These days, it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re considering buying your first new BMW. There’s all this nonsense about grills, and what seems to be about a zillion different models. In the 1990s you had a 3, 5, or 7 Series. Eventually, the Z3. That’s a far cry from the fifteen or so different models offered today in 2022.
Fortunately, we’re here to make it easy for you. The ubiquitous 3 Series and the consistently good X3 are our recommendations for first-time BMW buyers. Even in their most base form, they both do a great job painting a portrait of where the brand is coming from: RWD, engaging driving dynamics, and modern appearance.
But they also illustrate where BMW seems to be looking for the future: tech-forward and individual. New additions to the BMW stable like Remote Start and increased integration with the MyBMW app are available, and you can even opt to add features to your vehicle after purchasing it using the BMW Connected Store.
The two also represent the range of BMW; from the entry-level 330i and X3 sDrive30i, all the way up to the enthusiast tailored M3 and X3M. Each trim definitively exists in slightly different segments, but they all do great service to the brand as an introduction course. One drive in the X3M tells you everything you need to know about what the iconic M3 will deliver, and vice-versa. We’ll look at both the X3 and the 3 Series, discuss the different flavors, and you can decide which one is right for you.
BMW 3 Series
Starting with the 330i, the 3 Series remains a steadfast favorite in the BMW lineup. Despite declining sales numbers in the SUV-loving market, there’s still a lot of value here if you’re not opposed to driving a sedan. And why should you be? Plenty of people buy SUVs that don’t do anything requiring the additional utility – don’t pay for what you’re not using. You can still get xDrive (BMW’s all-wheel drive system), and you can even get a hybrid version in the 330e.
And while the 330i’s 255 hp and 295 lb-ft or torque allows it all the get-up-and-go most people will ever need, there is…another way. The M340i is a step up and offers lots of optional equipment from the 330i standard (like the M Sport Package and Live Cockpit Professional) – as well as a 382-horsepower inline-six engine. Though never quite “pedestrian”, the 330i can seem a bit sedate at times – and the M340i is the coffee it needs. Pair with xDrive for hilarious and ridiculous results (particularly, 0-60 times).
Last is the M3, and not much can be said here that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. Rear wheel drive and manual or all-wheel drive and automatic, you can build it to taste and there’s no wrong ingredients. The M3 makes a good first foray into BMW; as long as your expectations are in line with what the car is – a luxury sedan that also happens to know how to lap a racetrack in epic fashion. And, of course, mind the grill.
The X3 starts about $2,000 higher than a base 330i, and you get more for the money – more ground clearance, more storage space, more visibility, and more interior seating room. The X3 has always done well with enthusiasts and the public alike, and the newest version doesn’t stray from that formula. Trailer hitches are available from factory for the value pricing of $550, adding utility and practicality for you outdoorsy types. RWD comes standard – another $2,000 for xDrive AWD – with a turbo four-cylinder good for a somewhat disappointing 248 horsepower. Quickness is not the X3’s party trick, until you step up to the X3 M40i.
And step up you should. Those same 382 ponies under the hood of the M340i can be found here, too, and provide the sluggish SAV some much needed get-up-and-go. Now you get to haul your stuff in style and speed. Plus, as part of the X3’s recent mid-cycle refresh, now it’s got some added M designed mirrors and even more M badges, so everyone on the road will know you spent the extra cash, too.
Again we find ourselves at the performance peak – the X3 M. Between 473 and 503 horsepower (depending on trim) is enough to make any performance junky smile, and if super-sport SUVs are your jam, your song just came on the radio. Like the M3, most of what can be said already has been. The long story short here is “practical performance”.
When buying your first BMW, it’s important to consider what you really need your vehicle to do. Adding xDrive only makes sense if you plan to use it. Splurging for an X3 only makes sense if you plan on taking advantage of all the extra space. Your first BMW should be special – and you can’t go wrong with the 3 Series or an X3!