The experts at AutoTrader sweat the small stuff. That’s not just immodesty but a necessity when one considers how excellent the machines are in almost every vehicle segment. We have to dig into the minutiae and factor the details to vote for winners amongst the excellence, especially within the hotly contested Compact Luxury Car segment.
Case in point: this year’s winner, the BMW 3 Series and 4 Series, received relatively minor updates as a mid-cycle refresh, but it was enough to make what was already one of our all-time favourites just slightly better than everything else in the class. Take, for instance, the new dashboard and massive, double-screen display that embodies BMW’s latest and greatest infotainment system. It was in last year’s category winner, the BMW i4, and has now migrated into the 3 and 4 Series models. It clearly indicates that BMW won’t sit idly by while excellent competitors and past winners (like the Genesis G70) continue improving.
The styling has also been updated ever so slightly, fine-tuning what was already a handsome machine into an even better-looking one, and even in the entry-level 330i trim, the 3 Series still has impressive visual cachet. The same is true with the interior that continues to evolve yet offers consistently high-quality materials and excellent build quality while maintaining plenty of family resemblance to its larger 5- and 7 Series siblings.
But as much as the 3 and 4 Series are luxury cars, they’re still genuine sporting machines at heart. The turbocharged four-cylinder engines found under the hood of the 330i and 430i blend remarkable efficiency with surprising performance, punching above the weight of what most would expect from such a small 2.0-litre engine. Need a commuter car that’s even more efficient? How about a plug-in hybrid 330e that’ll go 35 km in electric mode before the gas engine kicks in?
In the top-of-the-line M340i and M440i models, the beating heart remains BMW’s famed inline-six, known for its buttery smoothness and scintillating performance. Indeed, with more than 380 turbocharged horsepower offered, and now backed by a mild-hybrid system to add even more immediacy to throttle inputs, these machines are the perfect blend of sizzling speed and luxurious suaveness. Regardless of engine, the eight-speed automatic is arguably the best in the business, and BMW’s standard all-wheel drive system provides excellent traction, making it a great four-season machine.
The 3 and 4 Series have grown considerably over the generations, with this current model eclipsing the scale of the 5 Series from a decade ago. While this growth has provided more space for passengers, it has also admittedly diluted the playful nimbleness these cars used to be known for. And yet, when pressed hard, either on a track or a favourite back road, BMW’s excellent adaptive chassis tuning maintains a smooth ride without putting a foot, err… tire, wrong. The steering is boosted for easy parking lot manoeuvres but gives up no precision when the car is driven hard and fast. Top it all off with consistently high safety ratings, and there’s much to admire here.
Combine all the attributes above with the ability to choose between a four-door sedan, two-door coupe, or even a convertible variant, and it becomes pretty easy to see why AutoTrader’s cadre of more than 20 automotive experts have voted BMW’s venerable 3 and 4 Series models as this year’s Best Compact Luxury Car.