The new 2019 BMW 3 Series goes up against our Car of the Year and the upstart electric Tesla
Sport sedan lovers, your time is now. Although crossover SUVs have invaded the market like a herd of stampeding cattle, there are still plenty of options for those who prefer a lower center of gravity in a traditional three-box shape. As you’re reading this, no fewer than 12 automakers offer a spirited, premium, well-equipped four-door in the $50,000 USD range—from Acura to Volvo. The luxury sport sedan segment might be down, but it is definitely not out.
In our latest comparison test, we focus on the standouts in the class—three shining stars that each bring something class-leading and unique to the table. There’s the sport-sedan legend, an award-winning newcomer, and, finally, a disruptive upstart. Which one has what it takes to wear the crown?
The 2019 BMW 330i brings seven generations of legacy and, with it, some ridiculously high expectations. Perhaps sensing the formidable task at hand, BMW supplied us with an example that carried nearly $7,500 USD worth of performance-enhancing goodies alone. A further healthy sampling of options raised its as-tested price to an eye-popping $59,920 USD. That’s considerably north of our price target, especially when a bare-bones base model is $41,245 USD, but that’s BMW for you.
The 2019 Genesis G70 pulled off a remarkable upset when it won the MotorTrend Car of the Year award, fending off luxury stalwarts Audi and Volvo for the win. One of the G70’s biggest strengths is its exceptional value play. It starts at $35,895 USD, which is the lowest base price here. Our Dynamic trim example adds 19-inch Michelin PS4 tires and a limited-slip differential. Even loaded up further with the aptly named Elite and Prestige packages, at $44,895 USD, the as-tested price is only $3,650 USD more than the 3 Series’ base price.
With the Model 3, Tesla is hell-bent on proving that the electric car is ready to go mainstream. Of course, Tesla has been making a lot of promises lately, and the Model 3 hasn’t exactly had the smoothest launch. But it’s improved significantly in the short time it’s been on the market, thanks mostly to myriad firmware and software updates. With a sticker price of $56,700 USD, our Long Range Dual Motor version boasts a battery range of 310 miles (499 km)—even with all-wheel drive.
So, who brings the best combination of performance, luxury, and value among these three?
3rd Place: BMW 330i
Once the undisputed king of the sport sedan segment, the BMW 3 Series now seems to be at a crossroads. No longer cohesive and confident, this 330i is saddled by indecision. It’s so eager to correct its predecessor’s wrongs (especially its numb handling), it overcompensates in the process.
The lack of cohesion is evident starting with the exterior. By now, the iconic BMW design language has been stretched across every shape imaginable, and here it’s hampered by a clear lack of direction. Heritage or evolution? The twin kidney grille continues to grow like kudzu, invading all the breathing space between it and the round(-ish) headlight clusters, while the smoked hockey-stick brake lights feel squinty and derivative rather than standard-setting. If you’re looking for the legendary Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar, squint and you’ll see the vestiges of it in the form of a tacked-on plastic trim piece behind the rear door.
The interior continues on this discordant theme. “Do you think 19 controls on the steering wheel is too many?” groused road test editor Chris Walton. There seems to be a setting to adjust pretty much every aspect of the car’s behavior, though few directly contribute to the driving experience. Ironically, the digital instrument panel is the least configurable, and it pales in comparison to Audi’s class-leading Virtual Cockpit. MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina was underwhelmed by the interior materials. “I don’t feel like I’m sitting inside a $60,000 USD sport sedan.”
Disappointing, yes, but the 330i still gets a lot right, sometimes brilliantly. Despite having nearly the same weight-to- power ratio as the G70, the 330i is both quicker and more fuel-efficient. The 0–60 run takes a fleet 5.4 seconds, and the quarter mile goes by in 14 seconds flat at 98.1 mph (157.9 km/h). The 330i is rated 26/36/30 city/highway/combined—a not-insignificant 5 mpg (47 L/100 km) better than the G70. Brakes are also the best of the bunch. Firm, confidence-inspiring, with a strong initial bite and progressive pedal feel. Its 60–0 test was equally impressive, with the 330i needing only a scant 103 feet to come to a stop. Credit the beefy brakes, which are part of the $2,450 USD Track Handling package.
