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2009 BMW 3-Series Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2009 BMW 3-Series was new.


Performance: 9.3

Buyers who gravitate toward BMWs instead of Acuras or Lexuses are usually interested in performance. Today's rear-wheel-drive 3-series won't let them down. It offers three powerful engines, and a chassis and suspension tuned for aggressive handling. While some rivals have caught up to the 3-series in terms of driving excitement, none have passed it.

  • "The 2009 BMW 3 Series is poised to remain America's best-selling luxury car, and for good reason -- it's an honest-to-goodness driver's car that's nonetheless comfortable and stylish enough to appeal to a wide range of consumers." -- Edmunds
  • "A performance machine for those who consider driving an art." -- Chicago Tribune
  • "You'll like this car if you answer to the description of 'driving enthusiast." - Kelley Blue Book
  • "The BMW relished the opportunity to flaunt its fine breeding. Like sweet cream, energy pours out of the 335i's engine throughout the rev range." -- Automobile Magazine

Acceleration and Power

At the start of the 2009 model year, two engines will be available to 3-Series buyers. BMW avoids the V6 engines that so many manufacturers depend on, instead using a 3.0-liter inline-6-cylinder engine on 328 models. That engine produces 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, and depending on which other performance options are selected, earns an EPA rating of 17/15 or 18/28 mpg. 335 models get the same engine with a pair of turbochargers added, which boosts both hp and torque ratings to 300. That engine is rated for 17/26 mpg. 

Later in the year, a twin-turbo common-rail diesel model will reach our shores. That one makes 265 horsepower, but a white-knuckle, pulse-pounding 425 lb-ft of torque. Early reviews of the diesel universally praise its off-the-line surge of power. In an age of $4 gasoline, however, the diesel's real value is in the time it spends away from the gas pump. BMW expects it to win an EPA rating of 23/33 mpg.

The standard 3-Series has a six-speed manual transmission, but an automatic, with or without paddle shifters, is available for any trim.

  • +"There's no going wrong with any of the engines available in the 2009 BMW 3 Series. The naturally aspirated base engine is a little light on low-end torque, but it moves the car smartly once underway and provides laudable fuel economy on the highway... the twin-turbo 335i is a riot, providing the kind of acceleration formerly associated with the high-performance M3. Meanwhile, the late-availability 335d should provide face-flattening torque off the line while using the least fuel of the bunch."-- Edmunds
  • "With manual transmission, the rear-drive 328i has smooth, sufficient power for around-town driving and highway passing. The 335i has abundant power at any speed with no noticeable turbo lag; a test coupe with automatic transmission did 4.7 seconds 0-60 mph. The 6-speed automatic changes gears smoothly, but downshifts can lag behind throttle inputs." -- Consumer Guide
  • The diesel engine "performed extremely well, pulling strongly enough -- even above 130 mph -- to make sports-car drivers weep." -- Car and Driver
  • The 328's engine "is almost too fine a place for the dirty business of internal combustion." -- Los Angeles Times
  • "We found the car very responsive even when we let the transmission shift on its own. For those who like paddle shifting, BMW notes that it had cut the transmission's response time to the paddles in half to enhance the driver's sense of control." --  Auto Mall USA

Handling and Braking

BMWs have always earned their reputation in hard cornering. The current 3-Series is a worthy torch-bearer, holding a tight line through high speed corners like nothing else in its class. Its brake performance is also excellent -- even including a system that wipes the brake rotors dry when the windshield wipers are activated so that wet-road stopping power is virtually the same as dry-road braking.

  • +"No matter which model you choose, the 3 Series' world-class suspension, steering and brakes will provide hours of entertainment on twisty two-lane byways." -- Edmunds
  • "The 3-Series is the class benchmark for overall control and steering feel. Even with the base suspension, all models display excellent balance, sharp moves, and little body lean in turns; they're even sharper with the sport suspension." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Refinement and handling balance are...simply unparalleled." -- Automobile Magazine
  • The brakes "score well, with stops from 60 averaging 129 feet. The larger discs delivered smooth and stable stops, with great pedal feel and little ABS pulsing." -- Motor Week

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