By on January 28, 2015

2012 BMW 3-Series sedanIn 2014, for the fifth consecutive year, the BMW 3-Series was America’s top-selling premium brand vehicle.

And now for the qualifying statements.

The “car” that topped the premium brand leaderboard in 2014 was the 3-Series and 4-Series. That’s the way BMW USA chose to release their sales figures when the 3-Series nameplate divested itself of key assets in the fall of 2013. In a sense then, this is the way it’s always been, since the 4-Series used to be part of the 3-Series family.


• 3-Series hasn’t been outsold in premium category since 2009

• 3-Series/4-Series generate four out of every ten U.S. BMW sales

• 3-Series/4-Series was America’s 16th-best-selling car in 2014


However, the 4-Series lineup has expanded to include very 3-Series-like cars like the 4-Series Gran Coupe even as the 3-Series lineup expanded to include not just a sedan and a wagon but also a hatchback, the 3-Series Gran Turismo.

Should the breadth of the 3-Series/4-Series lineup limit the praise owed to BMW and its best seller status, in the sense that it’s not a fair fight? Or should BMW be lauded for turning the 3-Series into an increasingly popular sub-brand of its own that leaps tall buildings, bursts through bank vault doors, and tramples the competition as though they’re nothing more than forgettable pests?

2015 Lexus RX350Regardless, 3-Series sedans account for 65% of the total 3-Series/4-Series inventory currently listed on Cars.com. Together, the sedan and the other bodystyles that have traditionally made up the 3-Series nameplate – coupe, convertible, wagon – account for 88% of all 3-Series/4-Series inventory. If we applied that 88% figure to the tandem’s U.S. sales in 2014, the resulting 125,000 sales (down from the actual 142,232 total) would still be more than enough for the 3-Series in its traditional form to have ended 2014 as America’s top-selling premium brand automobile.

2015 Mercedes-Benz C-ClassThe second-ranked “luxury” car in America wasn’t a passenger car at all. The Lexus RX, America’s top-selling luxury utility vehicle was the most recent vehicle to unseat the 3-Series from top dog status. RX sales were up 3% to 107,490 sales.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class volume, downgraded because of a generational change, was down 15% to 75,065 units. The Lexus ES was down by a scant 73 units to 72,508 U.S. sales in 2014. Mercedes-Benz E-Class sales – sedan, wagon, coupe, convertible – slid 5% to 66,400 units.

2013 Lexus ES350Combined, these five top sellers generated 2.8% of America’s new vehicle volume in 2014. The 3-Series/4-Series ranked 32nd in the overall standings, just behind the Toyota Highlander and Kia Soul and just ahead of the Chevrolet Impala and Nissan Versa. The fifth-ranked E-Class was America’s 73rd-best-selling vehicle overall, just behind the Kia Forte and Toyota Avalon; just ahead of the Acura MDX and Dodge Durango.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedanBack on the subject of the 3-Series/4-Series, sales increased in 2014 in each month after an eight-month streak to end 2013. Total 3-Series/4-Series sales in 2014 reached the highest level since 2007, when 142,490 were sold. The 3-Series/4-Series accounted for 42% of all BMW brand volume in 2014, up from 39% in 2013 as the 3er/4er jumped 19% and brand-wide volume rose 10%.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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73 Comments on “BMW’s 3-Series Is America’s Best-Selling Premium Vehicle Five Years Running...”


  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Good. The 3/4-series is also a bestseller on this side of the Atlantic. BMW knows its customers and it deserves to do well.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The only 3-series that could ever interest me is the GT, but its price is ridiculous.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I guess my family plays the odds, since we have a 328xi and an RX350. Going to get rid of the BMW though. I will miss the smooth straight six.

    @SCE to AUX, I thought I liked the GT too, until I saw how bad the visibility is when I test drove it.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Makes sense. 3 series is the best car in its class, even without the brand/benchmark boost. It’s even Consumer Reports’ top rated compact luxury car (with a recommendation). The 335i offers the performance of the E39 M5 for half the inflation adjusted price. The 328i gets the same gas mileage as an Accord 4 banger but is about a second and a half faster through the quarter. Me personally, I would go with the 2 or Z4… but anyone saying BMW lost its way doesnt know what theyre talking about.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Because boring sells, and the 3/4 series are shadows of their former selves in all respects, from the base model to the M class.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I like the looks of the current 4-Coupe. I think it’s pretty slick and cool. That one and the 6-Coupe work for me!

