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BMW 3 vs BMW 4: Which is the Better Choice?

1. Introduction

The BMW 3-series has always been the exemplar of sporty driving in the compact class, and that reputation is unlikely to change. The 3-series is available with a 4- or 6-cylinder engine, with the biggest seller being the 2.0 liter turbo 4, and the holy grail a 6-speed manual. A 3-series GT is also available. In our Real MPG testing, the 3-series excelled reaching an impressive 29.5 MPG combined for the 328i. The 4-cylinder turbo is quiet and refined, and the 8-speed automatic is one of the best in the business. Unfortunately, the F30 is no longer the most reliable car, and it has actually been quite problematic. A late model F30 is difficult to recommend given the issues and depreciation, but the F30 is the ultimate driving machine in the compact class. The E90 3-series (2006-2012) was the last generation that was considered very reliable. A beater E90 is a perfect car if you can't afford a 3-series, so look into this generation if reliability is a concern for you. The good news is that prices have come down to around $10,000 for a decent example. The E90 also gets good gas mileage, as our long term 328i reached 24.15 MPG combined. The mileage themes for the 3-series are sportiness and prestige, so it has always been a benchmark in the segment. Hinrich Woebcken, president of Volkswagen of America, said after a comparison of BMW and Audi vehicles, "The 3 Series is still the best driving small sedan in the premium segment." It's tough to argue against that. The sweet spot for a used example is an LCI (facelift) E90 or an F30 with the non-turbo 6-cylinder engine. Step outside of the sweet spot, and the 3-series becomes problematic in reliability and total cost of ownership. But the 6-cylinder is the most reliable engine in both 3-series generations, and it has a slingshot like naturally aspirated power that BMW enthusiasts still yearn for. Low six figure mile E90s still sell for around $10,000, and we believe they are the best used 3-series value today. (Apolinarii, 2020)

1.1. Overview of BMW 3 series

The 3 Series has been around for over 40 years now and was first introduced for the 1975 model year. The 3 Series has always been a popular choice and came in many different body styles. You could have anything from a 2-door, convertible, 4-door, or wagon. There is also a high-performance M version of the car. The 3 Series could also come in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The 3 Series grows in size with every new generation and with the size increase, BMW had to better differentiate between its model lineup. In doing so, the new 4 Series was born. Starting with the 2014 model year, the 4 Series is now its own model and no longer a higher trim level of the 3 Series. This means the 4 Series and 3 Series are two separate cars and no longer having a 4 Series be based off of the 3 Series. The previous generation 3 Series is still on sale as a 2016 model year and the new 2016 3 Series is on sale. The 3 Series is also still for sale in the 2017 model year, whereas the 4 Series is for sale starting with the 2014 model year. With 3 Series spanning over different generations and even model years, the comparison will generally be focused around the previous generation 3 Series and new gen 3 Series. Prices for a new 3 Series sedan start at $34,800 and go all the way up to $66,000 for the high-performance M3 sedan. Prices for the 4 Series start at $41,650 and go all the way up to $75,000. Remember that the 4 Series still shares the same platform as the 3 Series. This means there are no differences in driving dynamics, cabin space, or cargo space; only differences in terms of the exterior/interior design and features. With a $3k-$9k difference in price between the models, the 3 and 4 Series are quite similar. If you want to spend less money, the 3 Series is the better value - obviously. But if you want to spend a little extra on a different looking car, then the 4 Series is an alternative option. Now let's begin to compare and contrast these two cars. (Ditzen et al., 2021)(Zhou et al.2024)

1.2. Overview of BMW 4 series

The latest 4-series is as big as a 5-series GT from the early part of the last decade and only a few millimeters smaller than an 8-series of similar generation to the 5GT. It's certainly growing in size with each generation.

Buyers have a simple choice to make over 4-series specification: M Sport or M Sport Pro. There's no longer a clear differentiation between standard and more luxury-oriented models like there was in the previous 4-series and 3-series coupe.

