BMW is known for its sports sedans, and the BMW 3-Series is probably the best-known BMW. Sold in a variety of body styles (sedan, coupe, convertible, and wagon) and performance tuning levels, the 3-Series is routinely deemed one of the best-handling four-door cars in the world.
There’s a wide array of gasoline straight-six engine and transmission choices in the 3-Series, but the greenest of the bunch is the 335d clean-diesel model, offered since 2009. Its 265-horsepower, 3.0-liter straight-six twin-turbo diesel engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and the EPA rates the 335d at 23 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 27 mpg. With oodles of low-end torque (425 foot-pounds!) in a lighter vehicle, it’s also far more fun to drive than BMW’s other diesel offering, the X5 xDrive 35d sport-utility vehicle.
The least green 3-Series, incidentally, is the M3, with its 414-hp, 4.0-liter V-8 engine, whose numbers fall to 14 city, 20 highway, and 16 combined.
The 2011 BMW 3-Series faces increasing competition from the Audi A4 sedan and A5 coupe, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the Infiniti G37 lineup, but it still stands in a class of its own. The gasoline models are the 328i, 335i, and 335is, with all-wheel-drive an optional upgrade to its standard rear-wheel drive.
Handling is superb, performance is brisk, and the cars are built well and feel rock-solid. There’s a reason the company has stuck with “ultimate driving machine” as its slogan for so many years; it’s true. While some may question various recent BMW offerings—a coupe-like all-wheel drive “sports activity vehicle,” huh?—the 3-Series sedan is probably the purest expression of BMW’s philosophy. It’s also by far the brand’s best-selling model line.
The 3-Series gains some of its litheness from small size, so it’s far from the largest vehicle inside. The front seats are comfortable and capacious, but the rear seat is not as comfortable. Storage space is adequate.
Base prices start at $33,100 for the 328i four-door sedan, but you can come close to doubling that if you choose the most expensive M3 performance version with lots of options. And those options aren’t cheap. Note that the least expensive versions of the 2011 3-Series do not include the divisive, fussy, complex—though much improved—iDrive touch controller. Sometimes, simpler really is better.
For more details, see the full review of the 2011 BMW 3-Series on our sister site, TheCarConnection.