The BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark sports sedan for three decades, and this sixth generation, code-named F30, certainly lives up to that name. Recent times have been more competitive for the 3 Series, as the Mercedes C-Class and the Audi A4 have taken giant leaps forward. In February 2012, when the F30 was launched in Australia, BMW realised that it had some tough competition. After attending the launch event in 2012, I knew that this was the perfect sports sedan to replace my 2005 E90 330i. The F30 is comfortable, quick, fun to drive, fuel efficient, spacious, practical and good value for what the package included. This was a no brainer for me.
The older E90 330i was a great car to own. It was reliable and it lived by its traditional BMW values; great handling through firm suspension and stiff steering accompanied by the inspiring noise of a straight-six. The major downfall was the uncomfortable ride around town, especially through Sydney’s poorly-maintained streets. At the time, the Mercedes C-Class was too old-man and the Audi A4 was too generic, or maybe I should say not sporty enough. I also had family members who had reliability issues with Audi so I wasn’t too excited about the brand.
My F30 328i is a 2015 model ordered brand new from BMW Sydney with all the bells and whistles including the M Sports package, which is a ‘must’ for all BMWs as you get plenty of additional kit for $5k. The price of the F30 varied depending on the model, options and time of year of purchase but I was expecting to pay anywhere between $75-$90k for the 328i. At $77k with all options, I said yes. The 335i was $25k more at the time and was not worth the additional cash in my opinion, given that the only difference was the engine.
The F30 328i is no longer a straight six but a turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces more punch and better fuel efficiency than the straight six, but without the signature BMW engine sound. The engine does make a very pleasant - albeit different - sound and is assisted by amplification through the stereo using BMW’s new Active Sound Design system. The engine has power output of 180kW and torque of 350Nm. The flat torque curve is a great feature of this car as maximum torque is delivered at 1250rpm and remains until 5600rpm at which maximum power is delivered. This makes the car effortless to drive, especially through mountain roads and even with a full load. Credit must go to the 8-speed ZF transmission that does an excellent job of providing fast and crisp shifts and finds itself in the right gear at the right time. The ZF gearbox seems to marry well with any engine they are used in, as it's very rarely that I have driven a car with a ZF box that didn’t drive well. The ZF box is a traditional automatic transmission with a torque converter so there isn’t any of the jerkiness typically found in dual-clutch transmissions. Fuel efficiency is excellent for a car of this size and power output. In Sydney’s notorious traffic I average 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres on my commute from south Sydney to the CBD via the M5 tunnel. On the highway, the best I’ve seen is 5.2L/100km.
Electronic steering and adaptive M suspension has enabled the 3 series to be comfortable and Mercedes-like when desired, but at the click of a button the suspension and steering can stiffen to provide a traditional BMW feel. The different driving modes are one of my favourite features in this car. In the city I drive mostly in ‘Comfort’ mode and then switch to ‘Sport’ mode when on country/mountain roads ready for a spirited drive. I do feel that the suspension dampening is a bit too soft for my liking in Comfort mode as it results in a bit of dipping upon braking and some body roll. BMW realised this and adjusted the suspension software in the F30 LCI facelift models which feel significantly stiffer in Comfort mode.
I paid the additional $940 for the M Sport Brakes which was the best $940 I’ve ever spent. My $940 gave me 4-piston Brembo calipers up front with huge 370mm two-piece rotors and 2 piston Brembo calipers at the rear with 345mm two-piece rotors. This is a seriously large brake kit for a car of this weight and power output. The car stops….very quickly!! No complaints! The car came standard with 19-inch alloys wrapped in run-flat tyres. The run-flats have come a long way since the first generation, which were said to be like driving on rocks. To further improve the handling and ride comfort I replaced the wheels/tyres with genuine BMW M4 forged alloys with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. The handling characteristics vastly improved but ride comfort only improved marginally. This goes to show that run-flat tyres are pretty good.
The car includes all the usual safety kit you would expect for a car of this price. Plenty of airbags, front collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring etc. It is worth mentioning that the adaptive high beam assist headlights work well and make night time driving a breeze. I’ve tested this feature a few times driving back to Sydney from the Blue Mountains. The high beam assist does not get confused by reflections off street signs like earlier versions did.
Now to the interior… more technology that is easy to use. The 2015 model of the F30 has the 4th generation iDrive, which is very easy to use and allows full control even while driving, unlike Lexus which restricts operation on the move. The first generation iDrive was a very complex system to use and was known to make grown men cry, however this new system is the best in the business - well until it was superseded by the subsequent iDrive versions. I optioned the car with BMW Connected Drive which gives real time traffic data and Concierge services. The Concierge service is great as you can call and speak to an operator who can assist with finding a point of interest at any location for you and send the address directly to the navigation. The display screen is very clear and does not look out of date, even four years later. Speed and navigation directions are also displayed in the Head-Up Display which makes driving safer, removing the need to look down on the speedo every few seconds to avoid the blue and red Christmas lights in the rear vision mirror. The optional Harmon/Kardon 16-speaker sound system provides crisp sound throughout the frequency range. The trebles are clear and the bass is ‘fully-sick’, so no complaints in this department. The leather trim seems to be very durable and shows no signs of wear in the 4 years of ownership. BMW could have used higher quality materials for the door trims and dashboard. The E90 interior felt more premium in this regard and I think this was taken into consideration when BMW was developing the seventh generation 3 Series.
The biggest improvement inside the F30 over its predecessor is the interior space. Legroom, headroom and knee room have all significantly increased making this car a very comfortable place for four adults to travel. I would only suggest three adults in the rear for short trips.
After almost 4 years of ownership I have not had any major issues with the vehicle. The only issue was sticky door seals that were making a significant amount of noise in winter. There were creaking noises whenever I turned a corner or went over a bump. After some research, I bought a product called Gummi Pflege for $15, which I applied to all door seals and solving the issue immediately.
I would recommend putting the 3 Series on your list if you want a practical car that just makes a lot of sense.