2011 BMW 3-Series Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 8, 2011

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2011 BMW 3-Series Buying Advice

The 2011 BMW 3-Series is the best car for you if you can afford a premium compact that demonstrates BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan isn’t hype.  

The 2011 BMW 3-Series is this German automaker’s best-selling line and features coupe, sedan, convertible, and station-wagon body styles, plus rear- and all-wheel drive (AWD). The 2011 BMW 3-Series coupe and convertible receive minor cosmetic updates with some adjusted option-package content. New sporty “iS” 330i coupe and convertible variants join the line for 2011, boasting suspension components from the high-performance M3 model and a higher-output twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine. All 3-Series cars are priced at the top of their competitive sets, and none has expansive interior space. But each sets the pace for acceleration, handling, and ride quality. Entry-level 2011 BMW 3-Series models start at $34,525 and offer more performance than most drivers will use. Atop the line is the $56,275 2011 BMW M3, which several respected automotive journalists rank as the world’s best car. 

Should you buy the 2011 BMW 3-Series or wait for a 2012 BMW 3-Series? Buy the 2011 version to beat the inevitable price increase and enjoy an additional model year of the current generation while it’s still fresh. With the 2011 coupe and convertible getting updated styling and the sedan and wagon having gotten a minor facelift for model-year 2009, the look of the current-generation 3-Series is set until its next full redesign, expected for model-year 2013.

2011 BMW 3-Series Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 BMW 3-Series styling is the poster child for automotive performance. The body seems pulled taught, crouched over wheels stretched to the very corners of the car. The stance is low and athletic, with no extemporaneous sheet metal.

Styling alterations to the 2011 3-Series coupe and convertible don’t water down this formula. They’re confined to detail changes: a new front bumper and revised headlights, and taillamps that adopt light-emitting diode (LED) technology. Inside, the standard wood trim is alternatively available in bamboo at no extra cost.

As its name suggests the 2011 3-Series fits between BMW’s less costly subcompact-sized 1-Series cars and its more expensive midsize 5-Series line. The 3-Series is slightly smaller inside and out than principal competitors such as the Audi A4, Infiniti G37, and Cadillac CTS. All four 3-Series body styles are based on the same 108.7-inch-wheelbase platform. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and key to how much space a vehicle can allot for the passenger compartment. The rivals sited above all have wheelbases of 110.6-113.4 inches. But each of their manufacturers acknowledges the 3-Series as the bogey for design, performance, and image.

The variety of 3-Series body styles also sets a target no competitor quite matches; the CTS, for example, lacks a convertible, the A4 a coupe, and the G37 a wagon. The 3-Series convertible has a retractable metal hardtop instead of a conventional folding soft top. Note that 3-Series sedans and wagons seat five passengers, the coupe and convertible four.

Mechanical: The 2011 BMW 3-Series retains the same basic mechanical spec introduced with the model-year 2006 launch of this fifth-generation 3-Series design. Available are three six-cylinder engines – one a diesel – and a V-8.

The 2011 BMW 325i models use a 3.0-liter six that generates 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. (Think of torque as the force that propels you forward, horsepower as the energy that sustains your momentum).

The 2011 BMW 335i models add a turbocharger for a rating of 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque; they come in all four body styles. The 2011 335is models have a twin-turbo version of this engine rated at 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque; they come only as a coupe and convertible. The 2011 BMW 335d is a sedan with a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel six that produces 265 horsepower and an impressive 425 pound-feet of torque. All these sixes have BMW’s traditional inline arrangement of cylinders as opposed to most rivals’ V-6 layout.

The 328i’s 230-horsepower rating is among the lowest in the class, but this engine is buttery smooth and responsive enough to perform as if it has more power. The diesel is even faster and nearly as smooth. Turbocharging turns the 335i into a grownup’s hot rod, and the 335is coupe and convertible are even quicker.

Transmission choices for the 328i and 335i models are a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The automatic is optionally available with steering-wheel paddles to facilitate manual-type shifts. For 2011, the paddles are reconfigured so the driver pulls the left one to downshift and pulls the right to upshift. This is a welcome change from the less intuitive push-upshift/pull-downshift arrangement.

Instead of a conventional automatic, the 2011 BMW 335is models offer a seven-speed dual-clutch unit. Loosely defined as an automated-manual transmission, the seven-speed can perform the duties of an automatic but is actually a paddle- or floor-lever-shifted manual without a clutch pedal. The 335d comes only with the conventional automatic.

The 2011 BMW M3 is offered in all but the wagon body style and has a ferocious 4.0-liter V-8 with 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. M3s are available with a six-speed manual transmission or the seven-speed automated manual.