The new 4-series is not so much of a departure from the 3-series this time around and in its standard form could be seen as more of an alternative to the saloon than an individual product in its own right. The more overtly coupe-like design is different but not drastically so.

BMW's new 4-series shares powertrains and a structure with the firm's latest 3-series saloon. This is the car that replaces the duo of two-door 3-series models: the standard and M Sport. The previous 4-series was a spin-off model that took the 3-series underpinnings and repackaged them into a more dynamic and appealing coupe body. It was a car that played to a different sort of customer than the saloon.

What is the new 4-series?

2. Performance Comparison

The first thing that we see here is that the engines are identical, the new 4 series is just using a newer iteration of the N55 engine. It seems that there are no differences between the 3 and 4 series in terms of engine output. This will no doubt be disappointing for 3 series owners as traditionally, the 3 series has always had different engines than the equivalent 5 series and 6 series. This also means that 3 series owners who have the N55 engine will not be able to remap their car to produce more power than the equivalent 4 series. A remap will no doubt put it at the same power level but it seems that BMW are focusing power upgrades mainly on the car's successor.

2.1 Engine power and torque Let's start with the engine. The BMW 335i uses an N55 engine, a 3.0L single turbocharged inline six. This engine produces 300 BHP between 5800-6000 rpm and 407 NM of torque available between 1200-5000 rpm. Comparatively, the 435i uses an N55 engine also, but it is the newer N55 engine which is a 3.0L single turbocharged inline six that is rated at 320 BHP between 5800-6000 rpm and 450 NM of torque.

There are the BMW 3 and BMW 4 are two compact executive luxury cars. They're a pair of fantastic cars that combine European styling, world-class performance and handling with a premium image. They are interchangeable in performance and price, but dig a little deeper and you will soon discover key differences that delineate the two. This comparison seeks to shed a little more light on each model's unique traits by comparing the 335i with the 435i.

2.1. Engine power and torque

Although there is less variety of engines than the BMW 3 series, all the engines in the BMW 4 series are considerably more powerful in comparison. The 428i and 430i both share outputs of 252hp and 350Nm of torque, accomplished by the latter by only a slight increase in 500rpm. The 440i has a turbocharged six-cylinder engine and an output of 326hp and 450Nm of torque. At the top of the range is the 435d xDrive which carries a three-litre engine with 313hp and a monstrous 630Nm of torque at 1500-2500rpm. All of the engines in the BMW 4 series come with two more cylinders and are only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission, but the 430i and 430d models come with an option of four-wheel drive for an extra cost.

The engine is the heart of a car, and both the BMW 3 series and BMW 4 series have powerful hearts. The BMW 3 series has a variety of gasoline and diesel engines. The most powerful gasoline engine can be found in the 340i and 340i xDrive where the six-cylinder engine has an output of 320hp and 450Nm of torque. In addition to the gasoline engines, BMW 3 series can be purchased with a three-cylinder engine with 136hp and 220Nm of torque. The engine that delivers the most value is the 320d EfficientDynamics engine which has an output of 163hp and 400Nm of torque. Despite only being slightly more powerful than the base 320i (184hp and 270Nm of torque), this engine is the most efficient in the lineup. All the engines in the BMW 3 series have an eight-speed automatic transmission, while a manual transmission is available specifically for the 318d and 340i models. The sole M3 model carries a three-litre turbocharged engine (it's much more peaceful than the V8 in the previous generation M3) which has outputs of 431hp and 550Nm of torque.

2.2. Acceleration and top speed

This is a very important factor to consider for any car purchase as it will influence how the car will perform on the road. The acceleration time from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) is less than 1 second apart for the 3 series and 4 series, which basically reveals that they are on par in terms of acceleration. Both these cars are available in the option of xDrive so this applies to both rear wheel and all wheel driving machinery. Where top speeds are concerned, in this day and age of speed cameras, road traffic safety systems and very stringent highway laws (thanks Germany) top speeds are generally irrelevant unless you really do take your car to the track on a regular basis. This is because the speeds that cars can legally clock on most public roads will not require a car to be capable of anything more than 200 km/h (124 mph). BMW comply to this by limiting the top speeds of their cars to 250 km/h (155 mph). This will not need to be discussed much more in future as the EU have now approved legislation to make speed limiting devices on all vehicles mandatory from 2022.

