Review and photos by Chris Chase, Autos.ca
Most reviews of the BMW 3 Series include two things: a reference by the reviewer to the car being the most desirable in its class, and comments from readers that BMW must be paying auto writers for so many unanimously positive opinions of the car.
BMW must be paying 3 Series buyers too, then, because the car is perennially a strong seller in Canada. In 2010, 14,009 Canadians bought 3 Series’, which made it the most popular luxury car and put it in the same league, sales-wise, as the Honda Accord (14,659 sales in 2010) and the Chevrolet Malibu (13,092 sales).
For 2006, BMW introduced the fifth generation (E90, for those who follow BMW’s model codes, references the sedan, while the wagon, coupe and convertible are known as the E91, E92 and E93, respectively) of its most popular model, wearing controversial styling that many thought would allow a car like the Infiniti G35 – a car that comes close to matching the 3 Series’ excellent driving characteristics – to overtake it in the sales race. In retrospect – yeah, right.
The E90 3 Series arrived in sedan and wagon (Touring) variants for its first year, available as the 323i, 325i and 330i in the sedan. The 323i used a 2.5-litre engine making 174 horsepower, while the 325i and 330i shared a 3.0-litre motor tuned for 215 hp in the 325i and 255 hp in the 330i.
The 325xi and 330xi were all-wheel drive models; the wagon was sold only in 325xi form. Coupe, convertible and the high-po M3 were carried over from 2005.
The 2007 line-up got new names and restyled coupe and convertible models. The 323i’s 2.5-litre engine now made 200 hp, while the newly-named 328i got a 230-hp 3.0-litre engine and the 335i used a new turbocharged motor with 300 hp. For this year, just the 328i could be optioned with all-wheel drive (again, this is the only way the wagon was offered); the coupe was available in 328i (RWD or AWD) or 335i versions, and the convertible – with its all-new folding hardtop – was sold as the 328i and 335i, but in RWD only.
In 2008, BMW added an AWD option to the 335i model, in sedan or coupe form. All 2006 through 2008 3 Series models came standard with a six-speed manual transmission that could be optioned to a six-speed automatic. The M3 made its triumphant return to the 3 Series line, complete with a 414-hp V8 in place of the old version’s in-line six; a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission was the option to the standard six-speed manual.
New in 2009 was the 335d with its smooth, torque-rich diesel engine. It was offered only with a six-speed automatic. In addition, BMW dropped the “x” from AWD variants’ names, instead dubbing these cars 328i/335i xDrive.
Changes for 2010 were mostly in trim, with most models getting additional standard equipment: 17-inch wheels on the 328i, and sport suspension and heated steering wheel were added to the 335i, for examples.
In 2011, coupe and convertible models got a styling update, while the 335i got a new turbocharged engine (power output was unchanged) and a 335is trim was added to the coupe and convertible, and included an uprated version of the new turbo motor, with 320 hp. These cars also got a great-sounding sport exhaust system, aerodynamics package and interior trim upgrades.
Despite the rather extensive range of engines offered in the 3 Series, few offer any significant fuel economy advantages. Aside from the M3, gas-powered 3 Series’ Natural Resources Canada consumption ratings are in a range from 11 to 12.5 L/100 km in city driving, and 6.7 to 8 L/100 km in the highway cycle; generally, the bigger engines use more fuel, as do all-wheel drive cars. The M3 is rated 15.3/9.7 (city/highway) with a stickshift, and changes little with the dual-clutch option. Going diesel in a 2009 or newer model gets you the best ratings, at 9.0/5.4 L/100 km, which puts the 335d in the same league as a four-cylinder family sedan, but with way more power.
Consumer Reports (CR) pegs the E92 3 Series’ reliability anywhere from “much worse than average” to “better than average,” a variance that can be attributed to the car’s wide range of powertrain options.
One well-documented problem is that of a failure-prone high pressure fuel pump in turbocharged cars, characterized by long crank times, rough idle and rough running and stalling at wider throttle openings; read about it here and here. That issue alone is enough to drive the 335i’s reliability into the below-average range, while non-turbo cars enjoy more favourable ratings.