But that same package also contributed to the 330i’s third-place finish, thanks to an adaptive suspension that’s obnoxiously brittle—even in its softest setting. Testing director Kim Reynolds probably put it best when he said “it finds annoying bumps without the commensurate handling composure payoff.” Walton couldn’t wait to get out of the car. “Sure, it was very confidence-inspiring in the canyon, but unless you live in a canyon, pass.”
Afterwards, we deliberated whether the 330i would have placed higher without the Track Handling package (we even asked BMW for a more traditional version, but this is what they had available). Although the ride would have improved, there’s still that fundamental issue of an identity crisis. The unmistakable touches of brilliance are undermined by overthinking. Instead of sticking to what it does best, the latest 3 Series attempts to be all things to all people and loses itself in the process. As Cortina so aptly put it, “The Ultimate Driving Machine needs to do more work.”
2nd Place: Genesis G70
When we declared the G70 our 2019 Car of the Year winner, we were confident that Genesis had “built a better 3 Series.” And, as it turns out, it did. While BMW was busy rewriting entire passages of its own playbook, Genesis adhered to its mission with clear, crystalline focus and created a killer sport sedan on the very first try.
Confident is the word that comes to mind when discussing the G70’s looks. Lean, lithe, and muscular, the G70’s exterior carries just the right amount of sophisticated swagger. “It’s got a hint of old-school (Zagato?) and a modern class without being derivative of anything else,” said Walton.
The G70 might be brand-new to the scene, but it already feels like an old friend. Get behind the wheel and everything falls instantly to hand. You’re greeted by a cockpit that’s not only refreshingly straightforward, but also feels special in all the right places. Walton appreciated the attention to detail: “I love the quilted leather and the chromey, knurled knobs you’d expect to find in a Range Rover or Bentley.” The combination of black and burgundy throughout the interior was a knockout.
Familiarity can have its drawbacks, as well: The infotainment system was called out for being identical to one seen in any Hyundai or Kia. Scratch that—the 2020 Kia Soul features a bigger, sharper screen. “Graphics look like they’re a decade old,” said Cortina. “It’s missing authenticity.” While this is a curse that befalls many premium automakers who share components with lesser marques, some hide their origins better than others. Genesis might look to Lincoln for some inspiration here.
But focus on the road in front of you instead, and suddenly it’s obvious why the G70 deserves all of the accolades. Here’s the magical ride/handling balance that makes driving a sport sedan so rewarding. The steering has just the right amount of heft, tracing through corners with a playful precision. The chassis is firm yet supple. Walton feels that the suspension tuning leans more toward the luxury part of the equation than the sport side, but only just so. Of the three cars here, the G70 is the one that’s ideally suited for a highly gratifying long-distance drive, straight out of the box.
Out on the test track, the G70 nearly matches the BMW on the figure eight and lateral acceleration—a testament to its extensive chassis development and tuning. It’s only when you give it the boot that the G70 trails behind the rest of the pack. A fair amount of turbo lag from the 2.0-liter hampers off-the-line acceleration, and keeping it on boost requires judicious timing with the paddle shifters. Diving hot into a corner revealed more sloths in the powertrain. Despite multiple stabs to the shift paddle, the G70 sometimes refused our downshift requests during rapid deceleration in figure-eight testing. Stops from 60 mph required 106 feet, roughly splitting the difference between the BMW and Tesla.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention that the G70 is the only one left in its segment to offer a six-speed manual. And therein lies the irony with this stellar, award-winning sport sedan. It makes all the right moves and ticks all the right boxes. Through no fault of its own, the G70 represents the pinnacle of a segment … just as that segment is poised to charge in a completely new and uncharted direction.
1st Place: Tesla Model 3
Unlike the G70, which got nearly everything right its first time out, the Model 3 represents a much more ambitious and polarizing effort. Nicknamed “a spaceship on wheels” by Reynolds, the Model 3’s boundary-pushing technology was to be expected. But it was the revolutionary driving experience that pushed it over the top.
But first, there’s the issue of styling. The Model 3 looks as if it were designed from the rear going forward and the designers ran out of time before getting to the front. “It looks like a freakish duck straight-on,” mused Walton. Even more polarizing was the interior, which was a love-it-or-hate-it affair amongst our group. Adornments are limited to a strip of open-pore wood across the top of the dashboard. Walton shrugged: “If this is ‘Premium,’ I’d hate to see the standard interior.” Cortina was more enthusiastic, calling it a “clean and tidy design that makes it look elegant.” Curiously, the Model 3 is the only one in this group without a wireless charging pad.
