When I was growing up in Mexico City and Texas, the BMW 3 Series wasn’t just known for its great driving abilities. It was also known for giving the driver status. I vividly remember how highly I saw one of my dad’s friends just because he drove a 3 Series—the sport sedan not only raised the bar in terms of driving dynamics, but it also raised the rank of those who drove it (at least in my mind). But as I grew up and understood how the world functioned, that distinction didn’t follow.
Although the 3 Series was the halo sport sedan for decades, it lost some of its magic in its most recent generation. It didn’t bring the emotion and the punchiness it was known for. And new competition took away part of the prestige of owning it. With the seventh-generation 3 Series, BMW has a chance to get back on track, but with new players in the game—both electric and gasoline-powered—the Bavarian has more rivals than ever.
The 2019 BMW 330i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four that sends 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic. That’s good enough to shoot the 3 Series from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, a 0.1-second improvement over the last 3 Series we tested, a 2017 330i. The 3 Series we tested recently was equipped with the M Sport, Premium, Track Handling, Executive, and Driving Assistance Pro packages, which elevated its $41,245 base price to $59,920—a difference of almost $20,000. Although it was nicely equipped, our 3 Series was a bit too sporty; it was a fun car to take on a canyon road, but the suspension was too stiff for daily driving.
Road test editor Chris Walton liked being able to configure the suspension and steering in different ways with the Sport Individual mode, but even when he drove in Comfort mode, the ride was too stiff. “I know this is probably due to the Track Handling package, but wow, the ride never settles, even in Comfort,” he said. “Sure, it was very confidence-inspiring in the canyon, but unless you live in a canyon, pass.” With a punchy engine that works very well with the eight-speed transmission, the 2019 330i was fun to drive on Malibu canyon roads and Angeles Crest Highway. Its low body roll and good grip make you want to go back to the twisty roads for more, but unless your daily commute involves some kind of spirited driving, the suspension might be too rigid. Even testing director Kim Reynolds thought the ride was “odd,” adding that “it finds annoying bumps without the commensurate handling composure payoff.” We’d like to test a 330i without the M Sport and Track Handling packages to see how the car feels without the added sportiness.
But whether you’re driving on a canyon road or just down the street, the new 3 Series will feel like a bigger car—because it is. The wheelbase has increased by 1.6 inches, and the overall length grew by 2.9 inches. Second-row passengers will notice the increase in legroom. There’s enough headroom to accommodate the average tall passenger, but the powertrain hump sacrifices space for a third person in the back.