Car Reviews

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

Paul Horrell’s 2019 BMW 3-Series Review with Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Practicality, Safety, Verdict and Score.

IN A NUTSHELL BMW’s perennial compact sedan is all-new, but comfortingly familiar: sporty, well-built, refined. You’ll notice extra space inside this time.

2019 BMW 330i Specifications (European spec)

Price N/A Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engine 2.0L petrol turbo Power 190kW at 5000-6500rpm Torque 400Nm at 1550-4400rpm Transmission 8-speed auto Drive rear-wheel drive Body 4709mm (l); 1827mm (w exc mirrors); 2068mm (w inc mirrors); 1435mm (h) Turning circle 11.4m Towing 1600kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1470kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 59 litres Spare Space saver Thirst 5.9 l/100km combined cycle

The 3-series needs no introduction. From the mid-1970s onward successive 3-series single-handedly built up the class of compact high-quality sporty saloons. (Yup, we’re aware other cars from Triumph and Alfa established the class initially.) Here we are on the seventh full generation of 3-series.

What is the BMW 3-Series?

The spirit of the old 3-series remains in the new car, but little of its substance. The new one is built using an all-new platform, although of course it shares its electronics, powertrains, and much more with other bigger new-gen BMWs.

It’s lighter than before by about 50kg. And yet it’s 8cm longer, keeping level with the Mercedes C-class and Audi A4. Some of that stretch is in the wheelbase, so it’s roomier than it was.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

Those were the rivals for the previous 3-series, but in the meantime the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia have poked their noses in. Those two sell in tiny numbers, but they have dented the old 3-series’ reputation as the best-driving compact car.

BMW thinks of itself as the go-to company for drivers, so the 3-series engineers have been obsessed with sportiness this time around.

The new 3-series’ styling means it wouldn’t be mistaken for anything but a BMW. That’s the point of course. But it’s easier to tell apart from today’s 5-series. Whereas the old 3 and 5 looked like they’d come from the same sausage machine, just with a different sized hole.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

The surfaces are cleaner than the 5-series, with more subtle creases, and there isn’t the bone line that goes through the door handles. There’s no air vent behind the front wheel, either.

What’s the interior like?

It’s a typically BMW driver-centric layout. The seat and driving position is superb, with loads of adjustment. That gives you a clear view of the instruments and the rows of logically operating buttons and tabs.

The design and materials of the dash and the rest of the cabin furniture are crisp, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the craftsmanship and robustness of it all. But Mercedes and Audi still manage posher materials and more of a plush sense of luxury.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

Also, there are new switches for the climate controls, but they’re harder to see and use than the old ones. Same applies to the instrument screen ahead of the driver. It shows loads of info, but not all that clearly. The rev-counter is a strange polygon shape without a proper needle.

If you can run to it, the optional head-up display adds welcome clarity. It shows speed and navigation arrows, all the time. Then it adds – on a context-dependent need-to-know basis – additional info on the driver-assist systems, the stereo, and phone contacts.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

BMW offers several grades of sports seats, with more and more electric adjustment levels, but the basic ones are fine.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

The back is big enough for two adults, but three will be fighting for foot room either side of the transmission tunnel. There are adjustable vents back there, and local climate control, and reading lights, cupholders and a pair of USB-C sockets.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

The boot is deep fore-aft, and takes a useful 480 litres. It’ll go bigger if you split-fold the rear backrests.

What’s the infotainment like?

Unlike Audi (which is migrating to touchscreen-based systems) and Mercedes (a trackpad), BMW has stuck with its rotary iDrive knob, and it does work a treat, especially when you’re actually driving. Plus the knob also has a trackpad on its top surface so you can write and swipe. Oh and the main screen is now touch-sensitive too.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

If that’s not enough ways to interact, you can order comprehensive voice control, and gesture control. The latter is a pretty silly idea. If I had a deaf child I’d learn sign language, but I’m not going to learn it just to turn down the volume of the car when there’s already a perfectly good knob for that.

