heycar editorial team
- Exceptional to drive
- Well integrated technology
- High quality throughout, and plenty of trim choices
Not so great
- Not available with Android Auto
- Some basic equipment is an expensive option
- M Sport suspension is quite firm
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"The archetypal premium sporting saloon, the BMW 3 Series defines the segment it competes in against its key German rivals like the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class."
It’s sold in phenomenal numbers, but this success does bring with it a degree of ubiquity. The 3 Series so common now it doesn't have the cache it used to but you can can console yourself in the knowledge that's it's still a brilliant car
The 3 Series saloon is available in rear- and four-wheel drive, manual or automatic transmissions (the manual only offered with the entry level 318i and 318d models) and with power outputs ranging from 150PS right up to 374PS.
Always hailed as the drivers’ choice among, the 3 Series remains a fantastically enjoyable car to drive, regardless of whether it’s powered by that 150PS entry-level turbodiesel, or any of its other powerplants. That’s thanks to near perfect weight distribution, finely judged suspension and steering that’s both nicely weighted and direct. The 3 Series’ inherent balance means it's a nice car to drive at normals speeds, too.
It’s hardly surprising then that the BMW 3 Series has long been the benchmark car in the class for familiar rivals such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class, as well as more fringe players like the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia.
You might also consider mainstream alternatives such as the Peugeot 508, Volkswagen Passat, Mazda 6, Volkswagen Arteon even if non can match the BMW's drive or sense of quality. Trim choices follow the familiar path, with SE, Sport and M Sport models, with xDrive denoting they’re four-wheel drive.
If you're looking for the older version, you need our BMW 3 Series (2012-2018) review.
Comfort and design
"BMW has always excelled at providing a good driving environment, and so it proves with its huge selling 3 Series. The design will be familiar to anyone who’s had a 3 Series before, the driver-focused cockpit feel still evident, but with a more modern spin."
The seats are supportive and comfortable, and, from Sport trim upwards they’re all upholstered in leather. The SE Plus Package (available on SE models) adds black leather seats, which are heated for both the driver and passenger – and a larger fuel tank.
All 3 Series models comes with ambient lighting and automatic air conditioning with three-zone control, Sport models add more contoured sports seats which embrace you that little bit tighter than SE's.
The Comfort Package, gives you a heated steering wheel, automatic tailgate opening, extended storage and a Comfort Access with smart opener – so you can open the car handsfree with your phone. Other packages worth optioning include the Premium Package, which adds electric seat adjustment and lumbar support for the front seats with a memory function for the driver’s seat, and an electric glass sunroof. Lumbar support is available individually for £265.
Handling and ride quality
"The front engine, rear-wheel drive layout isn’t unique to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar do the same, but BMW has long been the best at exploiting the most engaging drive from this setup, by offering a superb balance and direct steering. Any 3 Series is a joy to drive down a twisty road because of this."
The steering is direct and well weighted, the 3 Series feeling light and nimble, with responsive turn-in, good grip levels and fine balance.
That’s true in its standard SE guise, on the smallest of wheels and regular (not run-flat) tyres, but the larger wheels fitted to high-end models do spoil the supple suspension a little. That said, BMW will swap the firmer M Sport suspension out for the standard set up free of charge if you want to.
Pick the M Sport Plus package on M Sport models and you get adaptive dampers, which offer the best of both worlds, taut control when you want it, but with the ability to have a supple ride for more comfort. XDrive four-wheel drive is offered across a number of models, its not really necessary, unless you frequently drive on slippery roads, or want additional stability when towing.
MPG and fuel costs
"Charging that 330e hybrid takes around three and a half to four hours via a wallbox, while a conventional socket will roughly double that time. It’s the economy champion on paper, with a quoted mpg figure of in excess of 130mpg, but that’s under favourable testing conditions."
Real world you can expect half that if you’re saintly, and less if you enjoy the hybrid’s quick response and useful acceleration. The diesels are the big mile mpg champions, with the 318d/320ds all achieving fuel consumption in the mid to high 50s, their petrol alternatives being about 20-30% less econmoical.
How much should you be paying for a used BMW 3 Series?
"The current 3 Series is still very new, so used choices are few and remain relatively expensive."
With starting prices around £22,000 used, with a sizeable number of the selection available being 318d/320d SE saloons.
Is the BMW 3 Series right for you?
