Favourites
BMW 3 Series (2012-2018) Review logo

BMW 3 Series (2012-2018) Review

BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series

1/10

BMW 3 Series

2/10

BMW 3 Series

3/10

BMW 3 Series

4/10

BMW 3 Series

5/10

BMW 3 Series

6/10

BMW 3 Series

7/10

BMW 3 Series

8/10

BMW 3 Series

9/10

BMW 3 Series

10/10

1 / 10

heycar review

      Launch year
      2012
      Body type
      Premium
      Fuel type
      Petrol, Diesel, PHEV
heycar editorial team

Written by

heycar editorial team

00/10
heycar rating
The benchmark premium saloon car

Best bits

  • Top-notch driving dynamics
  • Much-improved practicality
  • Advanced infotainment and tech options

Not so great

  • Styling a bit anonymous
  • Quality not as peerless as it once was
  • Why were folding rear seats optional?

Read by

BMW 3 Series Exterior Front

Overall verdict

BMW 3 Series Interior

On the inside

BMW 3 Series Driving

Driving

BMW 3 Series Exterior Side

How much does it cost to run

BMW 3 Series Exterior Side

Prices, versions and specification

Overall verdict

"This sixth-generation BMW 3 Series was introduced in 2012 as the latest evolution of a long-running model line. By then, 3 Series sales outnumbered those of a traditional large family best-seller, the Ford Mondeo, which showed how far BMW had come."

BMW 3 Series Exterior Front

This was therefore a car the company couldn’t afford to get wrong. Its approach was not revolution, but an evolution of what went before, fixing the niggles and further honing the strengths.


One of the biggest improvements sounds like one of the most routine: more rear-seat space. But for years, the 3 Series had been criticised for its paucity of legroom in the back. This was getting to be a major criticism of a car intent on high-volume sales. BMW now rectified it and quelled the most vocal complaints once and for all.


The cabin reflected the ever-greater technology BMW was building into its cars. The hooded infotainment system of the previous model, fully built into the dashboard, was replaced by a freestanding screen of even greater width. BMW knew it had to build on its early lead with in-car infotainment by taking the next step. The 3 Series delivered this.


There was a broader range of modern petrol and diesel engines as well, all of them now turbocharged as standard. Whereas the previous 3 Series went big on large six-cylinder engines, the quest for fuel efficiency encouraged a different approach with this model. Later on in its life, you could even get a tiny 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol motor.


BMW honed its trim strategy with this generation of 3 Series, too. Mainstream SE and ES variants offered the best value (and lowest CO2 emissions) to fleet drivers, but it’s Sport and, in particular, M Sport versions that are now most appealing. M Sport is a proper ‘BMW M’ imitator, just with far more efficient engines, including tax-friendly diesels. Sport? A more affordable M Sport with just a bit more focus than the mainstream.


The 3 Series drives so well, it seems only right to go for the more focused-looking variants. The company’s edge isn’t quite what it was in this regard – models such as the Jaguar XE are arguably even better for keen drivers – but the 3 Series still entertains. Its rear-drive chassis is well-balanced, tidy through corners and able to deal with a huge array of different road surfaces without degenerating into untidiness. There was also an all-wheel-drive version, called xDrive, which offered greater slippery-road traction (and fixed another age-old 3 Series complaint, fallibility when it snows).


Ride comfort is better than the previous 3 Series. That 2006-on version had introduced run-flat tyres, and the associated stiff, gritty ride quality. Six years later, BMW had cracked the technology. This version is still tauter than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, for example, but it is far more compliant than before and, on smaller wheels, actually quite absorbent.  


Throughout its lifetime, BMW sold plenty of this generation of 3 Series. Visually it wasn’t a revelation, and older models are prettier, more natural-looking machines (arguably too are its key rivals, particularly the elegant Mercedes-Benz C-Class). But overall, it was such a complete car, it’s still hard to fault even now. No wonder so many found homes – which is great news for those who want to enjoy its broad-based talents today.


If you're looking for the newer version, you need our BMW 3 Series (2018-) review.


Is the BMW 3 Series right for you?

Judging by its perennial popularity, there’s a good chance the BMW 3 Series will be right for you, not least because of its sheer desirability. That BMW roundel still packs a punch, even on a car as familiar as this.


The fact this generation of 3 Series resolved so many longstanding owner complaints also helps explain its popularity. Previously, you could make excuses for not buying a 3 Series: the ride was too firm, there wasn’t enough rear legroom, the boot wasn’t very practical. All were fixed with this version.


The amount of choice within the range grew correspondingly too, from fuel-saving eco-misers, to full-fat performance machines that were genuine M3 alternatives in all but name. This is why there’s such demand for the 3 Series today: it’s an impressively well-rounded and complete car.  If you need more space, there's the equally excellent BMW 3 Series Touring


What’s the best BMW 3 Series model/engine to choose?

This era of company car legislation encouraged fleet drivers into diesels. As such, the stock of second-hand 3 Series today reflects this. The 320d is the staple of the range and a brilliant all-rounder. It is more powerful than most of its contemporaries, yet more fuel-efficient and tax-friendly as well.


BMW sold a less powerful 318d, but this is rarer – and the even more affordable 316d is not very appealing, because it lacks the verve of the 320d. Moving the other way, the 330d is also rare, but a lovely machine to live with, and there was an indecently rapid 335d that is like hen’s teeth these days. Same with its petrol sibling, the 335i.


Petrol versions are less common, but still good. The 320i had a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine from the outset and serves up a good blend of performance and economy. We’d choose any one of them in Sport trim, for best value… while secretly hankering for the most desirable variant of all: M Sport grade.

 


What other cars are similar to the BMW 3 Series?

The BMW’s direct competitors are the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Both offer similarly wide-ranging engine and trim line-ups, and you sense all three German brands have obsessively stripped each other’s cars down so none of them has an obvious advantage anymore.


As a broad rule of thumb, the Audi is the cool and technical one, the Mercedes-Benz is the luxurious and good-looking one, and the BMW is the driver’s dream.


Other alternatives include the Jaguar XE, Volvo S60 and the extremely leftfield Infiniti Q50. However, if you want to go Japanese, we’d highly recommend you choose the Lexus IS instead of the dull and dumpy Infiniti. If you like the 3 Series but wants something a little more stylish, the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe is probably right up your strasse.

 


Learn more

BMW 3 Series Interior

On the inside

BMW 3 Series Driving

Driving

BMW 3 Series Exterior Side

How much does it cost to run

BMW 3 Series Exterior Side

Prices, versions and specification

You’ve picked a favourite! Now keep up to date with the latest updates, offers and news.

By submitting, you agree to our privacy policy.