Also, as with any BMW, you can assign handy shortcuts to what are apparently the radio pre-set buttons. All sorts of things: destinations, phone numbers, car configurations, the possibilities are huge.

The navigation and comms system is superb. Australian specs aren’t set, but the minimum system of the new car is the same as the high-option on the old one.

BMW does CarPlay via Bluetooth rather than using a wire, so if you like the Apple system you just keep your phone in your pocket. Or drop it on the inductive charge mat. But are we so decadent we can’t be arsed to plug a phone in? And Android Auto is still denied.

As to the stereo, as usual there are several grades. Climb up the options and it’s a really nice sound. Worth having because the car generates little competing background noise.

What’s the performance like?

We hope you weren’t holding out for a straight-six. The 330i is a four-cylinder. But it’s a really nice one. It’s quiet and smooth when you’re not pushing it, but then revs sweetly to its red-line when you want the full effort.

That max output is really satisfying to use, with quick reflexes and an enthusiasm to pelt all the way to the red-line at 6800rpm. It’ll sprint to 100km/h from rest in 5.8 seconds. The sound is urbane rather than racy, but there is a subtle and satisfying bark to its tone at full chat.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

Meanwhile the eight-speed auto does a superb job, flicking decisively but smoothly between the ratios.

We also had a go in the 320d, which is strong yet calm for its type. And better yet, a late prototype of the 340i, which does have a straight-six. That’s a new more powerful version of he engine in the Z4, and is a real aristo. Truly fast, smooth, responsive, lovely to listen to.

What’s it like on the road?

The handling is superb. That’s what BMW zeroed-in on as a prime aim. The steering, body roll and rate of turn operate in lockstep harmony, making any corner feel natural. It’s sensibly balanced too, giving a little stabilising understeer if you turn in too fast. But get on the power and it’ll edge its tail outward with satisfying precision and control.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

Even the xDrive AWD models behave like that if you nudge them into the sport mode, which sends a little more power rearwards and loosens the anti-slip electronics. Only drawback for a sporty driver is that the steering gets a little wriggly and disturbed by a bumpy surface where a Mercedes or Jaguar would remain placid.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

A more significant issue over rough roads is that the ride is surprisingly taut. That’s even without the lowered sports suspension – which actually makes little additional difference. Some people won’t mind this bumpiness, but for day-to-day driving it would annoy me. Even on highways, it never properly gets into a smooth stride.

In other ways, it’s a fine long-distance car. It’s superbly quiet, damping away the noise of tyres, wind and powertrain like a bigger saloon.

2019 BMW 3-Series Review

As you’d expect BMW offers a driver assistance package that meets the class rivals from Mercedes, Volvo, Audi et al. What’s good about this one is that it’s pretty easy to configure, and signals its intentions clearly in any given circumstance. So it cuts potential confusion, since you know what you have to do and what the car will do for you.

What about safety features?

The 3-series is closely related to the X3 and 5-series, both of which have got superb ratings from ANCAP. But we have to wait for it to be crash-tested itself.

Restraint systems are as follows: airbags for driver and front passenger, side airbags for driver and front passenger, head airbags front and rear, three-point inertia-reel seatbelts for all seats. The front seats have belt stoppers, belt latch tensioners and belt force limiters, plus crash-active head restraints.

Some of the safety-aids, including cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning and evasion aid, are bundled in an optional pack (at least in Germany) with the driver assist pack. That’s the norm, but I think safety should be standard and assistance optional.

All versions have bright LED headlights, and there’s also the option of BMW’s laser headlamps, which set the night ablaze for an astonishing distance ahead.

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior and practicality?
How do we rate the infotainment?
How do we rate the performance?
How do we rate the ride and handling?
How do we rate the safety?
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: The 3-series is back on its pedestal. Taking into account all the engines, transmissions and the cornering, this is the driver's car of the class. It's also more useful, having gained some rear seat space. Quieter than ever too, which adds to the sense of quality. But passengers, and drivers when they aren't going flat out, might object to the stiff ride and the slightly cold-looking interior ambience.

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Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.