, it doesn't excel anywhere
- In a hotly competitive segment, it's hard to recommend a car that's good at everything and great at nothing.
Perhaps that's why, today, the all-new 3 Series isn't getting a lot of attention. It's certainly nice to drive and brimming with features, but ultimately it feels boxed out in the crowded segment it defined for decades. Its impressive dynamics and great powertrain will still satisfy BMW fans, but we don't think the BMW is a standout in any one category.
The previous-generation BMW 3 Series was largely considered to be one of the weaker versions of the iconic BMW. It didn't have the great steering and fantastic suspension tuning that people expected of a BMW sports sedan, nor did it offer the same cabin tech that Audi and Mercedes did. The good news is that the new-for-2019 3 Series is reborn and massively improved.
Dynamically, the 330i we tested was fantastic. Despite our $59,920 tester having the base engine, it still moved quickly — thanks to a 255 horsepower, four-cylinder engine and one of the best eight-speed automatic transmissions in the business. We also had the $700 Adaptive M suspension, which provided flat, predictable cornering performance and secure handling.
The car offers decent steering feedback, but it's not the most exciting vehicle to drive. The hotted-up M3 and M4, though, may change that. For a base model car, the 2019 330i is respectable and certainly better than the last one.
It's also a nicer place inside. BMW is finally coming around to the idea of putting top-tier technology in its lower-rung models, something Audi and Mercedes caught on to years ago. And because they've been doing it for so long, BMW offering a $60,000 car with the base 2.0-liter engine feels natural.
Being a BMW, all of the tech is also sleek and user-friendly. The expansive head-up display, a crazy 3D-view monitor that gives you a from-the-curb view of the car and wireless Apple CarPlay are all familiar bits from high-end BMWs, ported to the 330i so long as you're willing to pay up for them.
Between the huge head-up display, digital instrument cluster and large infotainment screen, you have constant access to all-important driving information. And with a great sound system and a competent semi-autonomous driver assistance system, the BMW is a good companion for the daily commute.
Most importantly for that, BMW's rediscovered ability to make a good driver's car has not compromised the ride or livability of the 330i. In comfort mode, the 330i is compliant and quiet on potholed roads. It's still got the traditional firm composure of a German sports sedan, but it's never bumpy or uncontrolled.
So the 330i has good technology, good performance, a good interior and good cabin tech. In every way, it's better than the car it replaces. And yet we declared that it doesn't stand out.
And that's because the 2019 330i isn't competing with the 2018 330i. It's competing with a selection of models that didn't take six years off to figure themselves out. While the 3 Series stood still, competitors pushed hard to win over defectors from the German sales juggernaut.
The compact luxury segment, as a result, has never been better. The Alfa Romeo Guilia, Audi A4, Genesis G70, Mercedes C-Class and Volvo S60 were all praised for different reasons at their launch, but all of them best the 3 Series in one or more ways.
The C-Class has a knockout interior, the A4 feels the most tech-forward, the Giulia is a riot on the road, the S60 is a styling masterpiece and the G70 has been praised as the best value. Where the BMW fits in that grouping isn't immediately obvious.
To be sure, all of those cars have their own problems. But what makes the 3 Series tough to recommend is that it doesn't offer anything standout.
When you look at the 3 Series, it's well-proportioned and handsome but pretty much anonymous. If it weren't for the badges and the split kidney grille up front, it'd be hard to place the brand. It's not bad, it's just not going to grab your attention.
And it feels exactly like it looks. It's not annoying, uncomfortable or bad. People dead-set on a BMW will be happy with it. It's good in almost every regard. But for $59,920, that's not enough. In an insanely competitive field filled with sedans that are great in one or more ways, the good-enough 330i isn't good enough to stand out among its rivals.
Driving Experience: 3.5
Price as tested: $59,920
Ratings out of 5.