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First released over half a century ago, the BMW 3-Series is the original performance luxury sedan that other vehicles in the class still measure themselves up against. Now in its sixth generation, the current model of the 3-Series was introduced in 2012 and visually refreshed in 2016. The 3-Series has seen only minor updates in terms of equipment last year and this year, but despite that the 2018 BMW 3-Series remains a strong competitor against many of the newer models in the segment.
While the current design of the 3-Series has drifted away from its performance roots in favor of a driving style more focused on comfort than sportiness, it still offers a wide variety of different engines and several performance upgrades that will certainly keep the performance enthusiasts loyal to the brand.
In a BMW tradition, the different 3-Series trims are designated not by the technology and comfort equipment that they offer, but by the engines that they contain. A total of five configurations are available, from a placid 320i to the powerful 340i, as well as two different alternative fuel options. There are also three body types available: a conventional sedan, a wagon, and a hatchback-style Gran Turismo 5-door.
In this article, we break down the standard and optional equipment that each model offers in order to make it easier for drivers to navigate the somewhat complex BMW vehicle design so that they can find their own Ultimate Driving Machine among the many choices the 3-Series offers.
Compare the 2018 3-Series 320i vs 330i Trims. What is the difference?
The base 320i version of the 3-Series uses the model’s weakest engine, and serves as a kind of price-leading budget version of the model. At 180 horsepower, it is not the most exciting, but for the drivers that value handling and comfort rather than straight-line acceleration, the other aspects of the 3-Series may be more important.
In terms of standard features, the 320i is also fairly basic for a luxury vehicle. Synthetic leather upholstery and manually adjustable front seats are the base equipment, though both are upgradable. Dual-zone climate control and a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth, nine speakers, a USB port, and HD radio are also all standard features, together with a rearview camera.
The standard exterior configuration - called Sport Design - also includes 17-inch alloy wheels and LED fog lights. The more expensive Sport Plus Design also adds 18-inch wheels, sport seats, a sportier suspension, and increased top speed. The 320i is only available as a sedan model, and comes with an automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive standard. A manual gearbox and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive are both optional.
In addition to those features, the 3-Series offers a deep well of packages and individual options, as befit a luxury sedan. The Convenience tier adds a moonroof, power front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, and auto-dimming exterior mirrors. It is also the prerequisite for a number of other upgrades, such as the leather interior.
The Premium tier includes all of the above options, and adds smart keyless entry, heated front seats, navigation, and satellite radio. Other optional packages on this model are the Driving Assistance Package that adds a forward collision warning with low-speed automatic braking and pedestrian detections, as well as a lane departure warning and a speed limit indicator, and a Track Handling Package that adds upgraded tires, brakes, suspension, and variable sport steering.
Other individually available options are 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, upgraded interior trim, heated steering wheel, wireless charging and in-car Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay, parking sensors, and blind spot monitors. Several package options like satellite radio, heated seats, navigation, power seats, and smart keyless entry are available individually as well.
The 330i is likely to be the most common choice in the BMW lineup. It is certainly the most versatile, as it comes in all three available body styles. Its distinguishing feature is the 248-horsepower engine that makes it significantly quicker than the 320i, giving it some of that classic BMW performance feel.
Four exterior visual styles are on offer, including the regular Sport, a chrome-accented Luxury, the blacked-out Shadow Sport, and the athletic M Sport. The latter two also include the larger wheel options as standard. As on the 320i, manual transmission and all-wheel drive are options that can replace the standard rear-wheel drive and automatic transmission, and the wagon and the Gran Turismo models are all-wheel drive only.
The equipment package options are slightly different on the 330i as well. The Convenience tier now includes smart keyless entry and satellite radio in addition to the moonroof. The power seats and auto-dimming mirrors are standard features on the 330i.
The higher Premium tier includes all of the above, as well as a navigation system with advanced real-time traffic, heated seats, a heads-up display, and access to BMW remote services. The new tier for the 330i is the Executive tier, which adds surround-view cameras, a digital instrument cluster, LED headlights with automatic high beams, and advanced parking assist.
Other upgrades and add-ons are the same on the 330i as on the 320i, with the addition of options for a Harman/Kardon audio system, carbon mirror caps and spoiler, steel pedals, and active cruise control.