But who needs a phone when a bright, beautiful touchscreen dominates the center console? Creatures of tactile habit will wonder where all the buttons have gone. Our takeaway: The learning curve is actually pretty intuitive, and adjusting the various controls via touchscreen soon becomes second nature. But as captivating as that screen can be, the Model 3’s real strength is its drivetrain.
To no one’s surprise, the Model 3 absolutely crushed it in straight-line acceleration: 0–60 whooshed by in only 4.0 seconds, and the quarter mile fell in 12.5 seconds at a speed of 113.1 mph (182 km/h). Proving it wasn’t a one-trick electric pony, the Model 3 also bested the BMW on our figure-eight loop, despite wearing all-season tires.
That electric drivetrain also provides the framework for the rest of this paradigm shift. The near-silent, rocket-like acceleration is only the first step. On our test runs out in the real world, one-pedal driving quickly became a matter of course. Lift off the accelerator, and regen instantly begins to slow the car. Time it right, and you can navigate through even heavy traffic with only an occasional feathering of the brake pedal. Walton was smitten. “Driving feels new and novel again. The way it re-introduces driving enthusiasm to a driving enthusiast is remarkable.”
While both the BMW and Genesis also offer adaptive cruise control, the Tesla’s version was a revelation. The drivetrain’s instant power and regen meant the Model 3 had no problem maintaining a consistent distance, making micro-fast adjustments on the fly as the speed of traffic ebbed and flowed. This precision was in stark contrast to the response of the turbo-fours in both the 330i and G70, whose slow reaction times routinely left plenty of room for another car to jump in.
The Tesla Model 3 wins this competition because it has thoroughly rewritten the rules of what a compact sport sedan can be. As it turns out, the number 3 is still the benchmark number for this segment. It just now happens to be a different type of 3.
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2018 Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Long Range||2019 BMW 330i||2019 Genesis G70 2.0T|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front & rear-motor, AWD||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Front & rear: 3-phase internal permanent-magnet electric motors||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||—||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||—||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||346 hp (front + rear comb)||255 hp @ 5,000 rpm||252 hp @ 6,200 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||376 lb-ft (front + rear comb)||295 lb-ft @ 1,550 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm|
|REDLINE||—||6,500 rpm||7,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||11.7 lb/hp||14.3 lb/hp||14.5 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||1-speed automatic||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.6-in vented disc; 13.2-in vented disc, ABS||13.7-in 2-pc vented disc; 13.6-in 2-pc vented disc, ABS||12.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 19-in flow-formed aluminum||8.0 x 19-in; 8.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum||8.0 x 19-in; 8.5 x 19-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||235/40R19 96W (M+S) Continental ProContact RX||225/40R19 93Y; 255/35R19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S||225/40R19 93Y; 255/35R19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4|
|WHEELBASE||113.2 in||112.2 in||111.6 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.2/62.2 in||62.3/62.9 in||62.8/63.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.8 x 72.8 x 56.8 in||185.7 x 71.9 x 56.4 in||184.5 x 72.8 x 55.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.1 ft||37.4 ft||36.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,062 lb||3,646 lb||3,659 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49%||51/49%||51/49%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.3/37.7 in||38.7/37.6 in||39.7/36.9 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.7/35.2 in||42.0/35.2 in||42.6/34.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.3/54.0 in||56.0/54.6 in||56.3/54.6 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||14.6 cu ft||17.0 cu ft||10.5 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.8 sec||1.9 sec||2.2 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.7||2.8||3.3|
|QUARTER MILE||12.5 sec @ 113.1 mph||14.0 sec @ 98.1 mph||14.7 sec @ 93.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft||103 ft||106 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.90 g (avg)||0.95 g (avg)||0.94 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.9 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)||25.2 sec @ 0.73 g (avg)||25.2 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||6,920 rpm||1,300 rpm||1,700 rpm|
|BASE PRICE||$50,700 *||$41,245||$35,895|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$56,700 *||$59,920||$44,895|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||8 years/120,000 mi (Long Range Battery)||4 yrs/50,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||75 kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack||15.6 gal||15.8 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||120/112/116 MPGe||26/36/30 mpg||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||28/30 kWh/100 miles||130/94 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)||0.65 lb/mile||0.78 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||110-volt, 220-volt electricity||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
| * Before applicable tax credits