2023 BMW 3 Series Review: First Drive

The Sports Sedan Icon Gets New Tech

All over its lineup, BMW is making big decisions that’s getting some big pushback.

Controversial large grilles, increased electrification, less-serious M-series models, and as BMW decides to build the first stand-alone M model in decades, it’s a large SUV. 

The 3 Series, though, is more traditional. More set in its ways. The original sports sedan still has small grilles (other than the M3) and is still very much like the generations of 3 that came before. So it’s not much of a surprise that the refresh for the 2023 BMW 3 Series is not ground-shaking. Instead, it’s quite subtle, but more than enough to keep this car ultra-competitive in its segment.

Minor Appearance Changes

We’ll start with the bodywork changes, because if we don’t mention them, you might not believe they’re there. BMW has gone extremely subtle here, making the headlights just the slightest bit shorter in height. They’re also flatter on the bottom and extensively redesigned inside the housings. The new lights give the car a slightly more modern look, and they serve to make the grilles (now with double bars) look larger without actually making them larger. The bumpers are slightly tweaked as well, moving some of the inlets around and adding some gloss black finishes. M-Sport package cars (an option on both 330 cars) get a bigger lower central opening with hexagonal mesh.

Get a Quote on a New BMW 3 Series

The changes apply to the 2023 330e and 330i as well as the 2023 M340i xDrive, though the M-lite version gets the hexagonal grille mesh standard. It will also wear a classic-style red, blue, and violet M roundel to mark 50 years of BMW’s performance brand.

Bigger Changes Inside

Inside, BMW has made some slightly bigger changes, though at least one of them will be nearly as controversial as the M4’s nose. BMW has dropped the gear selector and replaced it with a much smaller toggle switch. The new switch frees up some space in the center console and thankfully BMW hasn’t dropped the “Park” button like it has in some of its other updates. The iDrive controller remains but the buttons around it have been simplified, and BMW has kept a physical volume dial.

SEE ALSO: 2022 BMW i4 Review: 4 Series 4 The Future

The 2023 3 Series keeps that dial despite the addition of the latest BMW operating system, iDrive 8, along with the company’s Curved Display. With a 12.3-inch digital dash and a 14.9-inch center display merged into a single panel. It’s an elegant upgrade and looks as at home here as it does in other BMWs.

Touch and Voice Controls

This version of iDrive is as sharp as the 3’s handling. Quick to respond, it operates smoothly. BMW has made nearly all commonly-used features touch-screen accessed instead of by button. A climate control icon is nearly always on the main display, and since it shows up as soon as you press it, it didn’t bother us in this or any of the other OS8-equipped BMWs we drove at this Palm Springs test event.

You can also control nearly everything through natural speech voice commands. Change radio stations, bring up driver assistance menus, and even engage sport mode with your voice. The trick is to just talk, and not to try and figure out what the computer wants ahead of time. For a fun Easter egg, tell it you’re bored.

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Familiar Powertrains 

BMW didn’t change up the powertrains for 2023. There are still three regular choices, starting with the 255 hp/294 lb-ft 2.0L four-cylinder turbo 330i. The 2023 BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid with an electric motor boosting power to 288 hp and 310 lb-ft while delivering an estimated 23 miles of electric driving.

SEE ALSO: 2023 BMW X1 Review: First Drive

The M340i got a 48V mild hybrid system added to its 3.0L inline-six just last year so that one carries over as well. It offers 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque from the smooth six. These are power levels that would humble an M3 not that long ago.

BMW M3 Edition 50 Jahre

Of course there is still the new M3 and its massive grilles. The M3 gets the same interior changes as the other 3 Series cars, but the ones we drove were the M3 Edition 50 Jahre. A celebration of 50 years of BMW M, just 500 of the anniversary cars will be made for North America.

Each one gets a carbon front splitter, carbon and titanium exhaust tips, M Performance trunk spoiler, and a carbon roof. Sports seats are standard but thigh-crushing M Carbon buckets are also on offer. The 50 Jahre cars will offer some classic M3 paint colours as an extra treat. Based on the M3 Competition, they’ll all make 503 hp and 479 lb-ft and have an eight-speed automatic.

Familiar Feeling

Not surprisingly, the 2023 BMW 3 Series drives much like it did last year, at least once you’re in drive and have your climate and radio settings to your liking. The 3 Series is a joy for anyone who loves driving. The responses are quick in the 330e and progress to razor-sharp in the M3.

Despite those quick reflexes and spring rates chosen for Autobahn cruising and mountain pass crushing, the 3 is comfortable on the highway and in town. The 330 variants are more softly sprung and damped, of course, offering a slightly more pleasant cruising experience. But even the M isn’t overly harsh.

Yes the M3 is stiff, there is stiff and there is punishing and BMW is clearly the former. Thank the standard adaptive dampers for managing to control the ultra-low profile tires over some seriously horrible roads.

A Joy, Regardless of Flavor

The M3 was also brutally quick on the wonderful stretch of road that is California’s Palms to Pines Scenic Byway. The kind of road that challenges a car’s abilities without breaking the speed limit, it’s what the M3 was made for. Even in the xDrive system’s rear-drive mode, which requires you to turn off the stability control and keep yourself out of trouble. With that engaged, this is a properly hairy machine that you will need to keep in line.

SEE ALSO: 2021 BMW M440i Cabriolet Review: Cloth-Top Cruiser

But even the 330e was a joy to run up and down this mountain road. Maybe even more fun on a daily basis than the M3, because the lower power figures mean you can spend more time on the gas charging up hills and not lifting off because you’re going to go supersonic before you reach the next corner.

Pricing

The BMW 3 Series lineup is still a wide one for 2023. BMW USA will offer the 330i in rear or xDrive AWD from $42,300, the 330e and 330e xDrive from $43,300, and the M340i and M340i xDrive from $54,850. As well, the rear-drive M3 starts from $72,800, the M3 Competition RWD for $76,700, and the M3 Competition xDrive from $80,800.

Canadian buyers can find the 330i xDrive from $52,750, 330e in rear and xDrive from $54,900, and M340i xDrive from $66,000. The M3 Competition starts at $89,500 and M3 Competition from $96,400. If you want a stick, you’ll only find one in the rear-drive M3.

2023 BMW 3 Series: In Conclusion

BMW’s changes to the 2023 3 Series and M3 are small. But, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. This is still one of the best sedans to drive on the market, with changes that make the ancillary parts of driving a little more enjoyable. IDrive8 is an excellent system, even for this tester who has hated nearly every voice command system that came before it. The 3 Series carries on, doing the things it does best.


FAQs

  • Will there be a 2023 M340i? 
    • Yes, the 2023 BMW M340i is one of the trims still available. 
    • Yes, for 2023 the BMW 3 Series receives a minor, yet noticeable facelift. 
    • With 382 hp under the hood, yes, we would say it’s fast. 

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