For anyone who isn’t simply looking for a stylish sedan with a BMW logo, upgrading to the 330i from the 320i is practically a must. While it is a rather hefty price bump, it offers a much stronger engine and a better selection of both standard features and options. It also opens up the selection to different body styles, which are one of the strengths of the BMW lineup.
Compare the 2018 BMW 3-Series 330i vs 340i Trims. What is the difference?
The 340i is the strongest of the standard 3-Series models, with a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine that generates up to 320 horsepower. Very exciting to drive, it comes with the same four exterior visual options as the 330i - Sport, Luxury, M Sport, and Shadow Sport, though it only comes in sedan and Gran Turismo body styles.
The Convenience tier has been fully rolled into the standard features on this model, while the Premium and Executive tiers offer the same features as on the 330i. 18-inch wheels are standard, with available 19-inch upgrades, and the standard leatherette can also be upgraded to leather here. Aside from the available heated rear seats, the feature list is otherwise identical to the 330i on this model, including an optional manual transmission and xDrive all-wheel drive.
For performance enthusiasts with a flexible budget, the 340i is an excellent choice thanks to its potent performance and a few nice additional features. The price tag that accompanies those improvements is quite a steep one however, at nearly $9,000 over a similar 330i model. Still, there are few other vehicles in this class that offer this kind of performance and style, which makes it perfect for many buyers.
Compare the 2018 3-Series 330i vs 328d Trim Levels. What is the difference?
BMW is one of the few luxury manufacturers that offers a diesel version of its car. Offered as a sedan and a wagon, it gets the best fuel economy of the lineup at 43 miles per gallon on the highway. In terms of power, it matches the base 320i engine at 180 horsepower, though it offers a lot more torque, making it better for towing for those inclined to do so. Other than the powertrain, it is identical in its standard features and optional equipment to the 330i version of the 3-Series.While a rare choice for most customers, diesel engines do offer a number of advantages including their high torque and excellent mileage, though the latter is offset by the slightly higher price of the diesel fuel compared to ordinary gasoline. For the more efficiency-minded drivers, it is still a solid choice though, especially given that it is sold at almost the same price as the normal 330i.
Compare the 3-Series 330i vs 330e iPerformance Trims. What is the difference?
With its electric and hybrid models, BMW has set out to prove that electric cars can offer the same type of impressive driving dynamics as gasoline ones, and the 330e is certainly a step in that direction.
Offered only in a sedan, this plug-in hybrid offers an even match for the 330i in performance, also generating 248 horsepower with its combination of gasoline and electric engines. All-wheel drive is not available on this model, and neither is a manual transmission for obvious reasons.
Aside from those differences though, it is the same car as the 330i. It is roughly $5,000 more expensive, but most of that price increase can be offset by the available federal and state hybrid vehicle rebates.For drivers who want a hybrid vehicle, luxury, performance, and a storied brand name and styling all in one package, the 330e iPerformance is the perfect storm. With almost no deviations from the winning formula of the 330i, it is clearly aimed at conventional luxury drivers who may be a little curious about hybrids and electric vehicles. We encourage those to give the 330e a try, though true performance fans will likely miss the manual transmission that is offered on all other 3-Series vehicles.
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Which Trim Level to Choose?
Variety and versatility is a clear strength for the 2018 BMW 3-Series, as its many different body styles and engine options create opportunities for some unique vehicles while still maintaining the car’s luxury and performance credentials.
However, despite that great available variety, most drivers are still likely to stick with the classic 330i model. It offers a big boost in power over the base 320i, and it unlocks almost all of the features that are available across the 3-Series option set. It is also available in all three body styles, and offers the full range of styling options for both its interior and its exterior.
The 340i is a more powerful choice, but it is also much more expensive, reaching a price range where it could compete with the high-performance cars like BMW’s own M3. On the other end of the scale, the 320i can offer some savings compared to the 330i, but its weak engine keeps it from really having that BMW feel.
The two alternative powertrains - diesel and hybrid - are also solid options, being based on the 330i and priced at roughly the same point. They both offer a valid alternative to that popular trim, though are likely to not sell as many units due to the smaller market for diesel and hybrid cars. Drivers curious about those technologies should definitely give them a try though, as they offer as good of a value for the money as the regular 330i.
• Why buy a 2018 BMW 3-Series? w/ pros vs cons