2018 BMW 3 Series Sedan vs. 2017 Volkswagen Passat

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

The 3 Series Sedan’s optional pre-crash front seatbelts will tighten automatically in the event the vehicle detects an impending crash, improving protection against injury significantly. The Passat doesn’t offer pre-crash pretensioners.

The 3 Series Sedan has standard Active Head Restraints, which use a specially designed headrest to protect the driver and front passenger from whiplash. During a rear-end collision, the Active Head Restraints system moves the headrests forward to prevent neck and spine injuries. The Passat doesn’t offer a whiplash protection system.

The 3 Series Sedan offers all-wheel drive to maximize traction under poor conditions, especially in ice and snow. The Passat doesn’t offer all-wheel drive.

The 3 Series Sedan (except 320i) offers an optional Surround View to allow the driver to see objects all around the vehicle on a screen. The Passat only offers a rear monitor and front and rear parking sensors that beep or flash a light. That doesn’t help with obstacles to the sides.

Both the 3 Series Sedan and the Passat have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, plastic fuel tanks, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, daytime running lights, rearview cameras, available crash mitigating brakes, lane departure warning systems and blind spot warning systems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does 35 MPH front crash tests on new vehicles. In this test, results indicate that the BMW 3 Series Sedan is safer than the Volkswagen Passat:

 

3 Series Sedan

Passat

 

Driver

STARS

4 Stars

4 Stars

HIC

232

312

Neck Injury Risk

36%

39%

Neck Stress

345 lbs.

391 lbs.

 

Passenger

STARS

5 Stars

4 Stars

HIC

150

384

Chest Compression

.6 inches

.8 inches

Neck Injury Risk

32%

41%

Neck Stress

115 lbs.

297 lbs.

Neck Compression

44 lbs.

85 lbs.

New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does side impact tests on new vehicles. In this test, which crashes the vehicle into a flat barrier at 38.5 MPH and into a post at 20 MPH, results indicate that the BMW 3 Series Sedan is safer than the Volkswagen Passat:

 

3 Series Sedan

Passat

 

Front Seat

STARS

5 Stars

5 Stars

Hip Force

184 lbs.

247 lbs.

 

Into Pole

STARS

5 Stars

5 Stars

HIC

291

305

Spine Acceleration

38 G’s

44 G’s

Hip Force

513 lbs.

671 lbs.

New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.

Instrumented handling tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and analysis of its dimensions indicate that the 3 Series Sedan, with its five-star roll-over rating, is 1.2% less likely to roll over than the Passat, which received a four-star rating.

For its top level performance in all IIHS frontal, side, rear impact and roof-crush tests, with its optional front crash prevention system, and its available headlight’s “Acceptable” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the 3 Series Sedan its highest rating: “Top Pick Plus” for 2017, a rating granted to only 60 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Passat is only a standard “Top Pick” for 2017.

Warranty

The 3 Series Sedan comes with a full 4 year/50,000 mile basic warranty, which covers the entire car and includes 24 hour roadside assistance. The Passat’s 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty expires 1 year and 14,000 miles sooner.

BMW pays for scheduled maintenance on the 3 Series Sedan for 3 years and 36,000 miles. BMW will pay for oil changes, lubrication and any other required maintenance. Volkswagen doesn’t pay scheduled maintenance for the Passat.

Reliability

To reliably power the ignition and other systems and to recharge the battery, the 3 Series Sedan has a standard 170-amp alternator (180-amp - 3 Series Sedan Diesel). The Passat’s 140-amp alternator isn’t as powerful.

To reliably start during all conditions and help handle large electrical loads, the 3 Series Sedan has a standard 900-amp battery. The Passat’s standard 570-amp battery and largest (V6/diesel) 640 amp battery aren’t as powerful.

The battery on the 3 Series Sedan is in the trunk, which protects it from hot underhood temperatures which can degrade battery life. By keeping the 3 Series Sedan’s battery 20 to 30 degrees cooler, its life is increased by years. The Passat’s battery is in the hot engine compartment.

A reliable vehicle saves its owner time, money and trouble. Nobody wants to be stranded or have to be without a vehicle while it’s being repaired. Consumer Reports rates the 3 Series Sedan’s reliability 36 points higher than the Passat.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2017 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that BMW vehicles are better in initial quality than Volkswagen vehicles. J.D. Power ranks BMW 6th in initial quality, above the industry average. With 5 more problems per 100 vehicles, Volkswagen is ranked 10th.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2016 survey of the owners of three-year-old vehicles provides the long-term dependability statistics that show that BMW vehicles are more reliable than Volkswagen vehicles. J.D. Power ranks BMW 14th in reliability, above the industry average. With 27 more problems per 100 vehicles, Volkswagen is ranked 25th.

From surveys of all its subscribers, Consumer Reports’ April 2017 Auto Issue reports that BMW vehicles are more reliable than Volkswagen vehicles. Consumer Reports ranks BMW 14 places higher in reliability than Volkswagen.

Engine

The 3 Series Sedan has more powerful engines than the Passat:

 

Horsepower

Torque

320i 2.0 turbo 4 cyl.

