Ah, the BMW 3 Series. The benchmark of sports sedans. Every generation is the pinnacle of German engineering. And then there is the F30.
“Wait, what”, you say? Didn’t you get rid of a Kia Stinger for this thing? Yes, and maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning, with a review similar to one I did for my E92 M3.
So, like, what do you know about the 3 Series dude?
I’ve had a new 2014 328i xDrive in Estoril Blue Metallic, and put 120,000 miles on the car before finally deciding to sell it for the Stinger. It had zero problems and got very good mileage. It was quick. Refined. Practical. Good looking. It made an excellent daily. It was also boring.
After my brief flirtation with the Stinger, I came back and got a CPO 2015 335i xDrive in Glacier Silver Metallic. With just 15,000 miles on it, I figured it was the best of the available bunch, and it had an extended warranty. I also thought the N55 would add some much needed zing to the F30 chassis.
Is there a difference between the two?
I think a big problem with a regular 3 Series is that everyone expects it to feel at least a little like an M3. The E46 PP did. The E92 335is did too. The F30 does not. The N55 in the 335 is an excellent motor, and very smooth. With the M Performance Power Kit installed, which gives it 30 more horses and torques, I’d say the car had almost to much power for the chassis tuning. Remember this car has more torque than the E92 M3, and in a straight line, is just a tick or two off the 0-60 time.
The 328 is, of course, slower, but also better balanced. Without the extra weight of the larger motor, it’s more eager to turn in. The cars ride identically, which is to say, rough but even-keeled with run flats.
Both cars have the same 18-inch M Star Spoke wheels with all-season tires, on the stock non-adjustable suspension. Before you go and say “wrong tires”, I know, but with four seasons in the north east and shared space with an M3 and 5 Series, I did not want to worry about swapping summer and winter rubber.
So what’s bad about the F30 3 Series?
I see three major issues:
Steering feel. This has been spoken about often, but suffice to say it provides almost no feedback. Placing the car in sport mode only makes it heavier, not more responsive.
Build quality. Jump from an E9X interior into an F30 and you’ll feel the difference right away. It’s clear BMW had a base model in mind when designing the car (the 320i), and some of the quality of interior trim just isn’t up to the car’s 60k asking price when new.
Reliability of the 335. Actually this needs it’s own bullet list. Since I’ve had the car, and with less than 60,000 miles on it, I’ve had to replace the valve cover gasket, an oil filter housing, oil pan gasket, front pinion seal, oil filter cover, drive pulley, and drive belt. I’ve also had the car towed twice, for a faulty ignition coil and cracked radiator hose. I hope the car is finally sorted out for its new owner.
Bonus: ride quality. A combination of low-profile run-flat tires and a stiff suspension make this the worst-riding BMW I’ve ever had, M3 included. But for all it’s stiffness, body roll is still an issue. Every pothole I hit would send a large BOOM through the steering rack, past my hands, and directly into my spine. It hurts. Bent rims are a common occurrence. Both the 328 and 335 are guilty.
A minor OCD point but one that gets on my nerves constantly: Why is there no SYNC button for the climate control? What did it save BMW? Three cents per car? It’s the only BMW I’ve been in that does not have this feature, and it drives me crazy.
Finally, comfort access. It’s so handy – why can’t I get it on the rear door handles on the F30? Whomever spec’d the option sheet must not have kids.
A three year old 3 Series should be a practically brand new car. But, when I purchased it from Prestige in Ramsey, NJ, I actually had passed over it twice. It had sat there for at least 2 months, and it showed. The brakes were rusted and warped.
Once I purchased the car, BMW replaced the pads and discs without issue, but still, wouldn’t that have been done BEFORE selling the car? You know they tout these CPO cars are “good-as-new.” Cosmetically, the car had a few marks and scratches on it – again, expected because it’s used. But not really CPO-worthy, if you ask me.
Is it all bad?
No. When it works, the N55 is spectacular. The ergonomics are perfect, as are the seats. They make it easy to drive long distances. Fuel economy is not bad on either model. Trunk and rear seat space is excellent, important considering I have a young family. The E9X always felt like I was sitting ON the seat, as oppose to in it. Here, the driving position is much lower and more comfortable for my 6-foot frame.
