The BMW 3 Series has been an integral part of the Bavarian company’s lineup since its launch in 1975. But which of the newer versions is the best? We try to find out here.
Ask any car lover what comes to mind when they think of BMW, and it’s sure to be the rear-drive sports sedan the company is best known for. Although it predates the 5 Series, the smaller 3 Series, which until recently was the smallest sedan offered by the company before the launch of the 2 Series Gran Coupe, has long been its best-selling offering. And it was, until SUVs became the heart of BMW’s lineup, the company’s best-selling model.
Having made its debut in 1975 with the launch of the E21 3 Series, the successor to the 02 Series, the model achieved iconic status with the second generation of the E30 and the legendary M3 version it spawned and which paved the way to great success. . from BMW M. division that would be particularly well encapsulated with the E46 M3 in the early 2000s.
Now in its seventh generation, known as the G20, around 4.5 million have been sold worldwide since its launch and, despite the rise in popularity of BMW SUVs and all SUVs in general, it remains a relatively solid seller, if it has seen its sales figures plummet in recent years.
Having already looked at each Series 3 generation up to E21, here we’re going to focus more in-depth on the most recent Series 3 models – from 2006 to now in 2021 – that you might consider purchasing as a daily driver, and determine which version is best using metrics for reliability and dependability, functionality, security and value for money.
E90 (2006-13): The economical purchase
When the E90 3 series arrived in 2005, it had big shoes to fill after the incredibly well-received E46 generation. Although it was a larger and heavier car than the model it replaced, it managed to offer much more space for rear seat occupants and a larger trunk, which made it more comfortable and practical than its predecessor.
Available in sedan (E90), station wagon (E91), coupe (E92), and convertible (E93) body styles, it was an immediate success and was quickly named the 2006 World Car of the Year among a host of other awards from the global automotive press. at that moment.
In North America, the lineup focused primarily on six-cylinder gasoline engines, with the 325i and 328i featuring naturally aspirated units, and the 335i featuring a twin-turbo in pre-LCI (facelift) models and a single turbo engine. updated. in LCI versions.
Rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options were available, as were manual and automatic transmissions. Interestingly, a rarity in the lineup was the relatively rare 335d offered exclusively in sedan form that featured a torque-rich six-cylinder turbo diesel engine.
As the 325i and 328i versions are powered by the beloved N52 engine (in 2.5 liters and 3.0 liters, respectively), they are considered among the most reliable BMW 3 Series models you will find, with Instamotor naming the 328i in particular one of the five best used BMW models you can buy.
However, the N52 is not without its concerns: in earlier examples, the ‘VANOS’ variable valve timing system can have problems, although this was common on BMWs of the time, and the hydraulic valve lifters can also run out. of oil before. examples as well, although BMW redesigned the cylinder head in 2009 to alleviate this problem.
However, the turbocharged 335i versions, although much quicker than the 325i and 328i, are known to be incredibly problematic, with car complaints even including the 2007 and 2008 twin-turbo versions among the five worst BMWs based on a number of complaints. of the clients he received.
In particular, turbo failures, overheating problems, and ABS and high-pressure fuel pump failures are commonly reported problems, and all will cost thousands of dollars to fix.
In terms of what you can expect to pay for an E90 these days, Kelley’s Blue Book lists an average private party value of $9,717 and a trade-in value of $7,503 for a 2009 328i sedan in good condition, making it in a very affordable proposal.
F30 (2012-19): Changing things
When the F30 3 Series was launched for the 2012 model year, it marked big changes for the 3er. For the first time, the volume-selling model was available exclusively with a range of turbocharged engines, while the hydraulic power steering was replaced by electric power steering.
Compared to the E90 it replaced, many complained that the F30 generation was not as driver-focused or satisfying to drive as its predecessor, even on road and track, while Motor Cookie notes that it had lower-quality interior materials and more intrusive cabin noise.
The N20 turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 320i and 328i also proved not to be a particularly reliable engine, with early F30s known for catastrophic timing chain guide failures that could destroy the engine.
Fortunately, when an updated model arrived in 2017, the 328i was replaced by the 330i, which brought with it the new B48 engine still in use today, while the 335i and its N55 six-cylinder engine, the successor to the infamous N54 from before. have been replaced by the award-winning B58.
Three F30 body styles were offered: the standard sedan (F30), the “Touring” wagon (F31), and the GranTurismo with a hatchback design and more rear headroom (F34); The previous coupe and convertible options were renamed the 4 Series (F32 and F33 respectively, as well as the new F36 GranCoupe) with the introduction of this generation.
To give an idea of used F30 values, a mint (mid-range) 2017 330i sedan in white with 40,000 miles has an average trade-in value of $20,985 and a private sale value of $24,081 according to Kelley Blue Book, so You can expect the higher or lower versions to add a little more or less, respectively, in comparison. This represents a considerable depreciation of 58.2% over the last five years.
G20 (2019 to present): a real 3 series again
The current 3 Series, the G20, marked a big improvement over the outgoing F30 when it debuted in 2019, even being called “a true 3 Series again” by Carro.
Based on the evolutionary new CLAR platform that underpins all current BMW vehicles with a north-south engine layout, the current model manages to weigh 121 pounds less than its predecessor due to more intensive use of aluminum components, between 25 and 50% stiffer. thanks to the new platform, and more aerodynamic thanks to a covered flat bottom that reduces aerodynamic drag from 0.26 Cd to 0.23 Cd according to EVO.
Since its introduction, the G20 3er has won numerous Car of the Year awards in its class and overall in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia, while the 3.0-litre turbocharged ‘B58 used in the M340i variant was named one of The Wards Top 10 Engines in 2019 and 2020. It received a Top Safety Pick from IIHS prices in 2020 as well.
However, while reviews have praised it, not all owners have been as complimentary. JD Power’s consumer-verified score for this one shows the Series 3 ranks last in its class due to the lowest scores for dependability and dependability, as well as resale value.
Pricing for the current 3 Series starts at $41,250 for a base 330i while upgrading to the 330e plug-in hybrid, which offers fuel economy of an impressive 75 mpg and produces slightly more torque than the 330i, will cost $44,550. The top model in the standard 3er range, the M340i, starts at $54,700.
All models can also be optionally equipped with “xDrive” all-wheel drive for an additional $2,000.
Unlike previous 3 Series models, all that’s offered in the U.S. is a sedan body, so the lack of a practical station wagon may sadden some buyers, although many are switching to SUVs, like the X3, will be a very small minority. Check the wall down the M340i, above.
What is the best BMW 3 Series?
If you’re in the market for a relatively recent BMW 3 Series, the answer as to which ones you should look at seems pretty clear. If you’re buying a new or lightly used model, we suggest the current M340i with its award-winning engine as the best deal. It may be the most expensive standard 3 Series model, but BMW’s expertise in making straight-six engines is on display.
If you’re considering using it, it’s impossible to pass up the E90 328i models that easily rank as the best used BMW 3 Series you can buy, although we suggest models made in 2009 or later with the redesigned cylinder head. so that hydraulic tappet problems are not a problem.
However, not to completely ignore the F30 generation, the latest 340i versions with the famous B58 engine will be the pick of the bunch for this era.