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2010 BMW 3 Series ReviewThe Good
You simply can’t get better handling in a street vehicle than from the 2010 BMW 3 Series, and the engines offered are some of the most refined in the world.The Bad
The 2010 BMW 3 Series offers cheap vinyl upholstery as a base, and has some annoying designs with regard to control layout.
The CarGurus View
This is the vehicle that so many attempt and fail to usurp. BMW's 3 Series has grown up a lot over the last three decades, but still manages to offer the purest driving experience available. The fact that it can do it with so many amenities is only a bonus, but let’s hope they work out their interior design issues and fast.
At a Glance
Thirty-plus years into its existence, the BMW 3 Series has surpassed “legend in its own time” status. Marking the transition for BMW from an enthusiast’s to an executive’s car, the 3 Series took over the mantle the lauded 2002 held before it. After several upgrades in 2009, the 3 Series, introduced in 2006, is virtually unchanged for 2010, with HD radio now standard, redesigned wheels for the 328i, and optional automatic high beams the only additions.
Versatility has always been a strong point in the 3 Series, offered in coupe, convertible, wagon, and sedan configurations, with the option of rear-wheel drive (RWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) almost across the board, and your choice of turbocharging or natural aspiration. Because of this, the 3 Series can be set up as a weekend asphalt eater, an upscale mobile office, or a leisurely top-down cruiser. Equipped properly, it even makes a damn fine commuter.
Leading the lineup is the 230-hp, 3.0-liter inline six in the 328, a naturally aspirated engine with an aluminum/magnesium crankcase and magnesium block that weighs in at only 354 pounds. Aluminum cylinder sleeves and variable valve timing are among the many features that allowed BMW to increase both performance and efficiency with this newest generation straight six, which turns out to have the lowest weight-to-horsepower ratio of any six-cylinder engine in production and is also the world’s lightest six-cylinder engine. It’s been named one of Ward’s ten best engines twice since its introduction in 2004, and as such it’s no surprise that every BMW in production offers this engine in at least one configuration.
The 335s get a turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter engine that produces 300 hp at 5,800 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at an incredibly accessible 1,400 rpm. Both engines come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, although an automatic is available with the same number of cogs. The EPA estimates a fuel efficiency rating of 18/28 mpg for the 328 with either transmission and RWD, and 17/26 for the 335. Choosing AWD will drop 1 mpg in both categories in all trims except the 335xi, which maintains 17 mpg in city driving.
Most impressive is the 3.0-liter turbodiesel in the 335d. It’s a beast of an engine that manages 265 hp and a brutal 425 lb-ft of torque at only 1,750 rpm. BMW didn’t think the six-speed manual used in the other 3 Series trims was capable of handling that kind of power down so low, and as a result the 335d is available only with the six-speed automatic. Despite all that power it still returns a rating of 23/36, so feel free to lean on your right foot.
Ride & Handling
The 3 Series has continually delivered the class standard for handling, and some trims go so far as to rival the most competent street machines out there, some far above its class and price point. The base suspension and tires start off better than most in the class, and it only gets better from there, with an optional sport suspension and low-profile tires that deliver a connection to the road that is literally unparalleled. The ride of the 3 Series is far from the luxury isolation you’ll find in some of the bubble barges out there, but even in those trims with the sport suspension and low-profile tires, inconsistencies in the road never manage to jar. Even the convertible offers a solid ride with none of the cowl shake or reverberation common to the design.
Cabin & Comfort
Sadly, the cabin of the 3 Series represents a glaring low point in the vehicle that goes beyond the now expected criticisms of the iDrive system. In fact, BMW claims to have improved the iDrive system of late, something with which the critics agree. Unfortunately, there are still many complaints to be seen, mostly centered around ergonomics with regard to line of sight and even reach.
Thankfully, these complaints don’t transfer over into the materials and construction, excepting the strange choice of making vinyl the base upholstery. Hard plastics are unicorn-rare, and the soft-touch materials and leather upholstery have the appropriate upscale feel and ambiance for the class.
Noise is well controlled, too, with refined engines and insulated interiors that make conversation easy. Tire noise increases with the sport suspension and low-profile tires, but never enough to annoy or intrude, and even the convertible offers a muted atmosphere that allows you to hear front and rear passengers alike, top up or down – a switch that can be accomplished via power in just 23 seconds.
Space and comfort up front are exceptional, but perhaps that’s to make up for the lack of it in the rear. Adults can still fit in the back, but will require some stretching before and after and shouldn’t plan on any long stays. Cargo room is also sparse, falling below class averages.
The 3 Series earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) highest rating of Good, although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) only offered a four-star rating for frontal impacts involving the driver or passenger. Side impact tests from the NHTSA awarded the 3 Series five stars, however.
All 3 Series trims come with dual front and front-side airbags, and all except the convertible come additionally with rear-side head-protecting airbags. Convertibles get automatically deploying roll bars that activate in the event of tip or rollover. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes are also standard, as is an anti-skid system. Coupes and convertibles also get daytime running lights, but others are strangely excluded.
What Owners Think
With class-leading handling and engines, not to mention top-quality fit, finish, and materials, there’s little for 3 Series owners to gripe about. That said, even though the 3 Series is priced relatively conservatively for a vehicle of its class, it still has quite a price tag. For that price, the little issues that owners have had with regard to cabin ergonomics, and the base vinyl upholstery, weigh even more on the mind.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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