2020 BMW 3 Series Sedan vs. 2019 Volkswagen Golf R

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

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

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests front crash prevention systems. With a score of 6 points, IIHS rates the City Collision Mitigation in the 3 Series Sedan as “Superior.” The Golf R scores only 3 points and is rated only “Advanced.”

The 3 Series Sedan offers an optional Surround View to allow the driver to see objects all around the vehicle on a screen. The Golf R 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 Golf R 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, crash mitigating brakes, daytime running lights, lane departure warning systems, rearview cameras, available all wheel drive, blind spot warning systems and rear cross-path warning.

For its top level performance in IIHS driver and passenger-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side impact, roof strength and head restraint tests, its standard front crash prevention system, and its headlight’s “Good” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the 3 Series Sedan its highest rating: “Top Pick Plus” for 2019, a rating granted to only 46 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Golf R was last qualified as only a standard “Top Pick” in 2017.

Warranty

The 3 Series Sedan comes with free roadside assistance for 4 years unlimited miles. BMW will send help if you run out of gas, need a jump-start, lock your keys in or need any assistance on the road. Volkswagen doesn’t give free roadside assistance for the Golf R.

The 3 Series Sedan’s corrosion warranty is 2 years longer than the Golf R’s (12 vs. 10 years).

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 Golf R.

Reliability

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

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 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 20th in initial quality. With 11 more problems per 100 vehicles, Volkswagen is ranked 25th.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 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 7th in reliability, above the industry average. With 9 more problems per 100 vehicles, Volkswagen is ranked 12th.

From surveys of all its subscribers, Consumer Reports’ December 2018 Auto Issue reports that BMW vehicles are more reliable than Volkswagen vehicles. Consumer Reports ranks BMW 8 places higher in reliability than Volkswagen.

Engine

The 330i’s standard 2.0 turbo 4-cyl. produces 15 lbs.-ft. more torque (295 vs. 280) than the Golf R’s 2.0 turbo 4-cyl. The M340i’s standard 3.0 turbo 6-cyl. produces 94 more horsepower (382 vs. 288) and 89 lbs.-ft. more torque (369 vs. 280) than the Golf R’s 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

Fuel Economy and Range

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

MPG

3 Series Sedan

RWD

Auto

330i 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

26 city/36 hwy

AWD

Auto

330i 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

25 city/34 hwy

Golf R

AWD

Manual

2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

21 city/29 hwy

Auto

2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

23 city/30 hwy

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

Regardless of its engine, the 3 Series Sedan’s engine automatically turns off when the vehicle is stopped, saving fuel and reducing pollution. (Start/Stop isn’t accounted in present EPA fuel mileage tests.) Volkswagen only offers an automatic engine start/stop system on the Golf R Auto.

The 3 Series Sedan has 1.1 gallons more fuel capacity than the Golf R (15.6 vs. 14.5 gallons), for longer range between fill-ups.

Transmission

The BMW 3 Series Sedan comes standard with an automatic transmission, for driver comfort, especially in the city. Automatic costs extra on the Golf R.

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

To help the driver achieve optimum performance and fuel economy, the 3 Series Sedan has a standard up-shift light to indicate when to shift based on power needs and conditions. The Golf R doesn’t offer an up-shift light.

Brakes and Stopping

For better stopping power the M340i’s brake rotors are larger than those on the Golf R:

M340i

Golf R

Front Rotors

13.7 inches

13.4 inches

Rear Rotors

13.6 inches

12.2 inches

Tires and Wheels

The 3 Series Sedan’s optional 255/30R20 rear tires provide better handling because they have a lower 30 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Golf R’s optional 35 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the 3 Series Sedan offers optional 20-inch wheels. The Golf R’s largest wheels are only 19-inches.

Changing a flat tire near traffic can be dangerous and inconvenient. The run-flat tires standard 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 Golf R 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 Golf R’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.

For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the 3 Series Sedan’s wheelbase is 8.7 inches longer than on the Golf R (112.2 inches vs. 103.5 inches).

For better handling and stability, the track (width between the wheels) on the 3 Series Sedan is 1.6 inches wider in the front and 3.2 inches wider in the rear than on the Golf R.

The 3 Series Sedan’s front to rear weight distribution is more even (51.5% to 48.5%) than the Golf R’s (59.5% to 40.5%). This gives the 3 Series Sedan more stable handling and braking.

Chassis

The design of the BMW 3 Series Sedan amounts to more than styling. The 3 Series Sedan has an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of .26 Cd. That is significantly lower than the Golf R (.32) and many sports cars. A more efficient exterior helps keep the interior quieter and helps the 3 Series Sedan get better fuel mileage.

The front grille of the 3 Series Sedan uses electronically controlled shutters to close off airflow and reduce drag when less engine cooling is needed. This helps improve highway fuel economy. The Golf R doesn’t offer active grille shutters.

Passenger Space

The 3 Series Sedan has .3 inches more front headroom, .8 inches more front legroom, .1 inches more front shoulder room and .7 inches more rear shoulder room than the Golf R.

Cargo Capacity

With its sedan body style, valet key, locking rear seatbacks and remote trunk release lockout, the 3 Series offers cargo security. The Golf R’s hatchback body style, non-lockable folding seat and non-lockable remote release defeat cargo security.

A standard locking glovebox (which can’t be accessed with the valet key) keeps your small valuables safer in the 3 Series Sedan. The Golf R doesn’t offer locking storage for small valuables.

To make loading and unloading groceries and cargo easier, especially for short adults, the 3 Series Sedan offers an optional power trunk, which opens and closes automatically by pressing a button, or optionally by just kicking your foot under the back bumper, completely leaving your hands free. The Golf R doesn’t offer a power liftgate.

Servicing Ease

The engine in the 3 Series Sedan is mounted longitudinally (North-South), instead of sideways, as in the Golf R. This makes it easier to service and maintain, because the accessory belts are in front.

Ergonomics

The 3 Series Sedan offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The Golf R doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

When two different drivers share the 3 Series Sedan, the memory system makes it convenient for both. Each setting activates different, customized memories for the driver’s seat position, outside mirror angle, climate settings and radio stations. The Golf R doesn’t offer a memory system.

The 3 Series Sedan offers an optional 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 Golf R doesn’t offer a heads-up display.

If the windows are left open on the 3 Series Sedan the driver can close them all at the outside door handle or from a distance using the remote. On a hot day the driver can lower the windows from a distance using the keyless remote. The driver of the Golf R can’t use the remote to operate the windows.

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 “Good” by the IIHS, while the Golf R’s headlights are rated “Poor.”

To shield the driver and front passenger’s vision over a larger portion of the windshield and side windows, the 3 Series Sedan has standard extendable sun visors. The Golf R doesn’t offer extendable visors.

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 Golf R’s mirror doesn’t automatically adjust for backing.

The 3 Series Sedan has standard 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 Golf R has 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 Golf R doesn’t offer a heated steering wheel.

To quickly and conveniently keep personal devices charged without cables tangling and wearing out, the BMW 3 Series offers an optional wireless phone charging system (Qi) in the center console. The Golf R doesn’t offer wireless personal charging.

The 3 Series Sedan’s optional Parking Assistant Plus can parallel park or back into a parking spot by itself, starting, stopping and changing direction automatically. The Golf R doesn’t offer an automated parking system.

Model Availability

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

The 3 Series Sedan is available in both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. The Golf R doesn’t offer a two-wheel drive configuration.

Recommendations

The BMW 3 Series outsold the Volkswagen Golf/GTI by 5% during 2018.

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

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