CR notes widespread “minor” engine problems in 2006 models with the 3.0-litre engine (325i and 330i); this could be related to the matter of ticking valvetrains, as discussed here. CR also indicates that engine cooling system problems – radiators, thermostats, water pumps and coolant leaks – prevalent in the previous generation car – also affect the E90 series.
Click here for a handy thread listing Technical Service Bulletins that have been issued for E90 series cars.
A 3 Series whose steering makes a clicking/ticking sound, or feels loose when the steering wheel is turned might have this problem with the steering input shaft.
It’s common for a 3 Series to refuse to start in order to avoid the risk of the steering wheel locking up while driving.
BimmerForums.com has a section dedicated to DIY maintenance and repair procedures.
CR notes a few other trouble spots, including, in its words, door locks/latches and power windows.
Crash safety rates high, with “good” results in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) frontal offset and side crash tests, and four and five stars in National Highway Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) frontal and side impact tests.
Used values from Canadian Black Book range from $13,675 for a 2006 323i, to $51,925 for a 2010 335i xDrive coupe with all the extras. A 2007 323i, with the smaller of the uprated motors for that year, is worth $16,875 in base form, and a 2007 328xi wagon with sunroof, leather and sport package added on should sell for something like $28,500. A 2006 M3 with the optional competition package is worth $30,925 (remember, this is the carried-over, previous-generation car), and the convertible is a few thousand bucks more. The cheapest you’ll get into the new-gen M3 is that $40,825 asking price for a 2008 sedan; the coupe and convertible (especially) are pricier; a 2010 M3 cabrio goes for just under $70,000.
Unless you think fun is stupid or would rather take the bus, it’s next to impossible not to like the 3 Series. Even the most basic models, with their only-adequately-powerful engines, are satisfying cars to tear along a twisty road in, especially with a manual transmission. Keep in mind that even a reliable BMW will be a more expensive car to maintain than any mainstream mid-sized car, but if you love to drive, the extra cost will be worth it. Much as it pains me to say it, if you like reliability, avoid the turbocharged 335i models and their troublesome fuel pumps, and approach the diesel-powered 335d with caution, only because not much is known about that motor’s reliability yet; otherwise, a car that comes with complete service records and passes a mechanic’s inspection (try for a shop that knows BMWs and their quirks) will be as good a deal as you’re likely to get on one of the best all-around cars the used market has to offer.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) March, 2011:
|Year||Model||Price today||Price new|
|2010||328i xDrive||$42,100 (incl. leather, exec pkg, premium pkg)||$44,000|
|2009||328i xDrive||$36,825 (incl. leather, exec pkg, premium pkg)||$42,500|
|2008||328xi||$29,850 (incl. sunroof, leather, sport pkg)||$43,600|
|2007||328xi||$26,225 (incl. sunroof, leather, sport pkg)||$43,600|
|2006||328xi||$19,525 (incl. sunroof, leather, sport pkg)||$42,900|
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006267; Units affected: 2
2006: On certain vehicles, the bolted connection between the front control arm and swivel bearing may not have received adequate tightening torque during vehicle assembly. As a result, this bolted connection could loosen and/or break, affecting vehicle stability and control. Correction: Dealers will verify the bolted connection torque.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2008307; Units affected: 8,090 (includes other models)
2006: On certain vehicles, the front passenger seat occupant detection mat can fatigue during field usage depending on the seat configuration, vehicle geometry, manner and frequency of front passenger entry/exit. Over time micro cracks could develop in the side flanks of the mat, which could lead to a break of the conductive path and the system will recognize a failure and with exception of head protection system the front passenger air bag will be deactivated. The airbag On/Off lamp will be illuminated to make the occupants aware of the deactivation. Correction: The occupant detection mat will be granted a warranty extension of 10 years.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2009205; Units affected: 160 (includes other models)
2008: On certain vehicles, incorrect crimp connectors may have been used during vehicle assembly on the side airbag and belt tensioner wiring. As a result, sufficient contact between the crimp connectors and the corresponding plug may not occur. As such, the airbag and/or seatbelt tensioner may not deploy during a vehicle crash where deployment would be warranted, which could increase the risk of personal injury or death to front seat occupants. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, repair the wiring harness for the front side airbags and seatbelt tensioners.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.