The F30 sedan, as we call it in the US, or saloon, as it is called in Great Britain, is a 4-door car that replaces what may be considered the last of the analogue 3-series cars, the E90, produced between 2006 and 2011. That model did use computers for antilock braking, traction and stability control, but it still had an hydraulic power steering system. Beginning in 2012 with the F30, BMW used an electric power steering that muted what had been exemplary BMW road feel. What had been the greatest sports sedan in the world slipped from its pedestal. The criticism from magazine reviewers and bloggers may have been unwarranted, for those who are most interested in performance routinely inflate their tires above recommended levels. Even an extra 3 psi in each tire restored the steering to the crispness of the E90. The extra pressure had the added advantage of improving tire life. With lower pressures the tires only wore along the edges, where the tread was loaded by the extremely stiff side walls. By 2014 the engineers had tweaked the electric steering, and now it approaches the mechanical system even with standard tire pressures.
Other changes include a slighter longer car to increase knee room in the back seat, new more comfortable seats, and an upgrade to the interior, with interesting angles and curves on the dash and the center console. The iDrive has evolved into a system that is easier to learn and use. Fuel economy has improved.
There are now four engines. The most powerful is a 3 liter twin turbo 6 cylinder engine. It makes 300 horse power, gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway, and is available in the 335i for a base price of $43,400. Be warned, however, that standard options can increase the base price by $10,000 or more. This 3 liter 6 cylinder is inherently smooth and makes some of the loveliest mechanical sounds as it winds out under full acceleration.
The next most powerful is a 2 liter twin turbo 4 cylinder engine, making 240 HP and getting 35 mpg. It is available in the 328i for $37,300. The twin turbo uses one smaller turbo that spools up so fast that turbo lag is unnoticable, and a second larger turbo to get maximum boost. This allows the 2 liter F30 to out accelerate the 2.8 liter E90 and also get better gas mileage. The four cylinder is not inherently smooth, but balance shafts make this another lovely BMW engine.
For the very best mileage, a 2 liter twin turbo 4 cylinder diesel is available in the 328d. It makes 180 HP but accelerates better than that suggests because of the strong torque of a diesel, available at low and middle RPMs. The diesel gets 43 MPG on slightly more expensive diesel fuel. Diesel engines tend to last longer than gasoline engines before needing a rebuild, so that very high mileage users may want to consider one. They are more expensive, at $38,600. Because of the very high cost of fuel in Great Britain and in Europe, diesels are more popular there than they are here in the States.
The least powerful is the unboosted 2 liter 4 in the 320i, which makes 180 HP, gets 36 mpg, and is available for $32,750. This is the least expensive way to experience a 3 series, but even buyers with more generous budgets may want to consider this car. BMW engineers have always prided themselves on building a car that was faster than its engine, meaning that the suspension, steering and brakes were more than adequate for the speed that the engine could generate. Over the years it has been this balance between elements that has made BMWs so satisfying. The 320i has this. It also can be driven on the public highways at speeds that are closer to its limits, wasting less of its capabilities than its more powerful stable-mates. Bloggers who have bought either the 320i or the 328d have been pleased with how satisfying these 180 HP cars are.
There are several suspension options available. The standard suspension is too soft for many enthusiasts. BMW has been accused of trying to build a car that will steal Mercedes customers with this suspension. On the other hand, there are many roads in the United States where a stiff suspension is wasted and a luxurious suspension is a source of great pleasure.
The 704 sport suspension is the enthusiast's choice. It comes standard with the Sport and the M-Sport lines. It lowers the car 10 mm (0.4 inches) and provides stiffer shocks and springs. It can be combined with variable shock absorbers (dampers, if you are from Great Britain). These shocks stiffen in milliseconds for corners and soften for bumps, so that the driver experiences a combination of sports sedan handling and limousine ride that was never available in the age of analogue shocks. BMW uses a rotating valve to vary the shocks. An alternate method, placing magnetic particles in the hydaulic fluid inside the shocks so that electromagnets outside can vary the viscosity, was developed by General Motors and is now used by Ferrari.
In snow country the all wheel drive system, called xDrive, is very popular. It raises the car 5 mm (0.2 inches) above standard, and it eliminates the 704 sport suspension even on the lines where that is otherwise standard. Many Bimmerfest bloggers consider the variable shocks a must-have option with the xDrive.
The F30 BMW is about the size of 5 series BMWs 15 years ago, and has become a more luxurious car than previous 3 series cars, especially when liberally optioned. Its competitors from Mercedes, Audi, Infiniti, Lexus, and Cadillac always were luxurious. Now they have become better handling. Choices are becoming more difficult, and increasingly come down to matters of style and taste. One feature that BMW continues to have is balance, with 51% of the weight on the front axle, and 49% of the weight on the rear. This can be felt at speed on the track at a BMW driving school. It can also be felt in the fast lane on the public highway, where the BMW is relaxed among white-knuckled drivers in other cars. This is an old virtue carried forward in the current 3-series. At the same time the engineers are combining acceleration power with fuel economy, and sport handling with luxuriously smooth ride, by using the new virtures in digital technology. Clearly their goal is to maintain the BMW 3-series in its position as the ultimate driving machine.
After HoursMay 1, 2014