2020 BMW 3 Series Review

Liz Kim | Oct 14, 2019

Introduction

BMW has been delivering grins to the faces of driving enthusiasts since it introduced the 3 Series in 1975. Over the course of seven generations of the car, there may have been a few misses, but old tropes die hard, and it remains true today that those who love to drive, love driving the BMW 3 Series.

Redesigned for the 2019 model year, the latest 3 Series lineup lost the unloved but exceptionally practical 5-door Gran Turismo version as well as the beloved but infrequently purchased Sport Wagon variant. That leaves a 4-door sedan in 330i and new-for-2020 M340i flavors. No doubt, a new BMW M3 is coming soon, too.

2020 BMW M340i Tanzanite Blue Front QuarterFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated the new 2020 BMW M340i. It had xDrive all-wheel drive, and a long list of options. They included special paint, upgraded wheels, leather seats, ambient interior lighting, the Premium Package, the Executive Package, both Driving Assistance Packages, an adaptive damping suspension, wireless smartphone charging, a Harman Kardon premium sound system, remote engine starting, and a power trunk lid. The price came to $69,570, including the $995 destination charge.

BMW says the 2020 M340i is the most powerful 3 Series to ever prowl roads without an M3 emblem on the decklid. And at almost $70,000, it could very well be that our test car may qualify as the most expensive 3 Series ever to hit the streets without an M3 badge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the BMW 3 Series, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data*, 77% of BMW 3 Series owners who responded to the 2019 Automotive Performance Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study were men. For the entire segment, 65% of owners are male. The BMW’s owners are slightly older (59 years vs. 57 years for the segment) and have a larger median annual household income ($170,833 vs. $150,146).

BMW 3 Series owners are more likely to agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (51% vs. 45% for the segment) and are more likely to agree that they’ll pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (54% vs. 50%). At the same time, they’re less likely to agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (69% vs. 80%).

Fewer BMW 3 Series owners agree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (20% vs. 25% for the segment), yet at the same time fewer 3 Series owners agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (74% vs. 86%).

Also, contrary to popular belief, fewer BMW 3 Series owners agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (60% vs. 66% for the segment).

Owners say their favorite things about the 3 Series are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, exterior styling, driving dynamics, seats, and interior design. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the 3 Series are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, storage and space, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the BMW 3 Series measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

While BMW’s design ethos hasn’t felt new or fresh in years, there’s no denying that the latest 3 Series is a handsome vehicle, with exuberant creases running along the flanks, deftly incorporated traditional design cues such as the kidney-shaped grille, and a pert rear spoiler finishing off the rear.

My test vehicle came wrapped in a super-premium paint color ($1,950) that glowed in sunlight. This, along with the M-specific design elements and 19-inch M-design wheels with body-colored brake calipers saucily peeking out, meant the M340i test vehicle turned more than a few heads. And for good reason.

Interior

Adorned with a lovely ivory leather upholstery contrasting artfully with the M340i’s black dashboard, carpet and headliner, the test vehicle’s interior looked appropriately upscale. All the materials were top notch, and the embossed aluminum tetragon trim added a tasteful touch of muted interest.

At night, ambient lighting with your choice of six colors provides extra cabin atmosphere, and as you approach the car after dark a wave-patterned puddle light brightens the ground to welcome you back to the car.

Seats

Equipped with 14-way power adjustable front seats, the M340i makes it easy to find an ideal piloting position. The front passenger’s seat is equally comfortable, and both front chairs include heating. Oddly, BMW doesn’t offer a ventilated front seat option for the 3 Series, which seems to be an obvious oversight.  

The rear seats, although tight around the shoulders and deeply bolstered, are quite comfortable. The bottom cushion supplies plenty of thigh support and both leg space and toe room are good for a car in this class.

Climate Control System

Climate controls and the center air vents are gathered together on a panel directly below the M340i’s infotainment system. Rocker switches, in aluminum plating, control temperature, shown on a digital display between the vents. Or you can just run the dual-zone system on automatic. Rear occupants get their own set of climate controls.

Generally, the system proved effective in spite of a local heatwave, although the engine’s automatic start-stop system definitely lessened the blast of blessed cold air. By pushing the Max A/C button, you can prevent engagement of the stop/start system to keep the air conditioning at maximum power.  

Infotainment System

The latest BMW 3 Series has the latest version of the company’s iDrive infotainment system, which, based on my experience, is terrific. In the 3 Series, it uses a 10.25-inch wide display and offers multiple ways to interact: hard controls, steering wheel controls, the touchscreen, voice commands, and even hand gestures.

Most impressive is the natural voice recognition technology. Sure, you can use the familiar Siri function on your iPhone through the Apple CarPlay smartphone projection, but BMW wants to charge an annual fee for it after a free 1-year trial period. Also, there’s no Android Auto counterpart.

Good thing the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant is just as useful. Simply tell your car: “Hey BMW, I’m hungry,” along with the name of a restaurant or type of cuisine, and the navigation system pulls up the closest options. You can also change radio station, change cabin temperature, operate the heated seats, and more using nothing but your voice.