Almost definitely! Indeed, perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the 3 Series is its popularity, it doesn't stand out from the crowd quite like it used to.
A big fleet seller, it’s always had strong residual values, and BMW has worked to keep running costs palatable with low emissions and excellent fuel economy. A 320d is the answer to most motorist’s questions, while a 330e does all that while saving your environmental conscience – it can complete short journeys using electric power alone. If you need more space, the BMW 3 Series Touring is equally as good.
What's the best BMW 3 Series model/engine to choose?
Tempting as the six-cylinder models – petrol or diesel are – the 320d is a huge seller for good reason, it offering fine performance allied to great economy and tax-dodging emissions if you’re a company car driver. If your budget stretches to it then the 330e is well worth considering, it can cover up to 41 miles on electricity alone.
Trim levels include the Sport model, which blends sporty looks without a softer ride, the plainer looking SE, or the M Sport car which has aggressive looks and a firmer, sportier ride.
What other cars are similar to the BMW 3 Series?
Mainstream competitor include the Volkswagen Passat and rakish Arteon, while the Mazda 6 might tempt you, likewise, if boot and passenger space is a serious consideration, the Skoda Superb dwarfs the 3 Series on interior space.
Quality and finish
The 3 Series is a premium model, with an upmarket badge, and the posh interior largely reflects this high-quality foamy plastics and posh metal trim pieces. Even the infotainment screens have high-definition displays with sharp colours.
That aside, there’s little else to complain about, the interior feeling solidly built from quality materials, but it’s a shame all models don’t come with leather – even the man made stuff – as standard, as it does with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The 3 Series offers a fast-acting touchscreen, but all its functionality is replicated by the simple to use iDrive controller conveniently located on the transmission tunnel.
All come with the BMW Live Cockpit Plus, which includes an 8.8 inch touch display, BMW navigation, Apple CarPlay, BMW Concierge services, real time traffic information, remote services – so you can do things like check the car's remaining range using an app on your phone – and DAB. All also come with BMW Online Services, that includes BMW Apps, BMW Connected, BMW online services and voice control.
M Sport models upwards gain the Connected Package Professional, it adds connected navigation that can route around congestion and search for parking.M Sport models and above also gets BMW's Live Cockpit Professional, with sees the main screen grow to 10.25 inches, with the conventional instruments also replaced by an additional, configurable, 12.3 inch screen.
To all that you can add a Technology Package, which adds a head-up display, a harman/kardon audio system and BMW Gesture Control so you can twiddle your finger in front of the dashboard to raise or lower the stereo volume.
Space and practicality
The latest BMW 3 Series is larger than the model it replaces and that's allowed the company to free up a load of extra rear seat room. Tall adults will have plenty of room even if you and your front-seat passenger are also tall, there's more than enough foot and knee room and even six-footers won't feel short changed on headroom.
Okay, so your middle seat passenger gets a raw deal because the large transmission tunnel that runs down the middle of the floor eats up the space for their feet and they'll feel squeezed for elbow room. That said, it's no more crushed than in one of the BMW's competitors and the seat itself is reasonably compliant, not overly firm like you get in some cars.
Oddment storage throughout is decent, with good-sized door bins and glovebox, with the Comfort Package adding Extended Storage including a compartment on the driver’s side of the dashboard, seatback nets, twin USB charging points in the rear, storage hooks, a 12-volt socket in the boot as well as a handsfree, powered bootlid.
Open that boot and the space is good, with a quoted volume of 480 litres for all conventionally powered models, dropping to 375 litres with the 330e model thanks to its extra battery. The 330e also loses the standard 40/20/40 split fold seating, which increases the luggage space and allows for longer through loads.
The 3 Series’ boot is usefully accessible, with a wide opening aiding getting luggage in. If you need more practicality from your 3 Series then check out the Touring model here. Two Isofix child seat mounts come as standard and are positioned on the two outer rear seats.
Engines and gearboxes
The BMW 3 Series offers a strong range of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines. The base petrol is a 156PS 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder badged the 318i, it followed by a 184PS version of the same engine badged 320i and a further, 288PS model badged 330i. All offer their performance in a muted fashion until you're really pressing on.
If you want a six-cylinder with a creamy growel, you’ll need the range-topping M340i, which has a twin turbocharged 3.0-litre with 374PS. It manages 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds, some four seconds faster than the 318i, with the 320i achieving it in 7.1 seconds (7.6 with xDrive) and the 330i managing 5.8 seconds.
