Road & Track Pits the E90 vs F30 in a 3 Series Battle

Road and Track and writer Jason Cammisa wanted to see just how good the new F30 328i 3 Series was. So they pitted it against the best four door sports sedan they could find – the previous E90 3 Series. The winner may surprise you. Or not.


Our old 328i’s base seat and steering wheel aren’t as comfortable as this new car’s sport-package setup, but all of its interior materials feel a full class more expensive than the new car’s. And that’s everywhere, from the switchgear to the center console to the glove box. In back, the difference is more pronounced, where the new car feels rental-car grade. Its trunk space is bigger on paper but no more usable.

The new car’s electrically assisted power steering is quite good (and, thanks to software updates, will likely get better), but it’s not great, and when it occasionally communicates what the chassis is doing, it tells you what just happened. The E90’s hydraulic steering, by contrast, tells you what’s about to happen. That’s an important distinction as you’re approaching the limits of a car’s suspension: “Dude, you’re sideways” is a different thing from “Don’t feed in any more throttle, because your rear tires are about to break traction.”

Read on for the full opinion. And when you’re done come back and give us yours. Does the E90 really stand up to the high-tech F30?


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  • Frank Granados

    I have driven many F30 328i automatic loaners, and while a nice and competent car, I tend to agree with much that was said in the R&T article cited above. For starters, the steering feel/feedback of the E90 is head and shoulders above that of the F30, even in full sport mode. I would go even further as to say the EPS steering setup in the Clubman S is far better than that of the F30, so it goes to show that BMW is indeed capable of dialing in an all electric steering steup with the right amount of feedback. The N20 engine is quick and has lots of down end torque but it lacks the finesse and “Turbine like” smooth power delivery of the N52 I-6 in the E90 328i. Needless to say, the N20 sounds like a tractor at idle due to the Diret Injection setup. A $45,000+ “Luxury” car that sounds like a MINI Cooper from the outside. The engine runs out of steam past 5,500 RPM, where as the N52 is still building up power (While making beautiful sounds that add an amazing thrill to any drive) due to its higher red line. In terms of fuel economy, the N20 only gives you about 1.5-2.0 MPG more fuel economy than the N52. Not a huge difference (As noted in the article) yet BMW has sacrificed the “Crown Jewel” the reason why a 3-series was a cut above any other sedan in the market with sporting pretensions…. The straight six normally aspirated engine, 50/50 weight distribution and sublime steering and handling characteristics. The ASS (Auto start-stop system) is annoying and I am always find myself turning it off from the switch every time I start the car. It feels rough and unrefined. The rest of the car is mostly OK, but nothing that makes me feel like I am losing out by not owning an F30. Some interior materials feel cheaper (Namely the center console), the electronic shifter is annoying at times, the A/C is not as good at colling down the car as my 2011 E90, some of the buttons and switch gear feel cheaper to the touch. It annoys me that the F30 has incandescent bulbs instead of LEDs as my LCI ’11 328i. I am not a huge fan of the front end of the vehicle and how the hood cuts before the end of the car. Pluses of the car are the ZF 8 speed automatic (But I feels it downshifts and upshifts way too much in citiy traffic), the front seats are very comfy and the rear has a bit more leg and head room. Trunk is not that bigger compared to the E90. I love the Dakota Saddle brown interior in my E90. The door cards feature full leather for the lenght of the door, not the case in the F30. The plastics and switch gear feel more expensive and solid. And love the fact that my car is devoid of ay annoying and trickery computer screens and i-Drive which while improve it does get in your nerves. Here in 2013 I can still use my hands to turn the knobs of the stereo. I don’t like that the i-drive navigation screen in the F30 is non-retractable. As a secondary car or to give to my wife, I think the F30 320i or 328i is a good bet. But I will never replace my LCI E90 328i with the current pre-LCI F30. No way, no how. It remains to be seen if BMW will further improve the F30 LCI (2016-2017) to spark my interest. But for now, the sublime N52 and superb hydraulic steering in my E90 is what BMW’s of yore used to be all about: Sheer Driving Pleasure!.

  • Frank Granados

    By the way, my ’11 E90 has the base suspension with 17″ wheels and I still think it beats hands down the base suspension of the F30. The way BMW has packaged the F30, it appears to have to be willing to spend more money by ordering the car with sports package, active steering system, etc, so to improve and probably match the handling of an E90 with or without sports package.

  • Frank Granados

    I also wanted to say that a 2006 E90 330i will slaughter a new F30 328i any day of the week. The 330i was an incredible car and for a 7+ year design to still stand up so well against an all new generation, it just speaks volumes as to how well engineered and conceived the E90 really was.

    • plesg

      Slaughter how? I still own my E90 330i and my F30 328i M Sport is an improvement over the E90 in every way possible. Still love the E90, but the F30 leaves me gobsmacked! Buy one, you will know what I am talking about. The F30 328i is faster than the E90 330i also 0-100.

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    This really isn’t surprising- we talked about this when the car launched.

    The reality is, BMW is just fulfilling the needs of customers differently- you can still get nearly the same drive but it requires an option package as the base car is softer (what the vast majority of consumers want), with the sports line being what was base and M sport what sport used to be.

    For years BMW’s sales were flat and it wasn’t because of pricing, style or any of that – it was because most consumers wanted a softer car, less weight in the steering etc. and went to other brands to get that. Now BMW is catering to the full market spectrum.

    Back in ’02 I recall my wife getting an A4 because the ride was a little less harsh and the steering was “easier”, she preferred the brakes, handling and style of the BMW but went with the Audi because it was less sporty…. as time has gone on BMW realized that and has adapted.

