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Original MSRP: $32,700 - $49,500
MPG: 18 City / 28 Hwy
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2008 BMW 3-Series Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 BMW 3-Series was new.

The performance of the BMW 3-Series is its finest trait; the best the luxury midsize car class has to offer. The Chicago Tribune calls the sedan "a performance machine for those who consider driving an art." Both the inline six-cylinder engine of the 328i and the turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine of the 335i received unanimous acclaim. The 3-Series lineup is aimed squarely at buyers who are willing to pay a premium for the most exhilarating driving experience available in a mid-size car. As Kelley Blue Book says, "You'll like this car if you answer to the description of 'driving enthusiast,' BMW's well-earned reputation as a serious driver's car takes another step forward with the latest 3 Series."

During a comparison test between the 335i and the Infiniti G37, Automobile Magazine recognizes BMW as a clear winner, noting "The BMW relished the opportunity to flaunt its fine breeding. Like sweet cream, energy pours out of the 335i's engine throughout the rev range."

Acceleration and Power

328i and 328 xi models are built around a 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder engine putting out 230 horsepower. This engine is rated for 200 pound-feet of torque, and the manufacturer claims a 0-60 miles per hour time of 6.3 seconds with a manual transmission. BMW has used a new lightweight magnesium/aluminum composite alloy for the engine block, and brought its Valvetronic variable valve lift to a six-cylinder engine for the first time. "This engine is almost too fine a place for the dirty business of internal combustion," notes the Los Angeles Times. The EPA estimates that this engine, paired with the automatic transmission, should achieve 19 miles per gallon in city driving, and 28 miles per gallon on the highway.

Even more impressive performance can be found in 335i and 335xi models, which get a twin-turbo version of the same inline six, with direct injection, putting out 300 horsepower. This advanced version is rated for 300 pound-feet of torque, and while BMW boasts of a 0-60 miles per hour time of 5.4 seconds, reviewers for Edmunds achieved a scorching 4.8 seconds, even with an automatic transmission. "The last Ferrari F430 we tested only beat it to 60 mph by two-tenths," they said, adding that "turbo lag is essentially nonexistent, giving the new engine the feel of a much larger normally aspirated engine." The EPA estimates that this engine, paired with the automatic transmission, will achieve 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

Both models come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed Steptronic automatic available as an option. Steptronic includes normal, sport and manual modes. Steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters are an option on 335 models. Like most reviewers, Auto Mall USA "found the car very responsive even when we let the transmission shift on its own. For those who like paddle shifting, BMW notes that it had cut the transmission's response time to the paddles in half to enhance the driver's sense of control." Sport mode was particularly appreciated in this driving enthusiast's car.

Handling and Braking

Most have positive remarks on the 3-Series road handling. Consumer Guide says the car "is the benchmark for overall control and steering feel." The BMW especially earns its price on twisting roads. Edmunds reports the 3-Series "slices cleanly through corners like a Ginsu knife and sticks like Super Glue."

The optional active steering system was a common complaint among reviewers. The system alters steering sensitivity based on speed, and countersteers when the driver brakes in order to prevent slippage. Though Automobile Magazine says that the 3-Series' "refinement and handling balance are…simply unparalleled," the same reviewer complained that the active steering option "feels artificial, whereas the regular steering is precise and communicative."

The fine-tuned suspension of the 3-Series is a particular engineering triumph. In order to increase trunk space on such a small car, BMW issued standard run-flat tires on every 3-Series, and built the car with no spare tire. Other luxury manufacturers have tried this approach with little success – reviewers find the ride of the run-flats harsh. The 3-Series, however, was even "comfortable over broken road surfaces" despite the stiff tires, says Car and Driver. Most reviewers were pleased with the standard suspension, finding that in addition to compensating for the harshness of the tires, it provides handling that many reviewers felt is unparalleled in the class. Kelley Blue Book says either the standard or sport suspensions provide "exceptional confidence through even the most challenging corners."

The 328xi and 335xi models include BMW's highly-regarded xDrive All Wheel Drive system. XDrive has long been familiar to most reviewers and elicited little comment. Edmunds called the AWD model "a capable snowbelt car."

Four-wheel ventilated anti-lock disc brakes with Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) are standard equipment on all 2008 3-Series cars. In Motor Week testing, the brakes "score well, with stops from 60 averaging 129 feet. The larger discs delivered smooth and stable stops, with great pedal feel and little ABS pulsing." An innovation unique to new BMWs automatically wipes the brakes dry in rainy conditions. "But why stop there?" asks the Chicago Tribune. "Brake stand-by works in any weather. That system puts another computer sensor to work when you lift your foot off the accelerator quickly. The sensor anticipates that your next move will be to stand on the brake pedal. So the sensor positions the brake pads a little closer to the discs to reduce stopping time."

Review Last Updated: 2/18/09

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