Diesels have been core to the model’s success in the past, and there’s plenty choice, here, too. The 318d and 320d sharing a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, in the 318d it’s 150PS, and 190PS in the 320d. The 330d gets a 3.0-litre turbodiesel with 265PS and the diesel line-up is topped out by the 340PS 340d – both have six-cylinders that make the smoother than the lower-ranking diesels. The 340dmanages 62mph in just 4.6 seconds, the 330d 5.1 seconds, with the 320d hitting 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds. The 318d, meanwhile, manages the same sprint in 8.4 seconds, in manual guise, or 8.3 seconds with the automatic.
While if you’re conflicted between performance and the environment, the 288PS 2.0-litre petrol/electric hybrid in the 330e is the perfect compromise, with plug-in power for local (up to 41 miles) of electric only driving, and a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol for longer trips.
The 318 models are the only cars in the 3 Series line-up to be offered with a manual transmission, with an eight-speed automatic being standard across the rest of the range. It’s a slick automatic, with quickshifts.
Refinement and noise levels
All are quiet on the move, the diesels a little bit more vocal – very marginally so - than their smooth petrol alternatives, but not so much that it’s an issue. All come with acoustic glass, which helps dampen down wind noise, and the effects are obvious on a cruise, making the 3 Series a hushed, pleasing place to while away motorway miles.
The 330e only increases the refinement levels, its ability to run on electricity alone adding to the serenity, and underlining the 3 Series’ good overall refinement.
Road noise is largely contained, but nastier combed concrete surfaces and expansion joints do see some noises making it through to the interior, it's more notable on models with larger wheels and run flat tyres, as well as those on the M Sport suspension.
BMW’s Active Guard Plus comes as standard on all BMW 3 Series, so you get safety features such as Front Collision warning with brake intervention, Lane Departure Warning and Speed Limit Assist. There’s Parking Assistant, too, which includes a rear-view parking camera and park sensors front and rear.
All models also get traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes, while should an accident be unavoidable there’s front side, chest, knee, pelvis and curtain airbags, and a pair of ISOFIX child seat mountings on the rear outer seats.
For autonomous driver assistance you need to tick the options boxes, with Driving Assistant Professional adding Active Cruise Control, Automatic Speed Limit Assist, Crossing Traffic Warning Front, Crossroads Warning and City Braking Function, Evasion Aid, Lane Keeping Assistant with Active side collision protection and Steering and Lane Control Assistant – this suite of advanced aids is only offered on M Sport models and upwards. Fitted, it means the BMW can essentially drive itself.
Auto dipping headlights and BMW's powerful laser headlights are also optional across the range.
Maximum EV range
The 330e offers a combined output of 288PS from its petrol/electric plug-in hybrid powertrain, the battery and electric motor able to offer a 41 mile range on electric power alone in perfect test conditions. Expect a real-world figure in the early 30s, then. It’ll drive up to 87mph in electric only mode, too, and using the sat nav allows you to save maximise range, it also possible to hold a percentage of battery charge for destination electric only use.
Insurance groups and costs
With such a wide choice of models, prices and performance it’s hardly surprising that the insurance spans from Group 25 to Group 40 for those range-topping models.
VED car tax
Only the range-topping models trouble the £40,000+ first and subsequent year penalty payment on VED, so you’ll pay anywhere between £175-£870 for the first year’s tax, with the majority being £150 annually thereafter. The exception is the 330e, which will cost you £10 in the first year.
Trim levels and standard equipment
SE has 17-inch alloy wheels, acoustic glass, LED headlights, three-zone climate control, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB plus park distance control with a reversing camera.
Sport models add 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminium exterior trim, larger 59- litre fuel tank, heated front seats, leather upholstery, sports front seats and high gloss black design elements outside while M Sport goes one further with M Sport alloy wheels, BMW Live Cockpit Professional, Connected Package, M Sport design inside and out and M Sport Suspension
The M Sport Plus Edition comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, Adaptive M suspension, M Sport braking, M Sport Differential, M Seatbelts and further M Sport styling.
M340i/d xDrive models have 19-inch wheels, Adaptive M Suspension, six-cylinder engine, BMW Advanced HIFI and square dual exhaust pipes.
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Quality checked, all cars less than 8 years old and warranty included