Another gizmo that isn’t quite as intuitive is gesture control, which comes as part of the optional Executive Package. Rather than execute the simple task of twisting the stereo volume control knob or pushing the tuning buttons on the dashboard, you can instead twirl your index finger in front of the iDrive display adjust the volume or use a hitchhiking gesture to tune the radio up or down. Frankly, it’s easier to go the old fashioned route.

In my experience, head-up displays (HUD) help to keep my focus on the road. The M340i test car had a terrific one that also displayed pertinent navigation and audio information. Plus, it remained (faintly) visible while wearing polarized sunglasses, a traditional flaw with BMW HUDs.

Storage and Space

According to BMW, the 3 Series as a 17 cu.-ft. trunk, which is quite impressive for even a big full size sedan. In use, the trunk doesn’t feel particularly commodious, but is at least competitive with other vehicles in the segment. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 split-folding design for greater cargo flexibility.

Inside, small but numerous storage nooks around the cabin help to keep various items in place. The car’s glove box and center console bin are rather cramped, but BMW gets perhaps the most important cubby exactly right, a sizable and covered bin forward of the transmission selector, equipped with an optional wireless charging pad.

Visibility and Safety

With slim windshield pillars and a sloping hood, the BMW 3 Series provides terrific outward visibility. Even if you crane your neck to look to the back while reversing, ignoring the standard reversing camera and optional surround view camera system, you can see clearly to the sides and back.

Standard safety technologies for the M340i include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic low-speed emergency braking, and a driver monitoring system. There are two Driving Assistance option packages that add active collision prevention systems, ranging from stop-and-go capability for the adaptive cruise control to a semi-autonomous steering function that operates at speeds up to 40 mph.

In use, the M340i’s suite of driving aids is effective if sometimes unrefined. At times, depending on the situation, the lane keeping assist function is downright aggressive and almost rude, seeming to scold an inattentive driver.

In the event that an accident occurs anyway, the 3 Series earned a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2019.

Engine/Transmission

BMW 3 Series owners cite the car’s powertrain as their favorite aspect of the vehicle, and the M340i’s terrific turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine perfectly illustrates the reason why.

Equipped with direct injection, variable valve control, and a single twin-scroll turbocharger, the 3.0-liter six develops 382 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. As a result, 60 mph arrives in a BMW-claimed 4.1 seconds, and by my highly scientific “seat of the pants” feel, that sounds about right.

Leaving the traffic light and exiting my subdivision for a local freeway on-ramp, the M340i’s turbo spools up fast and the car explodes onto the expressway at gut-busting speeds. So. Much. Fun.

A perfectly behaved 8-speed sport automatic transmission sends power to the rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive system. Add the M340i’s M Sport rear differential, and exercising this BMW’s right pedal produces a collage of pleasurable sensations, from the high-pitched response of the engine and sucking in a quick breath to brace yourself, to suddenly seeing the rest of traffic slow to a crawl as the immediately builds prodigious speed.

My only complaint about this powertrain relates to the automatic start/stop system, which is a lot more noticeable than in other vehicles when engine grumbles back to life.

Fuel Economy

Since I wasn’t a fan of the automatic stop/start system, I usually turned it off, which may account for the less than stellar fuel economy I observed. Most likely, though, it was because I was having too much fun exploring the M340i’s acceleration capabilities.

In any case, the EPA says you should get about 25 mpg in combined driving, with 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. I only averaged 21.4 mpg during a week of driving in mixed conditions.

Driving Dynamics

The new BMW 3 Series lives up to its heritage of membership among the royalty of the sport sedan clan. Choose the M340i xDrive to further elevate the experience with tauter suspension tuning, a lower ride height by nearly half an inch, upgraded M Sport braking components, and the aforementioned M Sport rear differential.

In many ways, you’re simply gilding the lily with the M340i. With its near-perfect weight distribution, the 3 Series virtually demands that you to look for kinky roads on which you can toss the car about with the greatest of ease. The optional adaptive suspension makes jeopardizing your driving privileges that much more likely, trading in a bit of cushiness for athletic zeal that negates body roll and unwanted motions of any kind.

Not that the M340i beats you up. It remains just compliant enough for the daily drive, yet transmits the road surface in a telepathic fashion that most other entry-level sport sedans have yet to duplicate. And the steering and brakes are essentially models of perfection.

This is the car that will have you volunteering to run out for errands, whether at home or work, just to get another chance to drive it.

Final Impressions

The je ne sais quoi allure of the BMW 3 Series is something that everyone mocks but still recognizes as true. And while the cachet of the blue-and-white propeller emblem is potent, the 3 Series offers significant substance to back up the image.

What is it? The pure, old-fashioned joy that comes from piloting an ideally engineered vehicle, one that begs you to drive it fast and hard and come out of each corner brimming with joy and ready to tackle the next curve.

Point A to Point B types need not apply for M340i ownership.

* In the J.D. Power 2019 APEAL Study, the sample size for the redesigned 2019 BMW 3 Series was small.

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