      The color is VERY nice on that RX.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “Because boring sells, and the 3/4 series are shadows of their former selves in all respects,”

      OTOH, what’s less boring in the same class? Maybe the IS350F, maybe certain flaovrs of the ATS, but in general, the 3 is among the least boring of its competitors.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I feel like people have been saying this about every 3 series ever, and it’s never been true. 3/4 series are overall much better cars today than they’ve ever been, and each 3 series generation bettered its predecessor appreciably.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Didn’t take long for the BMW haters to chime in that us idiots have merely been seduced by the roundel, paying more for a vehicle that’s no better than an Acura or whatever…

    They sound like the Apple haters who, after Apple sells 76M iPhones in a quarter, say that we’ve been seduced by slick marketing and branding–paying more for an inferior product.

    These people are tiresome.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      So what if that’s true? Perception matters. That’s why Audi has been fighting a 20 year battle to climb to the brand image they have today.

      A BMW says I’m young, hip and have made it, which matters to a decent number of people.

      Mercedes image is still, and rightfully so, tied to the S class. It is a very successful old person’s car in most people’s eyes.

      Audi I’d say splits the difference, but also has their whole AWD thing going for them which works well anywhere that gets snow.

      Lexus is buoyed by the RX which is the soccer-mom/trophy wife vehicle of choice, and the ES which says I just retired to Boca.

      Cadillac and Lincoln are still for people who won’t forget the war, and they’re dying off. The rest of the Japanese sedans are also-rans, which you buy because you want to be different.

      • 0 avatar
        superchan7

        What is hip about buying the “same car everyone else has”? All it says is you’ve got some money and want a nicer-than-average car. In the US, a 335i is almost the default choice–it doesn’t really show any imagination or desire for something special or personalised.

        And that’s OK, except for the waste of 300 hp that spends all of its life in gridlock.

      • 0 avatar
        kerilrus

        One might choose against a 3 series because that’s what everyone buys if they want to stand out from a college grad that just got a 45k job and first thing he did is get into a lease to middle-aged woman who likes it because it’s a BMW and knows nothing else about what she drives. It also fits an average American well… This alone makes it a boring proposition to me aside from being too small for anyone taller with a large frame. I am 6-4 and feel like my knees are almost at my chest whether driving or in passenger seat and forget the rear seat… To me G37 Sedan made a ton more sense for half the price (gently used). Larger, more supportive seats, uncomplicated potent NA V6 and with a manual. Tons of character and every other guy doesn’t have one.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Couple things:

          -It’s very hard to read when you type like this and there is no punctuation and you change subjects in the sentence but don’t show it.

          -Starting out at 45k these days for a college grad is not that common.

          -I like Infiniti, and in fact have one. But “tons of character” is not something they possess. It is a Japanese appliance with luxury veneers. Not an Italian 2-seater.

          -If you want a “every other guy doesn’t have one” Infiniti, you must buy something other than a G sedan – it’s the MOST common model by far.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Yeah, you need an old M30 or M45. Everyone and their cousin knows somebody with a G35/7. It really is the Japanese 3-series in a lot of ways.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            M45 works (M30 is a bit old IMO for a DD). Maybe one of those revised late G20’s. Or an M56, those are rare. Or a late Q45 Luxury, with the rear reclining seats and center arm rest controls.

          • 0 avatar
            kerilrus

            Clerical job in finance is in that ballpark in a non metropolitan area.
            6MT G37 Sedan is pretty uncommon, fairly timeless looking and nowadays extinct unfortunately. Unfortunately they don’t make any other car like that (larger than BMW3, RWD, with a stick and 300hp+/- that doesn’t break) so wasn’t much to choose from. So I grabbed one in the newish condition since the opportunity presented itself. I don’t care that to a guy on the road it is just an Infiniti G.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “fairly timeless looking and nowadays extinct”

            Eye roll. It’s not old enough to be deemed timeless, and extinct since when – two years ago?

            “I don’t care that to a guy on the road it is just an Infiniti G.”

            Directly conflicts with:

            “Tons of character and every other guy doesn’t have one.”

            You gotta try a little harder if you wanna make these claims fly, man!

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            I quit bothering with Infintis when I saw yet another riced out G35 coupe, plus you are just getting a glorified Nissan in the end.