All 3-Series models are built around rear-wheel drive engineering that distributes the weight of the powertrain into a near-50/50 front/rear balance. Combined with inspired steering feel and suspension tuning that seems to draw on black magic, the result is remarkable handling and poise. Rear-wheel drive, however, isn’t always the best formula for snowy-surface traction. So BMW offers the 325i and 335i coupes, sedans, and wagons with its xDrive AWD system that distributes power to all four tires for improved grip.

The 328i and 328i xDrive wagons are hidden gems, with virtually identical road manners to their sedan counterparts but with a versatile 25 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seats and 48.9 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded flat; by comparison, the 3-Series sedan has just 12 cubic feet of trunk space.

Features: The 2011 BMW 3-Series follows BMW’s philosophy of building content around performance and safety -- and charging dearly for luxury amenities like leather upholstery and navigation systems. Thus, every 2011 3-Series comes standard with powerful four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and antiskid systems to improve control in emergency stops and in fast cornering. Air conditioning, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls also are included. So is wood cabin trim, windshield wipers with heated fluid jets, power windows and locks, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

Some rivals include premium-class essentials like power front seats and leather upholstery among standard features. In the 3-Series lineup, you’ve got to move up to the 335i to get standard power seats. And leather is standard only on the $52,575 335i convertible and the M3s. Still, willingness to move up a trim level or pick through the long options sheet with an open checkbook will leave you wanting for little. Steering-linked xenon headlamps, voice-activated navigation with hard-drive music and data storage, Bluetooth cell phone and iPod USB interface, adaptive cruise control, and aluminum interior trim are just a sample of what’s available. A variety of handling-enhancing suspension and wheel/tire packages also is on tap.

Many shoppers, however, thank BMW for making the controversial iDrive control an option on the 3-Series; it’s standard on most other BMW cars and SUVs. The iDrive system uses a center-console-mounted knob to remotely access and adjust myriad vehicle functions, from audio and climate settings to navigation programming. Intended to minimize button-proliferation, iDrive’s commands display on the dashboard navigation screen, but deciphering its logic and scrolling its layers of page views can be difficult while actually driving.

To BMW’s credit, it has simplified iDrive over the years and the latest iteration brackets the console knob with conventional buttons that provide direct access to audio, navigation, and telecommunications menus. The current system also displays on a higher-definition 8.8-inch-diameter screen.   

2011 BMW 3-Series Prices back to top

Prices for the 2011 BMW 3-Series increase nominally over their model-year 2010 levels. Base-price range for the 2011 BMW 3-Series is $34,525-$59,575, not including the M3 models. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; BMW’s fee for the 2011 3-Series is $875.)

Base prices for the 2011 BMW 328i models are $34,525 for the sedan, $37,575 for the coupe, $37,075 for the wagon, and $46,375 for the convertible. To get xDrive AWD, add $2,000 to the base price of the 328i sedan or wagon and $1,900 to the coupe.

Base prices for the 2011 BMW 335i models are $41,975 for the sedan, $44,025 for the coupe, and $52,575 for the convertible. To get xDrive AWD, add $2,000 to the base price of the 335i sedan and $1,900 to the coupe.

The 2011 BMW 335is coupe starts at $51,025 and the 2011 335is convertible at $59,575.

The turbodiesel 2011 BMW 335d sedan carries a base price of $45,025.

The 2011 BMW M3 starts at $56,275 for the sedan, $59,275 for the coupe, and $67,925 for the convertible.

Among options, a Cold Weather Package that includes heated front seats, a split-fold rear seat (standard on the 328i and 328i xDrive wagons), and headlamp washers costs $1,150; on their own, the heated seats cost $500. An iPod/USB adapter for connecting portable digital devices to the audio system costs $400, while a keyless pushbutton entry/start system costs $500 and the OnStar-like BMW Assist system with a Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone adapter is priced at $750. These also are examples of items often included as standard on less-costly cars.

Specifying Park Distance Control proximity warning adds $750, while active cruise control to maintain a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead costs $2,400. A heated steering wheel seems like a bargain at $190.

BMW recognizes that competitors take pains to position their more lavishly equipped cars as less-costly 3-Series equivalents and counters by including in its base price no-cost maintenance. This includes oil changes, wiper blades, and certain brake parts, though not tires or wheel alignment, for the duration of the basic 4-year/50,000-mile warranty. BMW also points to strong resale values in its favor.    

2011 BMW 3-Series Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2011 BMW 3-Series models remain on a par with model-year 2010 levels.

The rear-wheel-drive 2011 BMW 328i sedan and coupe are rated 18/28 mpg city/highway with either the manual or automatic transmission. The 2011 BMW 328i wagon and convertible come only with rear-drive and are rated at 17/26 with the manual transmission and 18/27 with the automatic. With xDrive AWD, the 2011 BMW 328i sedan, wagon, and coupe are rated at 17/25 mpg with manual transmission and 17/26 with the automatic.