    The other thing to consider (and is more glaring to me now) is that the vast majority of roads in the US are crap- plain and simple, and driving on said crap roads with a car that is stiff, has weighted steering and tons of road feel maybe a little less than desirable to most; here in Germany the opposite would be true. I hope to write a piece about this in the future.

    I love the E9X platform, but the F30 has its sweet spots as well.

    • Adam

      Well stated Michael, even still though many will be oblivious to the above stated facts and bitch, I’m just used to it now. I recently had to explain to a friend of mine why an M3 isn’t carbon clad like an Enzo and all my facts, figures and realities went in one ear and out the other. Seems like people live in this fantasy world where everything should drive, look and sound like a group C car. End rant

  • Evan

    The E9X cars are superior drivers. There is no way around it. I remain utterly disappointed in the F3X vehicles from a dynamic standpoint. You have to order a RWD, sports suspension equipped F30 and always press the sport button to get to 80% of what the base E90 gives you without any of those specifics. I’ll have to keep my 2012 E91 forever. Maybe one day BMW will fix it’s mistake, but if sales are good it won’t. It’ll simply abandon its core enthusiasts who got it there in the first place. I keep thinking maybe it’s not as bad as my first impression, so I go for another F30 test drive and realize that how I initially felt holds….

    • Frank Granados

      Same here. My 2011 328i is one very satisfying drive and the car is just a well rounded and complete package. Love its simplicity and driver focused demeanor. No computer screens no sport, comfort buttons, no ASS, no trickery. Just what BMWs used to be and what made them a cut above the rest. Current management is heel bent into turning BMW into the German Hyundai. What a sad state of affairs when well spoken marketing czars take hold over every aspect of the organization.

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        The E9X 328i is a great machine, no doubt about it. There is a good reason why BMW is keeping it around for a while- at least underpinning the X1 and future offerings in China.

        What surprises me still to this day is that the BMW Group doesn’t have a dead platform brand- like Skoda/SEAT for VAG. They could have bought a half way decent brand name (SAAB for example) and used the old reliable guts of the previous generation to make a sub premium brand. Build them in South Africa/US and make a pretty penny as the tech is all paid off and it really is just material and labor per vehicle. Skoda does well as does SEAT in the EU and they are compelling from a price standpoint and lack of technology…. everything one needs for economies of scale and trying to take over the world 🙂

        • Frank Granados

          Funny that you mentioned South Africa because that’s were my 328i was manufactured (Rosslyn Plant). The car is rock solid and it feels like it was built to windstand rugged conditions. Fit and finish is top notch. In fact when I learned the car was a SA build I became even more interested in it. I agree 100% in regards to a dead platform brand. I think BMW would have done wonders to SAAB as I think the cars and the brand were well worth another lease in life. The E9X platform lives on the X1. While I am not a crossover type of guy, I would seriously consider one as the car feels 100% familiar to me behind the wheel. Too bad, one has to opt for the XDrive model to get hydraulic power steering as the RWD SDrive model gets EPS instead. I could even make an exception for the N20 as it seems to be apt in the X1 application. I originally considered getting a CPO E91 touring but those are nearly impossible to come by in South Florida. A terrific package that could be had with RWD and a manual and far more appealing than the X1.

          • Chas58

            “I originally considered getting a CPO E91 touring but those are nearly impossible to come by in South Florida. A terrific package that could be had with RWD and a manual and far more appealing than the X1.”

            I’ll have to call you if I ever need to sell my car. 😉

  • Chas58

    It seems with BMW, the last generation was always the best driver’s car. Certainly the E30 and E46 had some nice driver’s cars. Still, it is early in the F30 lifecycle to be missing the previous generation. Usually it takes the press much longer to identify the faults of the newest model.

    The E90 isn’t perfect. People praise the N52 in the 328. While it is magically smooth, it sounds horrible in spite of what the press says. My car didn’t have the “acoustic reward” of a “musical straight-six.” When driven hard it just whines and hisses. The “acoustic reward largely absent” in that car. Every time I hear how nice the 328 sounds, I wonder what people are talking about and what car they drove?

    With a different intake and Exhaust (including the funky flap), the 2006 330i does sound like a straight 6 BMW should. Quiet under normal driving, with a howl under high rpm acceleration. Unfortunately the e90 330’s lack of an e-diff leads to too much traction control or wheel spin. Personally with my 2008 328, I changed the intake and exhaust just to capture that experience. The DNA is there, it just has to be unleashed.

    One bit of computer trickery: my e91 328 does get a button pressed every time I get in it: the DST button. Without that pressed, it hesitates and bucks just like an old car with a bad carburetor. Bumps, undulations, asphalt patches, railroad tracks etc. cause the engine to cut power and ruin drivability. It is nutz how conservative that system is. Thank goodness it has 3 settings (on/ reduced thresholds/off) and the e-diff.

    E90 was a great platform. The lack of engine sound, mushy bushings (presumably because of the runflats) and over intrusive traction control, hide the car’s potential, but those things are not very hard to fix (if you are not leasing a car).

  • 06E90330i

    I am very thankful for my ultra low mileage E90 330i as it appears to be the last 3-Series I will own. Sad given I have owned E30s, E36, & the E46. I have driven several F30 loaners, I would not give up my E90 for one.

    • plesg

      You need to drive an F30 M Sport, forget the others, I still have my E90 330i, use it for the dogs and shopping centres as not as worried about parking dents. I just bought an F30 M Sport 328i Sapphire Black 12/13, almost didn’t due to all the negative comments online, glad I trusted my instincts! Get to know the F30 and its capabilities and youll be blown away!