            With a BMW you’re getting a BMW, no matter how “bloated” or “souless” the fans say.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            “With a BMW you’re getting a BMW, no matter how “bloated” or “souless” the fans say”

            Many of their lower end mainstream models feel like RWD Volkswagens to me. Not a lot of substance for the price, aside from under-appreciated driving dynamics.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            My wife can’t really tell the difference between driving a 320 or Golf. Well, except for the fact that she thinks the GTI is way nicer than the 320.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            “My wife can’t really tell the difference between driving a 320 or Golf. Well, except for the fact that she thinks the GTI is way nicer than the 320.”

            I won’t weigh in on whether it is or isn’t (not saying you’re wife is wrong in her impressions), but I think the new Golf has closed the gap with the low end 3 Series so much, and that it’s been refined dramatically to the point that many people who don’t know or car about fwd vs rwd or have to have a roundel will pick up a Golf.

            This is especially true if VW managed to improve the reliability & durability of the Golf (for long term, Consumer Reports reading, buyers).

            This is even more true given the lowering of expectations by the hollowed out middle class – where a modestly equipped Golf could probably be picked up for 12k less than even a modestly equipped lower end 3 Series.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            DW-

            She’s probably right. For where and how she drives, the BMW 320 wouldn’t offer any benefits over the GTI. It’s not like she’s going to track her car. Ulimately, if we bought one of those cars, it would be my car. Now that she drives a 5000 lb monster car, the only next step is a BoF SUV.

            I personally perfer the Golf to the low end 3er. However, I’d want a GTI, and then I’d think to myself, “How much more is a Mustang GT?”

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            “Not a lot of substance for the price, aside from under-appreciated driving dynamics”

            But you are still getting a BMW in the end, not a badged up Mini, at least not yet.

            When Bimmers and Minis begin sharing platforms I can see why someone would go Infinti, better to have a fancy Skyline sedan than a fancy Mini.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I do not think BMW lost it way they just split their way the sell a smaller number of cars to people who want old BMW, and a lot of cars to those who want the badge. One question to the folks in middle America does any one there buy a 3 series, A4, E class or MDX, hard to believe they sell/ lease so few cars when on the east coast it seems every other car is one of the ones mentioned above.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Use the link below to check out the new inventory at the BMW dealer in Grand Island, Nebraska – still available, 1 2008 335i, 1 2012 328i and 335i. If you don’t think BMW builds them like they used to, here is your chance to test that theory.

      http://www.bmwofgrandisland.com/new-inventory/index.htm

      • 0 avatar
        nickoo

        Nebraska native here. Virtually no one in Grand Island or surrounding farm communities who could afford a bmw would dare buy one. It wouldn’t go over well at all down at the co-op. Rather, luxury trucks and 3/4 ton diesels (and buick envlaves) sell to this crowd that cost double what a 3 series starts at.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t know what to say. Can’t Nebraskans be car guys and car gals too?

          (I have an odd affection for the state, having traversed it probably 7-8 times during the ’70s, driving between Boston and Berkeley.)

          I’m not surprised the 3 series is #1. If I were interested in that market, that’s what I’d look at first. I do love the inline six.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    None of those cars look right without tints. And the sedan 3-Series looks messed up now. It’s off proportionally, like one of those weird nosed sharks.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      It does look a little off, its but no where “off” compared to the 1-series Hatchback from a few years back.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Oh I concur that was a hot mess. But we didn’t get that one here!

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Thats true, thank goodness.

          Weirdly enough the current 3-series looks more like one of the many imitators that were spawned in the 90’s, its like an imitation of an imitation.

          Just look at a ’90s Bonneville and compare it to the current 3-series, or an Accord. N

          ewer Bimmers taller for safety but just look at the weird roofwindow shape and such.

  • avatar
    superchan7

    Here in the US, for a while I thought a base 320i is the worst brand snob car. Then after some reflection, I realised that they are no worse than the 335is crawling at 10 mph on the congested highways. BMW loves the latter because they pay $50k a pop, whether directly or through a lessor.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Wouldn’t things like the 2-Active Tourer or the CLA be the worst brand snob car, if you want to simplify it that far?

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Nothing really tops the Aston Martin Cygnet if you want “the worst snob car”.

        Wih CLAs and cheap Bimmers you’re still getting a real Bimmer or Benz, with a Cygnet you’re getting a marked up Scion.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “…I thought a base 320i is the worst brand snob car. Then after some reflection, I realised that they are no worse than the 335is…”

      So what make’s it a brand snob car? Is it:

      1. the fact that it’s a BMW
      2. the fact that it’s a 335i
      3. the fact that it’s crawling on congested highways
      4. all of the above
      5. none of the above

      I’m curious. What would someone need to do, who wants a premium car and might need to deal with congestion, to not be considered a brand whore?