2.3. Handling and driving experience

The 3-series is available with several different suspension and steering options. All are well-tuned and give a firm ride with a little bit of body motion. The optional sport suspension, available through the Sport Package or an M Sport line, firms that even further but is still more compliant than some people might expect, and it keeps the body better controlled. An Adaptive M Suspension package, also introduced last year, offers electronically controlled damping and an adjustable mode for the suspension, while the top 335i and ActiveHybrid 3 models get an M Sport setup. On 3-series models, all-season and performance tires are offered. In 3-series models, most people get the standard setup with its quick, precise electric power steering, and that's definitely the recommendation. By all accounts, it's better than the hydraulic setup that was offered previously. Active Steering, which varies the ratio and effort, doesn't really add that much to the driving experience; so unless you really want or need the easier parking and maneuverability that it brings, we'd stay away from it. Step up to the 4 Series and the standard electric power steering has specific tuning and calibration compared to its predecessor. According to BMW, the goal was to have it feel more direct and precise than the 3 Series even if the actual ratio remained the same. This is a mixed bag, however, as while electric power steering aficionados will definitely prefer the 4 Series, the rest will likely find the 3 Series subjectively better. All-wheel drive 3 Series have a mechanical steering rack and not the faster variable sport steering introduced for the 2013 model year.

3. Design and Features

Both the 3 Series and the 4 Series GranCoupe are on the same platform, with identical wheelbase, weighing only a few kilograms apart, so a slight difference in terms of space and practicality might only be apparent when actually experienced in person. The 3 Series won't have it easy though, with the 4 Series GranCoupe looking poised and sporting more aggressive dimensions compared to the 3 Series. The longer frame, wider track, and lower stance compared to the 3 Series will give it an edge in terms of looks. Moving on to interior comfort and technology, it's the 3 Series that pulls one back. The 4 Series GranCoupe has more luxury and features compared with the standard 3 series. A more comfortable interior clad in fine trim and more features such as a rearview camera, extended connectivity options, and a powered tailgate may make heads rethink their preference for the 3 series. Its seating configuration also makes it suitable for 4 adults with minimal compromise of the elegant look, compared with 5 adults in the 3 Series which may seem slightly cramped. However, both models will have a good ride quality and minimal noise and vibration. Step up the range and there is also an M Sport package available for both models, offering a more dynamic appearance and better interior ambience, enhancing driving comfort with minimal compromise to ride quality. This is the segment where the GranCoupe might just overshadow the 3 Series. Safety features and driver assistance share equal points for both models. Featuring lane departure and forward collision warning, pedestrians can be more assured with these vehicles present. Adaptive headlights are also part of the package which provide better visibility in night driving. Both models are fitted with Dynamic Stability Control and intelligent airbag systems, coupled with an impact sensor to unlock hazard lights and interior lights, and also disconnect the alternator and starter from the battery, automatically unlock doors, and turn on hazard and interior lights. In the event of an activation of airbags or safety belt tensioners, a call is automatically made with the car's location and relevant accident information. This will in turn summon immediate assistance to the accident location. The 4 Series GranCoupe and 3 Series both received the Top Safety Pick+ rating from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), earning a good rating in all five test categories (Good rating is the highest possible). These vehicles are also equipped with optional xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive system, an added advantage to driving safety in adverse weather conditions.

3.1. Exterior styling and body design

The new 4 Series commences on a well-founded platform. BMW has not officially confirmed whether the 4 Series will be a spin-off of the existing 3 Series sedan or will be based on an upcoming 3 Series coupe. The weight and dimensions will undoubtedly remain similar, however, as will the driving dynamics. The body is lower and wider than the BMW 3 Series, with short overhangs and a longer wheelbase. The sleek profile of the 4 Series is a result of a roofline that is 2 inches lower and further emphasizes the differentiation between the two models. It is highly likely that the coupe will evoke a more emotive response in the styling departments, meaning that overall, it is being perceived that the design of the 4 Series will convey a more extravagant picture than the 3 Series.

BMW 3 Series is currently available in its seventh generation. The new sport sedan is noticeably larger than the former model, particularly the wheelbase which has extended by 4.1 inches. Interestingly, the width and height dimensions have also increased, but only by half an inch on each end. Although the design has necessarily evolved, the BMW 3 Series still resembles the car it launched back in 1975. The signature kidney grille, Hofmeister kink, and four round headlights are design cues that have stood the test of time and remain important elements of the 3 Series identity.

3.2. Interior comfort and technology

As the 3 series is the successor in terms of market size, it's interesting to note that the wheelbase has been altered to give it 50mm more legroom. A driver who is not a car enthusiast may not be able to tell the impact of a longer wheelbase, but anyone who has driven a front and rear-wheel-drive version of the same car knows how much better and more balanced the car feels with a longer wheelbase. The 4 series has 80mm less rear legroom. This shows BMW's intention to have the 3 series as their largest volume-selling car and the 4 series as a more selective purchase for driving enthusiasts. A practicality feature that both cars have is the 40-20-40 split folding rear seats, which is now offered as standard. It always amazes me how some car manufacturers see folding seats as an optional extra. (D'Agostino, 2022)

For the interior, both cars are similar in design with a modern and high-quality look. The 3 series has a more functional layout with an emphasis on driver ergonomics. Everything from the gear lever, instruments, and I-drive system are slightly angled to face the driver, making it a more user-friendly experience. The 4 series has a sportier interior with heavily bolstered front seats to hold the driver and passenger tight during hard cornering. Run-flat tires are also standard on the 4 series, so having these seats makes more sense. Both cars come with the I-drive operating system and now have a touch screen display. This is a big development from previous models that used to have the screen separate from the controller. Both systems are similar in functionality, but due to new software, the 4 series will have the next-generation I-drive system and will be faster than the two.

3.3. Safety features and driver assistance

Bmw 3 comes equipped with a range of features to make our ride not only enjoyable but safe as well. It includes Active Driving Assistant, which comprises of Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, 360-degree camera, and Park Distance Control. The camera system gives a 3D view of the surrounding, eliminating all the blind spots, and park distance control gives steering input guidance to park in tight spots. Aside from that, for regular driving, there is a dash-mounted camera which helps in recording the footage and vehicle's speed for up to 20 seconds in case of any accident automatically or with a push of a button and automatically saving it. It also has an intelligent emergency call which in an event of a collision, a call automatically lands on BMW call center for the passengers and in case of no response or if help is needed, then help is dispatched to the vehicle's location. Also, for teens learning driving, BMW provides a speed limiter with an alarm if the limit is crossed. On the other hand, safety features of BMW 4 are great as well. It includes Active Driving Assistant and for better driving performance under adverse weather conditions, at higher speeds, around hairpin turns, or when quick lane changes are required, BMW 4 comes with Dynamic Handling Package which not only helps in maintaining control over the vehicle when it's needed most but also gives additional comfort and safety in day-to-day driving.

3.4. Customization options

Customization of a car is almost as important as the options you can choose from in the first place. If you can't make it your own, in the end, it doesn't really feel like your car. Thankfully, both the 3 and 4 series come with a wide range of ways to personalize your vehicle. The 3 Series has a large array of interior and exterior choices. The exterior offers a range of 12 colors along with an optional metallic paint. All of these cars come with halogen headlights standard, but the option for xenon or LED lights is available, with or without the iconic BMW "angel eyes." The "line" packages offer a set of wheels and unique trim with the choice between modern, sport, luxury, and M sport. The sport line offers black high gloss trim and high gloss black wheels, the luxury line offers chrome accents and a choice of 2 different wheels, and the M sport package offers an aerodynamic kit, estoril blue paint, and a unique steering wheel along with the rest of the typical M series accents. These "line" packages are not to be confused with choosing a specific model as outlined with the differences with the 4 series, as these are options available for each model. Finally, there are choice of 8 different types of wood and aluminum trims to further differentiate the interior, along with optional leatherette or a variety of real leathers in 9 different colors. BMW claims the 4 Series offers a "higher degree of personalization." While this is somewhat true, it's likely this statement is meant to help differentiate the 4 series from its "3 series equivalent" especially considering the cars are almost identical underneath. The exterior has the same choice of 12 colors along with the metallic paint option. The difference comes with the availability of the "individual" option which offers the choice of more unique paint, and also the choice of BMW individual high gloss shadow line, and BMW individual 19" wheels. There is a choice between 9 different wheels, each with its own unique style. The interior has even more options than the 3 series with the choice of 3 different colored dashes along with more wood and aluminum trims to go along with 11 different leather choices. This is in addition to slightly different "line" packages for each model along with its own unique available M sport package. Overall, it would appear as if BMW has slight intentions of making the price gap between the two cars a bit more justifiable with offering more options for the 4. This is only an overview of the extensive options, ask your local dealer for more if needed! (Weiss et al.2021)

4. Pricing and Value

4.1. Base price and trim levels Both the 3-series and 4-series have a similar base price, $39,000 for the 428i and $38,700 for the 320i. But the 3-series offers a wider range of trim levels and engine options. This means there is more flexibility and choice if you are willing to spend more. On the other hand, the 4-series has only 2 engines, 28i and 35i. The aim of this is to ensure there is a clearly defined distinction between the 3 and 4 series platforms, and perhaps to push more sales of the 335i. The first thing you notice when sitting inside a new BMW. On the opposite side, at the time of buying a new BMW the product silhouettes for the 3 and 4 series are too similar. The 4 series has a more up to date and modern feel to the interior. This is reflective of the fact that it is newer and the price to pay for a more luxurious feeling surroundings at the time of buying. In terms of the future, the 3 series BMWs are going to date quickly and not be worth as much as the 4 series examples from the same time. After a few years, that 320i you bought for $38,700 is going to be unsellable and only tradeable for a couple of grand. On the other hand, it is likely the 428i will retain more of its value and be a more desirable car. This is important for resale value and the long term investment which are covered next.

4.1. Base price and trim levels

When it comes to buying a car, everyone wants to ensure that they are getting the most for their money. When considering between the 3 series and the 4 series, pricing is a very large factor to take into consideration. The base price for the 3 series is $32,950 for the 320i which is the cheapest model, but if you are looking for the more powerful and performance-oriented models such as the 335i and the 335d, be prepared to pay at least $43,000. This is a very similar story for the 4 series as the base price for the 428i is higher than that of the 320i at $41,950. Also, a big thing to note is that the 4 series is not available as a hybrid or diesel, so if you are anti-gas guzzler, the 3 series may be the way to go. Step up to the 435i and be prepared to pay at least $48,000 which is pretty pricey considering you still don't get navigation or leather as standard. When going from the lower-level trims to the higher-end models, the price gap is very significant. And to add the navigation, leather, and other options it may be another $5000 which may shy people away considering the price has already gone up. Now although at first it may seem like the price that you are paying extra for the 4 series isn't worth it, the features that you get as standard or even as an add-on in comparison to the 3 series are better. This brings us to the trim levels. Though the base price for the 3 series is significantly cheaper, the options between trim levels are limited. For the 320i, not many options are available. Moving up to the 328i gives a lot more options, and even more for the 335i. These cars aren't cheap and by the time you add the options you want, it is becoming more expensive. The 4 series, on the other hand, has more standard features as well as more packages for each level, so there is a lot more variety to decide what options are most appealing and may suit your needs. All in all, if you are looking for a car that is less on options and simplicity with a lower base price, the 3 series is the way to go. However, if you don't mind spending a little extra, the features that you get in the 4 series will leave you more satisfied.

4.2. Cost of ownership and maintenance

This one builds off the last section, so let's be honest, if you're comparing a 3 and a 4 series, you likely plan to keep the car for a few years. A recurring monthly cost of your vehicle is the depreciation, insurance cost, and fuel cost. It is well documented by highly acclaimed reviewer H.T. who states that a 4 series will hold significantly more value than a 3 series over time, and for this reason, he actually advises potential 3 series buyers to look at a 1-year-old 4 series, arguing that buyers can expect only a small difference in the sales price of the 2 cars. The margin in insurance cost between a 3 series and 4 series is very minimal; however, fuel cost is again documented to be slightly more in the 4 series. All in all, the total recurring cost of a 4 series is very similar to that of a 3 series. The total value of the car over time does depend greatly on how well the car has been maintained mechanically and aesthetically. This is an area where the 4 series will cost more to the owner in maintenance for the running gear such as shocks and wheel components due to it being a heavier car with a more complicated suspension design. An example is a set of 4 shocks for a 3 series is roughly £500 for the parts and £200 labor at an independent garage. This is in contrast to a set of shocks for a 4 series, which are £1000 for the parts and £400 labor. However, the higher residual value of the car will offset the increased running and parts costs for the 4 series compared to the 3 series, and this is the main thing to consider for the 2 cars combined. The 3 series will likely cost less to maintain, but this won't be reflected in the value over time. So realistically, the 4 series is not much more expensive in the grand scheme of things and carries a much higher relativity of status from the car to the money spent on it.

4.3. Resale value and long-term investment

It is unfair to give a solid idea of long-term reliability and maintenance for the 4 series because the car is still too new. On the other hand, the 3 series has had its low points for issues and concerns, but overall the combination of a reliable car with lower maintenance costs and a better repair record can be another tipping factor in steering towards a 3 series for a longer term of ownership.

Looking at long-term investment, the 3 series actually would be a better choice. Reason being, the newer 4 series is going to be the current body style for the next 7 years. Introduced in 2014, a BMW model will remain the current model style for 7 years before BMW switches it up. This gives the 4 series a shorter lifespan and less time for improvements and added features compared to the 3 series with a longer cycle and more time for improvements between buying a 3 vs buying a 4.

Chances are if you are in the market for a BMW, you are looking for a vehicle you can enjoy in the moment and also possibly hold its value for when you are done with it. So what's the deal here? Doesn't it seem like the 3 series historically holds its value better than any other car? This could almost be a separate section, but let's combine resale value and long-term investment as one. The 4 series has only been around for a few years now and has not done so well with its resale value. The 4 series is viewed as somewhat of a 3 series with 2 doors, and with that comes a direct comparison. The newer style and cheaper price is not fooling the buyers as the 4 series' sale to original list price percentage is only 55.4.


Apolinarii, S., 2020. Assembly and Instalation of an Engine Control Module. theseus.fi

Ditzen, J., Karavias, Y., & Westerlund, J., 2021. Testing and estimating structural breaks in time series and panel data in Stata. arXiv preprint arXiv:2110.14550. [PDF]

Zhou, C., Liu, P., Xu, P., Iyer, S., Sun, J., Mao, Y., Ma, X., Efrat, A., Yu, P., Yu, L. and Zhang, S., 2024. Lima: Less is more for alignment. Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems, 36. neurips.cc

D'Agostino, S., 2022. Development of a lightweight and modular steering system for a highly efficient competition prototype vehicle. polito.it

Weiss, N., Schreieck, M., Wiesche, M. and Krcmar, H., 2021. From Product to Platform: How can BMW compete with Platform Giants?. Journal of Information Technology Teaching Cases, 11(2), pp.90-100. sagepub.com