The hugely popular BMW 3 Series Sedan is typically held up as the poster boy for this market segment, and rightfully so. These days, however, a 3 Series has scores of competitors, if a Bimmer doesn’t turn your crank. This review also takes a closer look at Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Lexus IS. Other premium compact sports sedans you might also want to consider include the Acura TSX, Infiniti G37, Volvo S60 and the Cadillac CTS.
2009–2012 BMW 3 Series Sedan
When most people think BMW, it’s a 3 Series sedan that typically comes to mind. By model year (MY) 2009 the 3 Series sedan line had expanded to include the 323i (2.5L I6), 328i (3.0L I6) 335i (twin-turbo 3.0L I6), 335d (twin-turbo 3.0L I6 diesel) and a new high-performance M3 (4.0L V8). All gas engines are mated to a six-speed manual transmission or either a six-speed automatic, with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic in the M. The 335d diesel comes with a six-speed automatic.
This was also the first year that all-wheel-drive editions of 3 Series were given a distinct "xDrive" designation. In addition to the sedan line there are also wagon (Touring), Coupe and convertible (Cabriolet) editions of the seemingly endless variations of 3 Series.
MY2012 saw a staggered release of an all-new 3 Series that started with the 320i (Canada), 328i and 335i sedans. In addition to new style and improved performance, BMW also addressed two owner gripes, rear seat legroom and fuel economy. A stretched wheelbase and a return to four-cylinder power were highlights of the gamut of changes. New Grand Touring (hatchback) editions also followed later in the year.
Under hood, a new four-cylinder N20 engine with TwinPower Turbo technology provides more power with less gas and could be mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. To further enhance its fuel efficiency, the 328i comes with a hybrid-like auto stop/start system and brake energy regeneration. BMW's iconic inline six-cylinder (N55) engine remained available in the 335i.
Autos.ca says: “Keep in mind that even a reliable BMW will be a more expensive car to maintain than any mainstream mid-sized car, but if you love to drive, the extra cost will be worth it.” – Chris Chase, BMW 3 Series 2006 to 2011 used vehicle review
autoTRADER.ca (Five-Star) Overall Owner Ratings – BMW 3 Series
autoTRADER.ca owner review: “I had a 2009 323i and loved it! Gas mileage is pretty good although premium fuel is mandatory. Acceleration on highway is fantastic. Smooth ride once run-flat tires are swapped out. Loved taking this car out on the windy roads!” –Mark4309, BMW 3 Series owner
2009–2012 Audi A4
Compact and classy, the MY2009 edition of the A4 was a complete redesign and punching above its weight class won AJAC’s Best New Luxury Car (Over $50,000) award. Areas where it thumped the competition were its overall quality, performance, vehicle dynamics and fuel economy.
The A4’s direct-injection 2.0L turbo-four can deliver good fuel economy, yet it’s quicker than many of its six-cylinder rivals. This A4 is also wider and longer than the previous generation and a notable improvement inside is the extra rear-seat legroom. The A4 was also available as a wagon (Avant) and a convertible (Cabriolet).
A high-performance S4 was added for MY2010 and the Cabriolet, which was a carryover model for MY2009, was discontinued, along with the 3.2L V6 engine. The S4 uses a supercharged 3.0L V6 engine with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission, and comes with Quattro all-wheel drive. An eight-speed Tiptronic replaced the previous six-speed automatic transmission for MY2011 and there were no significant changes for MY2012.
Autos.ca says: “Some may consider the 3.2L engine a little on the weak side; offering up only 265 hp it isn’t a huge powerhouse, but it does provide a very smooth and linear response, which is essential when looking for effortless acceleration. The 2.0T engine provides a similar feel on the acceleration front but with the turbocharged engine it comes in a wallop rather than a constant smooth delivery.” – James Bergeron, Audi A4 3.2 review
autoTRADER.ca (Five-Star) Overall Owner Ratings – Audi A4
autoTRADER.ca owner review: “I bought this car new in late 2008 as a 2009 model. The car was a pleasure to drive and the Audi Drive Select feature was amazing. The fit and finish of the interior and exterior are second to none. The balance and performance were also excellent, with great steering feel as well as better than adequate acceleration. Where this car really fell down, in my experience, was in the area of reliability. In the four years that I owned my 2009 A4 I was forced to replace the water pump three times and it suffered oil consumption to such an extreme that Audi Canada paid to have the engine removed from the car and all the pistons and rings replaced at just over 90,000 km. I recommend this car to anyone who loves to drive and would like to be on a first name basis with their dealer service dept.” – Ian6157, Audi A4 Series owner
2008–2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
A third generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class was introduced in 2008, which was also its 25th year in production. Longer and wider than its predecessor, this “C” also has a longer wheelbase. Its classic Mercedes driving qualities didn’t change ... near-perfect 50/50 weight balance and a drivetrain that sends power to the rear wheels (or all four).
An interesting offer by Mercedes gave buyers a choice of a traditional look grille with an erect hood ornament, or a no-extra-charge sport package. The sport package gives ‘C’ a more contemporary look and has a large three-point star embedded in the grille. It also came with an aero trim package and different (18-inch) wheels.