180 HP

200 lbs.-ft.

330i 2.0 turbo 4 cyl.

248 HP

258 lbs.-ft.

340i 3.0 turbo 6 cyl.

320 HP

330 lbs.-ft.

Passat 1.8T turbo 4 cyl.

170 HP

184 lbs.-ft.

Passat 3.6 DOHC V6

280 HP

258 lbs.-ft.

The 3 Series Sedan’s 2.0 turbo diesel produces 10 more horsepower (180 vs. 170) and 96 lbs.-ft. more torque (280 vs. 184) than the Passat 1.8T’s standard 1.8 turbo 4 cyl. The 3 Series Sedan’s 2.0 turbo diesel produces 22 lbs.-ft. more torque (280 vs. 258) than the Passat’s optional 3.6 DOHC V6.

As tested in Car and Driver the 330i is faster than the Volkswagen Passat V6 (automatics tested):

 

3 Series

Passat

Zero to 30 MPH

2 sec

2.7 sec

Zero to 60 MPH

5.6 sec

6.3 sec

Zero to 100 MPH

14.7 sec

15.1 sec

Passing 50 to 70 MPH

3.9 sec

4.2 sec

Quarter Mile

14.2 sec

14.8 sec

Top Speed

155 MPH

126 MPH

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the 328d RWD gets better fuel mileage than the Passat 1.8T Auto (31 city/43 hwy vs. 23 city/34 hwy).

On the EPA test cycle the 3 Series Sedan gets better fuel mileage than the Passat:

 

 

3 Series

Passat

 

2WD

320i/Manual

23 city/35 hwy

n/a

 

 

320i/Auto

24 city/35 hwy

23 city/34 hwy

1.8T/Auto

 

330i/Auto

24 city/34 hwy

n/a

 

 

340i/Auto

21 city/32 hwy

20 city/28 hwy

V6/Auto

AWD

340i/Auto

21 city/31 hwy

n/a

 

Regenerative brakes improve the 3 Series Sedan’s fuel efficiency by converting inertia back into energy instead of wasting it. The Passat doesn’t offer a regenerative braking system.

In heavy traffic or at stoplights the 3 Series Sedan’s engine automatically turns off when the vehicle is stopped, saving fuel and reducing pollution. The engine is automatically restarted when the driver gets ready to move again. (Start/Stop isn’t accounted in present EPA fuel mileage tests.) The Passat doesn’t offer an automatic engine start/stop system.

Transmission

An eight-speed automatic is available on the BMW 3 Series Sedan, for better acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. Only a six-speed automatic is available for the Passat.

Brakes and Stopping

For better stopping power the 340i’s brake rotors are larger than those on the Passat:

 

340i

Passat

Front Rotors

13.4 inches

12.3 inches

Rear Rotors

13 inches

10.7 inches

The 3 Series Sedan’s standard front and rear disc brakes are vented to help dissipate heat for shorter stops with less fading. The rear discs on the Passat are solid, not vented.

The 3 Series Sedan stops much shorter than the Passat:

 

3 Series

Passat

 

70 to 0 MPH

159 feet

191 feet

Car and Driver

60 to 0 MPH

107 feet

130 feet

Motor Trend

60 to 0 MPH (Wet)

139 feet

147 feet

Consumer Reports

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the 3 Series Sedan has larger standard tires than the Passat (225/50R17 vs. 215/55R17).

The 3 Series Sedan’s standard tires provide better handling because they have a lower 50 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Passat S’ standard 60 series tires. The 3 Series Sedan’s optional 255/35R19 rear tires have a lower 35 series profile than the Passat R-Line’s optional 40 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the 3 Series Sedan has standard 17-inch wheels. Smaller 16-inch wheels are standard on the Passat S.

Changing a flat tire near traffic can be dangerous and inconvenient. The run-flat tires available on the 3 Series Sedan can be driven up to 50 miles without any air pressure, allowing you to drive to a service station for a repair. The Passat doesn’t offer run-flat tires.

Suspension and Handling

The 3 Series Sedan has standard front and rear gas-charged shocks for better control over choppy roads. The Passat’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.

The 3 Series Sedan offers an optional driver-adjustable suspension system. It allows the driver to choose between an extra-supple ride, reducing fatigue on long trips, or a sport setting, which allows maximum control for tricky roads. The Passat’s suspension doesn’t offer adjustable shock absorbers.

The 340i xDrive handles at .94 G’s, while the Passat SEL pulls only .79 G’s of cornering force in a Car and Driver skidpad test.

The 340i xDrive executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver 2.5 seconds quicker than the Passat SE (25.6 seconds @ .75 average G’s vs. 28.1 seconds @ .59 average G’s).

Chassis

The 3 Series Sedan is 9.1 inches shorter than the Passat, making the 3 Series Sedan easier to handle, maneuver and park in tight spaces.

As tested by Car and Driver, the interior of the 330i is quieter than the Passat SEL:

 

3 Series Sedan

Passat

At idle

40 dB

40 dB

Full-Throttle

71 dB

78 dB

70 MPH Cruising

66 dB

72 dB

Cargo Capacity

A low lift-over trunk design makes loading and unloading the 3 Series Sedan easier. The 3 Series Sedan’s trunk lift-over height is 26 inches, while the Passat’s liftover is 28.2 inches.