      • 0 avatar
        superchan7

        Just No. 3. I have 2 friends with 335is, 4-door and 2-door. Neither one particularly likes mountain drives.

        I don’t doubt that BMW makes very capable cars, but as we all agree, BMW realised long ago that people were not buying their core models for “capability”–they are merely buying “the fact that it’s capable.”

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Ummm this is every luxury and performance car ever. Why is this common phenomenon a problem for the 335i, but not a Corvette, or Miata, or even a V6 Camry that will be driven on the same exact roads in generally the same exact manner?

          I get having brand preferences but this is just silly.

          • 0 avatar
            superchan7

            Those aren’t “premium brand vehicles”. Buying a Vette or an MX-5 to sit in traffic is the same idea, minus the aspirational brand.

            Personally if I needed to sit in traffic and wanted a nice car, a 528i would be a better purchase than a 335i. It’s roomier, more comfy and more honest to its intended use.

          • 0 avatar
            hubcap

            “…if I needed to sit in traffic and wanted a nice car, a 528i would be a better purchase than a 335i…”

            It’s not as if we’re comparing an Aventador with a 528i. A 335i is just as capable and just as comfortable as a 528i, even if it’s not as big.

            If you’re working in and around major metropolitan areas you will most likely be in traffic at some point. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be in traffic.

            So if you wanted a more performance oriented car, whether that be a Mustang GT/GT350, Corvette, 335i/M3, Cayman, etc you’d purchase something else because you’d be sitting in traffic?

            Does this thinking influence other areas? Would the inherent potential of a 36D be overkill, leading you to be happy with a 32A?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            ” Would the inherent potential of a 36D be overkill, leading you to be happy with a 32A?”

            Well, it’s been said that more then a mouthfu…

          • 0 avatar
            superchan7

            I’ve had a Cayman as my only car. I had to putter through crushing traffic to get to work, but almost every weekend would find me romping on nearby mountain roads.

            So I was only a poseur for 6 days per week.

            I do have the luxury of 2 cars now, so I can understand the appeal of a sports sedan like a 335i as an only car. That said, they are sadly absent on the twisties.

            Similar logic: $60k pickup trucks that never really haul anything.

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    I have a 335d that is amazing. 425 ft lbs/260 hp @ 1700 rpm, 0-60 in 5 sec, 39 mpg @ 65 mph, 30 mpg @ 100 mph. There is not another car made by anyone that can match those numbers.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    They sold out! They started chasing sales. They changed their lineup and moved in a different direction. They should have stayed loyal to their original fans. Their first albums were the best. Wait, we’re not talking about Fleetwood Mac? Sorry, carry on.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    @GS 455 Sure after the success of Rumours, Tusk was such a sell out.

  • avatar

    These cars aren’t special any more. I know few cars are these days but I find that so-called or perceives also-rans offer more technical interest. It seems that it’s the “quirky” models from Japan that ought to attract our attention. The Acura RL of a decade ago with its 4-wheel drive springs to mind, or Subaru with its boxer diesel or even innovative electric cars like the Leaf. Ford offered the Fusion or Lincoln the unloved MKT thing – brilliant? No but interesting for their packaging. The BMW 3 is the mainstream saloon done to a higher standard but it’s no Saab or Lancia or Citroen and it’s not as hard as nails like the 80s cars (that Clarkson considered over-rated).

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “but it’s no Saab or Lancia or Citroen and it’s not as hard as nails like the 80s cars ”

      Nor will it burn up like a Saab, rust like a Lancia, eat headgsakets like a Subaru, and it certainly will not barf its hydraulic suspension fluid like a Citroen.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      I’m confused. What’s special about a Saab, Citroen, or Lancia (this assumes you’re not speaking of the Viggen, Draken, Gripen, or 2000).

      Taking BMW’s lineup in aggregate, they produce the most sporting cars on the planet for a full line manufacturer. Are individual models the most sporty? No. They’ve got nada that can touch a Z06/Viper/GT3 etc. but the entire range has performance chops.

      And to top it off, they make great motorcycles too!

  • avatar
    05lgt

    If Lexus released the RX and ES numbers as one combined line, would it be more or less varied than the 3/4 best selling car? Either they’re both “Camry’s with badges” or BMW has the #1 spot. Can’t have both. Pick.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Do Impala sales still fail to break out the old fleet only Impala Limited and new retail/fleet models?

    If so, the failure to do so seems intended to mask a larger failure.


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