The C-Class comes in C230 (2.5L V6), C300 (3.0L V6) and a C350 (3.5L V6) models. Popular in Canada, all-wheel-drive 4Matic versions are also available and a high-performance 450 horsepower C63 AMG (6.2L V8) version arrived for MY2009. All models come with a six-speed manual or optional six- or seven-speed automatic.
An under-dash airbag for the driver's knees was added for MY2010 and the C230 was renamed the C250, presumably to correspond to its 2.5L engine. Confusingly, however, when it got a new turbocharged 1.8L four-cylinder engine for MY2012, Mercedes still called it the C250.
The other big news for MY2012 was the introduction of a new two-door coupe body style along with a series of mechanical changes. The rear-drive C300 sedan was discontinued and so was the manual transmission, so all models then came with a seven-speed automatic.
Autos.ca says: “The majority of owners of this generation of C-Class report minor issues, if any at all. A healthy, properly-maintained unit free of trouble signs, or one from a Certified Pre Owned program with extra warranty, should deliver plenty of luxurious, worry-free driving.” – Justin Pritchard, Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2008 to 2014 used vehicle review
autoTRADER.ca (Five-Star) Overall Owner Ratings – Mercedes-Benz C-Class
autoTRADER.ca owner review: “Great looking car and handles great as well. This is my second C-Class from Mercedes. The first one was a 2009 C230 which was also good but didn't have the 4Matic. That's why I decided to get the 2012 model with 4Matic. I thought the 2009 model looked great, but the 2012 looks even better. The HID lights, LED fog lights, and glass roof are amazing. The 4Matic is well worth the money. I wouldn't get a sedan without all wheel drive ever again.” – johnny_wong, 2012 Mercedes-Benz C350 4Matic owner
2009–2012 Lexus IS
Even though it’s an edgy sports sedan, the IS comes ingrained with Lexus DNA, which ensures top quality and exceptional dependability. This generation IS sedan had been around since MY2006 and other than a minor face-lift was unchanged for MY2009. The line-up consisted of the rear- or all-wheel drive IS 250 (2.5L V6), the rear-drive IS 350 (3.5L V6) and the rear-drive high-performance IS F (5.0L V8). A six-speed manual or optional six- or eight-speed (ISF) automatic were the transmission choices.
Lexus added two convertible models, IS 250 C and IS 350 C (with retractable hardtops), to the IS line for MY2010. A mild remodel followed in MY2011, with new front and rear fascias, new dash trim, and new wheels. An all-wheel-drive IS350 model was also added to the line. Other than new optional Touring and Special Edition packages the IS remained unchanged for MY2012.
While less flamboyant than its competitors, the Lexus IS sedan is a very capable and dependable machine. This, the Lexus way – a factor that hasn’t escaped the more pragmatic used-car buying fraternity, and it’s reflected in Lexus IS resale values.
Autos.ca says: “Common gripe-points include limited headroom and rear-seat room, meaning the IS may not be ideal for larger drivers or families. Taller folks simply won’t fit comfortably. Other complaints include its requirement of being fed pricey premium fuel, a dated interior design and a dated navigation system. Several owners of models with the 2.5L engine tend to wish for more power, though plenty of these owners say the smaller engine is adequate in most situations.” – Justin Prichard, Lexus IS 2006 to 2013 used vehicle review
autoTRADER.ca (Five-Star) Overall Owner Ratings – Lexus IS
autoTRADER.ca owner review: “Exterior styling could use some more aggressiveness but otherwise it has a good blend of sport and luxury. Back seats are cramped but rarely used in my case. Front seats could benefit from more support but the newer F-sport models fix that. Ride of the vehicle is a great combination between luxury and sport (although I have the sport model). If you want an even sportier ride the are F-sport add-ons that can be purchased.
“The secret gem of this vehicle is power and an incredibly close ratio gearbox. Power off the line for the first 3 gears pushes you back in the seat and will surprise those in much higher performance cars. After you've reached highway speeds the remaining of the 6 speed gear box come into play and provide surprising fuel economy.
“Driven the vehicle for over 100,000KM's and not a single problem yet. Perhaps being dealer maintained has helped in this but I couldn't be happier with everything the car has to offer.” – PaulM, 2009 Lexus IS 350 Sport owner
Price Comparison 2009 & Today (Sept 2014)
|Year||Model/Trim Level||Original New Price||Price Today|
|2009||BMW 328i xDrive||$44,495||$15,000 to $19,000|
|2009||Audi A4 2.0T Quattro||$40,500||$15,000 to $19,000|
|2009||Mercedes-Benz C230 4Matic||$41,495||$15,000 to $19,000|
|2009||Lexus IS 250AWD||$41,095||$18,000 to $22,000|
Note: The used prices are approximate as a number of factors can influence the actual sale value of a vehicle, including local area market, vehicle condition, optional equipment, mileage, previous use and accident history. A complete mechanical check should always be performed by an auto technician prior to purchase.
Recalls: Buyers should contact the vehicle manufacture or dealer to ensure recall repairs are up to date and register as the vehicle’s new owner.