To allow full utilization of available cargo room, the 3 Series Sedan’s trunk lid uses concealed beam hinges that don’t intrude into the trunk. The Passat’s useful trunk space is reduced by its intrusive beam hinge.

Servicing Ease

The 3 Series Sedan uses gas struts to support the hood for easier service access. The Passat uses a prop rod to support its heavy hood. It takes two hands to open the hood and set the prop rod, the prop rod gets in the way during maintenance and service, and the prop rod could be knocked out, causing the heavy hood to fall on the person maintaining or servicing the car.

The engine in the 3 Series Sedan is mounted longitudinally (North-South), instead of sideways, as in the Passat. This makes it easier to service and maintain, because there are no rear spark plugs and the accessory belts are in front.

Ergonomics

The 3 Series Sedan (except 320i) offers an available heads-up display that projects speed and other key instrumentation readouts in front of the driver’s line of sight, allowing drivers to view information without diverting their eyes from the road. The Passat doesn’t offer a heads-up display.

The 3 Series Sedan’s front and rear power windows all open or close fully with one touch of the switches, making it more convenient at drive-up windows and toll booths, or when talking with someone outside the car. The Passat’s rear power window switches have to be held the entire time to open or close them fully.

If the windows are left down on the 3 Series Sedan w/Comfort Access the driver can raise them all using the key in the outside lock cylinder. On a hot day the driver can lower the windows from outside the vehicle using the key in the outside lock cylinder or the keyless remote. The driver of the Passat can only operate the windows from inside the vehicle, with the ignition on.

The 3 Series Sedan’s rain-sensitive wipers adjust their speed and turn on and off automatically based on the amount of rainfall on the windshield. This allows the driver to concentrate on driving without constantly adjusting the wipers. The Passat’s standard manually variable intermittent wipers have to be constantly adjusted.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts detailed tests on headlights for their range both straight ahead and in curves and to be certain they don’t exceed acceptable amounts of glare to oncoming drivers. The 3 Series Sedan’s available headlights were rated “Acceptable” by the IIHS, while the Passat’s headlights are rated “Poor.”

In poor weather, headlights can lose their effectiveness as grime builds up on their lenses. This can reduce visibility without the driver realizing. The 3 Series Sedan offers available headlight washers to keep headlight output high. The Passat doesn’t offer headlight washers.

While driving with high beams on, sensitive light sensors available for the 3 Series Sedan (except 320i) detect other vehicles which could be blinded and automatically switch to low beams. The Passat doesn’t offer automatic dimming high beams.

The Passat SE/SEL’s optional cornering lamps activate a lamp on the front corner when the turn signal is activated. The 3 Series Sedan (except 320i)’s optional adaptive cornering lights turn the actual headlight unit up to several degrees, depending on steering wheel angle and vehicle speed. This lights a significant distance into corners at any speed.

A power rear sunshade is optional in the 3 Series Sedan (except 320i) to help block heat and glare for the rear passengers. The Passat doesn’t offer a rear sunshade.

The 3 Series Sedan’s standard outside mirrors include heating elements to clear off the mirrors for better visibility. Volkswagen only offers heated mirrors on the Passat R-Line/SE/SEL.

When the 3 Series Sedan is put in reverse, the passenger rearview mirror tilts from its original position. This gives the driver a better view of the curb during parallel parking maneuvers. Shifting out of reverse puts the mirror into its original position. The Passat’s mirror doesn’t automatically adjust for backing.

The 3 Series Sedan offers optional automatic dimming rear and side view mirrors which automatically darken quickly when headlights shine on them, keeping following vehicles from blinding or distracting the driver. The Passat offers an automatic rear view mirror, but its side mirrors don’t dim.

On extremely cold Winter days, the 3 Series Sedan’s optional heated steering wheel provides comfort, allowing the driver to steer safely and comfortably before the car heater warms up. The Passat doesn’t offer a heated steering wheel.

Model Availability

The BMW 3 Series comes in sedan, four door hatchback and station wagon bodystyles; the Volkswagen Passat isn’t available as a four door hatchback or station wagon.

Economic Advantages

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the 3 Series Sedan is less expensive to operate than the Passat because typical repairs cost much less on the 3 Series Sedan than the Passat, including $22 less for an alternator, $122 less for a starter, $6 less for a fuel pump and $421 less for a timing belt/chain.

Recommendations

The BMW 3 Series Sedan has won recognition from these important consumer publications:

 

3 Series Sedan

Passat

Consumer Reports® Recommends

TRUE

TRUE

Car Book “Best Bet”

TRUE

FALSE

The 3 Series was chosen as one of Car and Driver’s “Top Ten” for 20 of the last 23 years. The Passat has never been a Car and Driver “Top Ten” pick.

The 3 Series was chosen as one of Automobile Magazine’s “All Stars” for 13 of the last 21 years. The Passat has never been an “All Star.”

The BMW 3 Series outsold the Volkswagen Passat by 80% during 2015.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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