The car also looks great. I find it to be one of the best looking 3 Series BMW has ever made. The 335 is especially quick with the M tune, and it makes the car more fun to drive.
Like any BMW, the options add up. The 328 had xDrive, an M Sport Package, upgraded Xenon headlights, a sunroof and Black Dakota Leather with heated seats. Not even a fancy iDrive.
The 335 has more standard equipment, like the aforementioned headlights and sunroof. A HUD, M Sport Package, Sport Transmission, extended Driver Display cluster, Harmon Kardon audio and cold weather package were added. The stereo and upgraded iDrive are nice, but otherwise, nothing really major was missing from the 328 to alter the driving experience.
It does make an excellent daily, especially in 328 trim. Over the course of ownership, I only ever had to replace the consumables like brakes and oil. No leaks, cracks or seal issues. The N20 does have some timing chain issues, but thankfully, this never reared its ugly head.
One other thing – direct fuel injection. Every modern BMW engine has it, and it can sometimes cause the problem of carbon build-up. Port injection means that fuel gets sprayed over the valves and cleans them, but direct does not. However, I never had any issue – perhaps due to the amount of highway driving my F30s did.
What modifications have you made?
To the 328, not much. It came with black M Performance grilles, but beyond that, I never felt the need to change the car. That’s what the M3 was for.
However, with my M3 gone, the 335 had to stand in for the daily and performance aspects of driving, so it has:
- The M Performance carbon fiber / Alcantara interior trim
- IND red start button with gloss black surround.
- Rear and back window tint
- 340i LCI gloss radio trim panel with LED lighting integrated
- M Performance floor mats
- M Performance aluminum pedals
- Alcantara adjustable arm rest
- M Performance e-brake trim
- M Performance shifter trim, including that cool little M on the PRND selector
- Genuine M Performance rear lip spoiler, unpainted
- IND body-color M3 grilles
- M Performance Power Kit
- K&N filter
- M Performance Exhaust
- Valvetronic exhaust flap remote control
The cosmetic mods speak for themselves, but the performance ones are worth some description…
Yea, do they make the car more like an M3 bro?!
Engine-wise, kind of. Open the exhaust valve, put the car in sport mode and stomp on the gas, and it’s enough to get a “whoa!” from most passengers. It also has a nice burble when you let off the throttle, and a goofy blow-off valve whistle when it shifts. It’s fun. The engine response is re-calibrated with this kit, and makes the N55 feel much closer to the responsiveness of an M engine with individual throttle bodies.
The 335i is a nice sports sedan with a motor distantly related to the M3, but they are in no way the same car. Especially when it comes to body stiffness and rigidity. Slapping on a set of coil-overs isn’t going to do the job, so if you’ve got time slips from your 335 showing you’re faster in the quarter mile than a stock M3, that’s awesome. I hope the road never turns for you.
Compare the 3 Series to the Stinger
The Stinger is the better driver’s car. But I’d still choose the 3 Series.
Look, the Stinger was developed by Albert Biermann, the head of BMW M for many many years. That the car drives with its knee bones connected to its thigh bones should be no surprise. It has a better ride, its hatch is more versatile and it’s more economical than the 335.
But build quality…the 335 doesn’t have paint drips from the factory, and no BMW ever will. And Kia’s dealer network is terrible.
Ya but dat maintenance bill doe
This is a misconception that I hope to help break. First, if you like to wrench on your own car, any F30 is extremely easy to work on. Anything from oil changes and spark plugs to wiper blades – basic maintenance was easy.
The 328 was very reliable, only needing the usual tires, brakes and spark plugs.
The 335 was similar in almost every way, but the random things like a burst coolant hose and oil filter leak were things I could have done without.
I appreciate both the 328 and 335 for what they are – accomplished daily drivers that can provide a modicum of fun. I think a 328 would make an excellent first car for a teenager, and the 335 is the perfect daily.
These are always special cars to me. The 328 brought my daughter home from the hospital. I’ve spent countless hours working on, shooting, and washing each. They will always hold an attachment.
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