The rear-wheel-drive 2011 BMW 335i models are rated at 19/28 mpg with either the manual or automatic transmission. The 2011 BMW 335i xDrive models rate 19/26 with manual transmission, 18/27 with automatic.

The 2011 BMW 335is coupe and convertible are rated at 18/26 with manual transmission and 17/24 with the seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. The EPA rates the 2011 BMW 335d at 23/36 mpg.

The high-performance 2011 BMW M3 sedan and coupe rate 14/20 with either manual transmission or the automated manual; the M3 convertible is rated at 13/20 with the manual and 14/20 with the automated manual.

All 3-Series gas engines require premium-octane fuel.

Among premium cars in this size category, the 2011 EPA ratings place the various gasoline-engine 3-Series models about mid-pack. Excluding gas-electric hybrids, however, the 335d is among the most frugal cars in the premium category; only the smaller four-cylinder-diesel Audi A3 TDI four-door hatchback rates higher, at 30/42 mpg.

2011 BMW 3-Series Release Date back to top

The 2011 BMW 3-Series went on sales in autumn 2010.

What's next for the 2011 BMW 3-Series back to top

The 2011 updates position BMW to stand pat with the fifth-generation 3-Series and concentrate on development and launch of the sixth-generation car in model-year 2013. As per BMW custom, it may roll out the redesigned sedans first and retain the fifth-generation coupe and convertible for a year or so awaiting a model-2014 intro.  

Whatever the timetable, expect all four body styles to return and for the convertible to retain its retractable metal hardtop. Sources also say the 3-Series line will spin off a four-door hatchback model, sort of an echo of the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo fastback.   

As BMW’s highest-volume car, the 3-Series must appeal to the widest range of buyers in markets around the globe. That dictates a relatively cautious approach to styling and indeed, the 2013 models will likely show no major departure from the fifth-generation in appearance. They’ll retrain such marquee-specific cues as the twin-kidney grille and remain true to today’s basic shape and proportion.    

More stringent fuel-economy goals, however, appear to have BMW ready to offer four-cylinder engines in the 3-Series line for the first time since the 1990s. Accompanied by a weight reducing re-engineering of the car itself, output of the four-cylinder engines could start as low as 150 horsepower, though some reports say a turbocharged version with around 300 horsepower also is possible. BMW is likely to retain some version of the trademark inline-six cylinder, and could turbocharge it for use in the next-generation M3. A six-speed manual transmission is again a likely part of the powertrain portfolio, but reports say the new automatic probably will have eight speeds.

2011 BMW 3-Series Competition back to top

2011 Audi A4: Redesigned for model-year 2009 and stiff competition for the 3-Series. It’s arguably better looking, inarguably roomier, and hard to beat for sophisticated cabin design. The base engine is a lively 211-horsepower turbo four that rates 22/31 mpg, while the S4 variant packs a 333-horsepower supercharged V-6 and rates 18/28. For 2011 a new eight-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift capability replaces the former six-speed version. Almost all A4s are sold with Audi’s quattro AWD system and while the A4 lineup itself is limited to a sedan and wagon, Audi’s closely related A5 coupe and convertible models serve as counterpoints to the 3-Series coupe and convertible, with the 354-horse S5 quattro coupe a tempting M3 alternative if you’re a snow-belt driver. The 2011 A4 base-price range is $32,825-$47,475.

2011 Cadillac CTS: The second-generation CTS bowed in sedan form for model year 2008, followed in 2010 with a wagon. It continues for 2011 with a razor-edged coupe. Aggressive styling, solid construction, and strong performance make these perhaps the best all-around American cars ever made. Two V-6 engines are offered – a 270-horsepower 3.0-liter (18/27 mpg) and a 304-horsepower 3.6-liter (16/25) – plus hell-raising 556-horsepower supercharged V-8 CTS-V (14/19). The V-6s are available with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive and all offer six-speed manual or automatic transmissions to cement their enthusiast credentials. The CTS is still a hair short of matching the best imports for agility, but it’s closing. Base prices for the 2011 CTS span $35,990-$62,990.

2011 Infiniti G: Aggressive, stylish, and attractively priced, the sporty G models from Nissan’s premium brand seek to beat BMW at its own game. A G25 sedan is new for 2011 as a price and fuel-economy leader. It has a 218-horsepower 2.5-liter V-6 rated at 20/29 mpg. The G37 sedan, coupe, and retractable-hardtop convertible models continue with a smooth 3.7-liter V-6 that generates 300-325 horsepower depending on the model and teams with manual or automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with the sedan and coupe available with AWD. Debuting later in the 2011 model year is a new IPL G Coupe version with a 348-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 and assorted performance upgrades to compete with BMW’s 335is models. Base-price range for the 2011 G line is $31,825-$57,625.

UPDATED BY JIM GORZELANY

2011 BMW 3-Series Next Steps