2019 BMW 3 Series front driving

Update: Since this first drive was published in March 2019, we have finished testing. See the complete BMW 3 Series road test.

The BMW 3 Series has been fully redesigned for the 2019 model year. It has an entirely new body, the latest iteration of the automaker's infotainment system, and now-standard advanced safety features such as forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.

For decades, BMW’s 3 Series was considered by enthusiasts to be the benchmark for compact luxury sports sedans. At least it was until the last generation lost a bit of its handling precision. Still, the 3 Series we tested performed well enough to be one of the highest-rated in the segment, which includes such rivals as the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

We recently bought a 2019 BMW 330i xDrive (all-wheel drive) to find out how the redesigned model measures up against the top rivals in the compact sports sedan class. Here are the first impressions we’ve gathered while accumulating the 2,000 break-in miles. 

What we bought: 2019 BMW 330i xDrive
Powertrain: 255-hp, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine; 8-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $42,250
Options: $9,750: Premium package (head-up display, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel), Convenience package, Vernasca leather seats, Drivers Assistance Pro package (traffic jam assist, lane keeping assist, driver monitoring system), remote engine start, front and rear parking sensors
Destination fee: $995
Total cost: $52,995

What We Like So Far

The way the 330i’s four-cylinder turbo engine works with the eight-speed automatic transmission is impressive. There are no turbo or transmission-related hiccups or delays. Instead, the engine delivers a smooth and refined 255 horsepower with more than enough get-up-and-go for any situation.

The engine sounds good, too, especially when the driver presses the Sport button on the center console, which gives the car a more growly character. The transmission stays in perfect tune with the demands of the driver or with terrain changes. For example, it downshifts quickly when climbing a hill.

The 3 Series’ composed demeanor makes it a joy to take through fast bends. It responds promptly to steering-wheel turns and there’s little body lean through corners. But this reworked version still doesn’t have the taut, instant steering response of the super-sporty but low-selling Alfa Romeo Giulia compact sedan rival. Most drivers, though, will find that having less of that high-strung, Italian character makes the BMW a friendlier car to live with.

BMW Road Tests

Up front, the comfortable sport seats have firm cushions and ample bolsters to hold occupants in place. Both front seats have four-way power lumbar support, and the longer-legged drivers among us will appreciate the bottom cushion extender, which adds thigh support.

The wide range of adjustments between the seat and steering wheel should make it easy for bodies of all sizes to find a comfortable driving position. The rear seat has a comfortable seatback angle and contoured cushions. It’s one of the more spacious in the class, though it’s far from roomy. There’s good headroom and a decent view out over the hood. 

BMW uses high-quality materials throughout—the matte-finish wood trim is particularly nice—and the cabin seems well-assembled. The buttons and knobs have a solid feel, and the slow-opening cup-holder lid is a nice touch.

2019 BMW 3 Series interior

What We Don’t Like

The 3 Series has a tense ride; impacts are more pronounced than they are with several competitors, and ride motions (how the car pitches up or down) are short and quick, which contributes to that off-putting sensation.

BMW’s latest infotainment system responds immediately to inputs, but it took our drivers some time to fully get the hang of its layered menu structure. The cluttered center console layout looks a bit daunting, too, but the reality is that most of those buttons will rarely be used by the average driver on a daily basis.

It’s annoying that doing something as simple as resetting the trip odometer can only be done by digging into a menu, and there isn’t a handy button to sync the temperature for both sides of the dual-zone front climate-control system. Apple CarPlay compatibility is optional and Android Auto isn’t available at all.

The way the center console intrudes was a nearly constant annoyance for most of our drivers. It restricts space for the driver’s right knee, and it isn’t padded. Rear passengers will find little foot space underneath the front seats, and the door armrests are hard and uncomfortable.

BMW’s lane keeping assist system is very pushy. It pulls the 3 Series back across the lane too aggressively when the car nears the centerline of the road. This can be disconcerting for the driver when trying to give pedestrians or cyclists on the side of the road a wider berth.

The 2019 BMW 3 Series starts at $40,250, but with a few typical options, advanced driver assist features, and all-wheel drive, the as-tested price quickly ballooned to nearly $53,000, a sizable sum for a compact sports sedan with a four-cylinder engine. As startling as that price might be, the $50,000 mark is becoming the new norm for many well-equipped compact luxury sedans.

What We’re Keeping Our Eye On

We’re eager to see how the new 3 Series stacks up against its rivals and vs. the last BMW 330i xDrive that ran through our test program. Can it improve upon the 26 mpg overall the previous one managed? 

Our testers will also try to determine whether the new 3’s stiffer ride is worth the potential handling improvements from a more driver-focused suspension. We’ll also spend time assessing the intrusive nature of the lane keeping assist system as well as the car’s other advanced driver aids.

See the complete BMW 3 Series road test.

2019 BMW 3 Series rear