It's one thing to be a strong competitor. It's quite another to be the established best-of-the-best, the "one to beat." For years now, BMW's 3-series sedan has been the gold standard in the small sport-luxury sedan market. It is, without exaggeration, the world leader in this segment.
There are plenty of reasons why the 3-series always lands on the best-selling small luxury car list, year after year. Here's the main reason: the BMW possesses an intangible refinement and comfort that no competitor has learned to equal.
New for 2013, BMW has redesigned the 3-series. Such redesigns always pose a risk, when you're the best in the world. In all, the latest incarnation of the 3-series is a great success—an improvement in most areas.
The 2013 model year brings enhancements to the 3 series, including a longer and taller frame offering more interior space. The new 3-series looks larger because it is. It also looks better, with lines borrowed from the gorgeous 5-series. This model year also brings improved engine and transmission options, increasing both gas mileage and performance.
As with most new vehicles, BMW has emphasized fuel economy. The base engine on the 328i is a turbocharged four-cylinder. This may sound tawdry, but this turbo-four is incredibly peppy. I was delighted with the sound and power output of the 328 and amazed at the gas mileage. BMW advertises a 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds and a gas mileage figure of 33 mpg, with the automatic transmission. With a manual transmission, I was able to hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and I earned 34 mpg on a highway trip. That's quite the combination of performance and economy.
If you're willing to sacrifice a few miles per gallon, the turbocharged 335i six-cylinder is incredibly fast—quicker than most sports cars. The BMW 335i is responsive and rewarding to drive—a reminder why this car leads its competition on every continent. It's here that the BMW outshines all competitors.
Interior styling and space on the new 3-series closely mimic the comfort and luxury on the previous 3 series model, with only minor enhancements and standard feature improvements. Like most small luxury sedans, taller individuals will find the front seat is spacious enough and the rear seat lacking completely.
Safety includes all the notable features on today's luxury vehicles. And in typical BMW class, the 3-series offers some unique features, too, like the BMW brake system, which wipes the brake rotors dry when the windshield wipers are in use.
For those with an insane appetite for speed, the M3 sedan and coupe are the way to go. The M3's 420 horsepower V8 and six speed manual transmission rocket this little car into world-class performance.
Do I have any complaints? Well, of course, I am a "critic" by trade. Most folks won't notice or care about the slight change in steering feel on the newest 3-series. For fuel economy reasons, BMW has switched to electronic power steering. In my opinion, this was a small step down in BMW's strongest suit—steering feel.
That small blemish does nothing to dethrone this world champ, though. There's a reason why all other competitors continually compare themselves to the standard in the industry--the BMW 3 series. There's nothing better.
© 2012 John Dickerson and John Kehlenbeck, Horsepower Auto Reviews