If you're shopping for a smaller luxury sedan that puts a premium on driving satisfaction, the BMW 3 Series remains the place to start. It's one of the world's best sports sedans.
For 2007, 3 Series sedans and wagons come with powerful new engines, a couple of new colors and some minor interior tweaks. The 3 Series is expanding for 2007 with the introduction of an all-new, two-door 3 Series coupe and an all-new 3 Series convertible. (The 2007 3 Series Coupe is evaluated in a separate review.)
The 2007 BMW 328i and BMW 335i accelerate more quickly, stop shorter and turn with more lateral grip than any of their predecessors. The current 3 Series sedans are the roomiest ever, with more standard and optional equipment and more sophisticated electronic controls. BMW's x-Drive all-wheel drive system is available on the 328i.
Yet what characterizes the current 3 Series sedans as much as anything is its high-technology. We presume the car-buying public expects the latest technology in BMW products, and the 3 Series delivers in spades. It's everywhere in this compact sedan, some of it first in class and some not previously applied in any BMW.
The 2007 BMW 3 Series cars offer Active Steering that actually turns the front wheels without driver intervention, not to mention 150-mile run-flat tires, turning Bi-Xenon headlights, and an optional i-Drive interface. It was the first car in its class to offer radar-managed active cruise control, and even the standard cruise control will automatically apply the brakes if you get too close to a car ahead.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but owners of older 3 Series models may wonder where their purist sports sedan went, or at what point all the gizmos start detracting from that sporting character. Rest assured, this remains a true sports sedan, but its sporting heart is a little more difficult to find under all the stuff.
Any 3 Series model still delivers a special mix of performance, practicality and European luxury in a compact package. This car defines sports sedan, and it's the benchmark every luxury car maker from Acura to Volvo aims at. The 3 Series embodies consistent product character and values, defining what has made BMW one of the most respected brands among car enthusiasts. Above all, the 3 Series is a driver's car: accelerating, turning and stopping with remarkable agility and balance, without seriously compromising comfort or common sense.
What's New for 2007: The sedans and wagons get new engines, and a corresponding change in nomenclature. The 325i is replaced by the 328i. The new models have a more powerful version of BMW's 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, generating 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, for an increase of 15 hp and 15 lb-ft over the previous models. The 2006 330i sedan is replaced by the 2007 BMW 335i, featuring BMW's new 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 producing 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. That's an increase of 45 hp and 80 lb-ft for the 2007 335i sedans and wagons.
BMW's line of 3 Series sport sedans and wagons includes five distinct models. True to BMW tradition, all are powered by a variant of the company's inline six-cylinder engine, with a standard six-speed manual transmission. All-wheel drive is offered on both sedan and wagon, and BMW's six-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,275) is optional on all models.
The BMW 328i ($32,400) and 328xi ($34,300) sedans are powered by a 225-hp 3.0-liter six. This high-tech engine is the first in mass production with a magnesium alloy engine block, to trim weight. It's light, powerful for its size and fuel efficient. The 328xi comes with BMW's x-Drive permanent all-wheel drive system.
The 328s comes well equipped, with automatic climate and headlight control, a climate-controlled center console, heated washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, a power moonroof, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD and BMW's self-braking Dynamic Cruise Control. Burr walnut trim is also standard, with BMW's Leatherette vinyl upholstery. Lighter poplar trim and aluminum are available as no-charge options.
The 328i Sports Wagon ($34,300) and 328xi Sports Wagon ($36,100) are equipped comparably to the sedans, with the 225-hp engine and all-wheel drive for the xi model. The big difference, of course, lies behind rear roof pillars and seats, where the wagons offer more load-carrying potential and versatility than the sedan, with a rear tailgate and rear window that can be opened separately.
The 335i sedan ($38,700) features a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder the generates 300 horsepower. The 335i also adds standard equipment, including eight-way power seats with memory, xenon adaptive headlights that turn into a curve with the car, and BMW's 13-speaker Logic 7 stereo, with two subwoofers and surround-style digital sound processing.
Beyond the 6-speed automatic transmission, there are three major option groupings. The Premium Package ($2,450 of the 335i, $3150 all other models) adds Dakota leather upholstery and a number of conveniences, including Bluetooth cellular phone interface, power folding side mirrors, a digital compass in the rear-view mirror and hardware for BMW Assist, the telemetric package that provides safety, convenience and concierge services. After the first year, you'll pay for the subscription.
The Sport Package ($1,500) includes sporting suspension calibrations tuned by BMW's M performance division, more heavily bolstered sports seats and a wheel/tire upgrade: 17-inch alloys with W-rated performance tires for the 328s; 18-inch for the 335i. Finally, the Cold Weather Package ($600-$1000, depending on model) adds electrically heated seats, high-intensity headlight washers and a split-folding rear seat with ski sack.
BMW's Active Steering system ($1,250) and radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200) are available as stand-alone options on the 3 Series, as is a DVD-based navigation system ($2,100). Sirius satellite radio hardware ($595), the Logic 7 stereo ($1,200) and power rear-window and manual side rear-window sunshades ($575) are also available as standalone options, as are most of the individual components of the three packages, including the split-folding rear seat ($475) and BMW Assist ($750). BMW also offers various dealer installed accessories. In all, there are more than 600 choices in equipping the 3 Series sedans.
Safety features include dual stage front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front side-impact airbags and full-cabin head protection airbags. BMW no longer offers rear side-impact airbags on the 3 Series, on the basis that few buyers took the option, and that the protective benefit does not exceed the risk of airbag related injuries.
Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid collisions, include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly l