2019 BMW 3-Series First Drive: Doing Everything, To Its Detriment

Competition breeds diversity. It's good for life, good for our economy, and, in the auto industry, good for drivers. For the longest time, the BMW 3-Series was the gold standard; the king of the hill; the very best choice in the compact luxury sedan segment. BMW's compact was so competitive, so balanced in terms of driving refinement, engagement, luxury, and style, that it dominated the segment for decades. The 3-Series was a driver's car that appealed to everyone.

But the competition – as it often does in life and in business – caught up. Competitors started to exploit the 3-Series' balanced approach, each outdoing it in one particular area. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class became more luxurious and premium, the Audi A4 added class-leading technology, and the Alfa Romeo Giulia, new as it is, is better to drive. And despite the improvements in the 2020 BMW 3-Series, those rankings stand. Long an asset, the 3's do-everything approach is now a handicap.

The new 3-Series, code-named G20, is a vast improvement over the last-generation car, the F30, though. That was evident at every bend in the road, as we sampled the 2020 3-Series in southern Portugal.

The new design, both inside and out, is a leap forward compared to last year's car, even if it's grown substantially. The 3-Series borrows the same expressive face pioneered on the 5- and 7-Series, giving even the base sedan a wider, sportier character. The ...