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The BMW 3 Series continues to be a staple of the BMW model lineup. The compact luxury car now has more variants than ever, and with its combination of new and carryover models, it can be confusing to sort out which is which.
Sedans were completely redesigned for 2012 and carry over basically unchanged for 2013. Known as the F30, the sixth-generation four-door marks the end of BMW’s old E-code naming scheme. They’re slightly bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient than the previous E90 generation (2006-2011).
New to the lineup this year is the 2013 BMW 320i, an entry-level 3 Series sedan that uses a less powerful version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the BMW 328i. It’s available with either rear- or all-wheel drive and makes a modest 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. Manuals are only available on rear-wheel-drive cars, while BMW’s xDrive AWD models are only available with the automatic. Performance isn’t the 320i’s strong suit, with a relatively pokey 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds with either transmission, although it’s on par with the Mercedes-Benz C250. Speed is electronically limited at 130 mph.
For more oomph, the BMW 328i uses a more powerful version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4, good for 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. BMW says the 328i can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds with 8-speed automatic or in just 5.7 seconds with the 6-speed manual. This same feat takes the Audi A4 2.0T 6.5 seconds. For 2014, a diesel version, dubbed the 328d, will be available in the U.S.
The quickest of the lot is the BMW 335i, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are the same 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic, with a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds with either gearbox.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2013 BMW 320i sedans are 23/36 mpg City/Highway equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, 24/36 mpg with the automatic, 23/35 mpg for the all-wheel-drive BMW 320i xDrive model. The BMW 328i achieves an EPA-estimated 22/35 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual, and 23/33 mpg with the automatic on both RWD and AWD models. The BMW 335i rates just 20/30 mpg with 6-speed manual, but an impressive 23/33 mpg with the 8-speed automatic. The BMW 335i xDrive gets 20/28 mpg with the manual and 20/30 mpg with the automatic. Premium gasoline is required for all 3 Series models.
Also new for 2013 is the ActiveHybrid3. The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid3 pairs the 335i’s engine to an electric motor, the 8-speed automatic and a lithium-ion battery. It’s good for 335 horsepower net and 330 pound-feet of torque, yet despite promises of increased efficiency, the hybrid only slightly bests the gasoline-powered models with 25/33 mpg City/Highway. Considering the near-$15,000 price premium, we recommend sticking with the 328i for the best combination of performance and frugality. The ActiveHybrid3 offers lower emissions, however.
Coupe and convertible versions of the 3 Series, meanwhile, carry over from the old E92 and E93 body styles. (Read our 2011 reviews of them for detailed impressions.) BMW 328i coupes and convertibles get a 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 230 hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. 335i coupes and convertibles are powered by the same turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 found in the sedans.
2013 is the last year of production for the current-generation 3 Series coupe, which will be redesigned and renamed the BMW 4 Series. Look for the coupe and cabriolet to be redesigned and introduced as either 2013 or 2014 models. Also coming for 2014 is an all-new BMW Sport Wagon, based on the new generation of 3 Series sedans.
The BMW 3 Series remains the benchmark among luxury compact sports sedans, a class that includes the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Lexus IS, all strong entries. This class is mostly rear-wheel drive, though Audi is the exception with its front-wheel drive platform. Other front-wheel-drive entry-luxury cars, such as the Lexus ES, are comparable from a features standpoint and are similarly sized but do not offer the sporty dynamics of the rear-wheel-drive based sports sedans. All are superb cars, but the 3 Series sedans in particular display a brilliant balance between performance and driving pleasure.