BMW 3 Series review
Our Best Compact Executive Car of 2013, the latest BMW 3 Series is better built and a great drive
The BMW 3 Series was launched in 1975, and since then it has always been the go-to compact executive saloon car. This latest model is a better car than ever, but thanks to the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 being more and more competitive, it's got a lot more work to do to be the best in class.
The 3 Series is very well equipped and it's more spacious than it has been in the past, and partly thanks to an excellent range of petrol and diesel engines it's a very refined and comfortable way to travel as well. It's so good at being an executive car that we gave it the Best Compact Executive award in our 2013 ceremony.
Available as either a saloon, estate (called Touring) or 3 Series GT, which mixes the practicality of the Touring with the sportiness of the saloon - but the bulbous rear might be a stumbling block for some. The car is available in eight specifications: ES, SE, Sport, EfficientDynamics, Modern, EfficientDynamics Business, Luxury and the ever-popular BMW 3 Series M Sport model.
The BMW 3 Series can be bought with four-wheel drive in the UK now, which means buyers who would usually only be looking at Audi's quattro models have more choose when they come to buy a new car.
The BMW 4 Series is closely related to the 3 Series, being a coupe version that replaces the previous 3 Series Coupe. There will also be a BMW 4 Series Convertible to replace the previous 3 Series Convertible. BMW has also revealed the new BMW M3 saloon alongside the new BMW M4, and it will feature a storming 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six engine with 425bhp.
Our choice: 320d EfficientDynamics
The BMW 3 Series is not a revolutionary design, and in profile it looks much like the larger 5 Series. It looks best in bright colours like white or blue. The car gets a sleek headlight arrangement and a large kidney grille, which means it's unmistakably a BMW. Go for the £710 optional xenon headlamps and the front of the car looks a lot classier.
The short rear end is lower than that of the Lexus IS, and it creates a cleaner shape. If you're concerned about looks then we'd avoid the EfficientDynamics versions as the small 16-inch wheels look odd in the large wheelarches. The information display inside the car is useful, and there aren't too many buttons to get confused with. A high-resolution screen sits on top of the dash, while colour displays are also set into the simple four-dial instrument pod.
The interior is generally well built and it feels like a premium product, even though some small details like the climate control read-out do looks a bit dated now.
The BMW 3 Series has always been a great car to drive, and the latest model continues the trend. The excellent grip and direct steering mean that it's easy to keep control of the car at all times.
A system called Drive Performance Control offers three different modes to choose from - EcoPro, Comfort and Sport. It's not too hard to tell what each one does - EcoPro is set u for economy, while Comfort and Sport do what it says on the tin. Variable ratio Sport steering and Adaptive Drive dampening are available as optional extras, too.
A wide range of four and six-cylinder engines are available, with the 320d 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel returning 64.1mpg without sacrificing performance - it's a great engine for this model.
The performance king in the standard car is the 335i's 3.0-litre turbo petrol; it reaches 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds, but mpg does suffer at 35.8mpg. The Audi A4 offered four-wheel drive first, but the 3 Series xDrive (only available on the 320i) means the extra grip is now available in a BMW rival. All models get a six-speed manual gearbox and an optional eight-speed automatic is also available.
The BMW 3 Series came in ninth in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with praise for low running costs, great performance and handling meaning it's sure to be a great ownership prospect.
Reliability wasn't a massively strong point, but we doubt there will be many issues with the car and there aren't any widespread issues with the 3 Series. The BMW dealership network, however, was ranked a lowly 24th out of 31 in our dealer survey – that's behind rival Audi and a long way back from chart-topping Lexus. Unhelpful staff and expensive repairs were the chief complaints.
As for safety, the BMW scored the full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, but it is second to the Lexus as it has six airbags as opposed to eight in the IS.
Adaptive brake lights are also standard on the 3 Series, as well as automatic lights and wipers, and rear parking sensors. You can also buy lane change assist, blind spot warning and auto high beams as optional extras on the lower-spec models.
The old BMW 3 Series interior was a bit small, so this new one is a big improvement thanks to a 50mm longer wheelbase and plenty more room inside the car as a result. There's enough leg and headroom for all passengers, which means the car now rivals the Audi A4 much more closely in this area.
A big glovebox, deep door bins and plenty of upholders mean the interior is sorted for storage spaces, too. With 480 litres on offer, the boot matches that of the Audi A4 and it's a good shape for luggage, too. The lip is a bit high, however, which doesn't help when loading heavy items.
The 40:20:40-split folding rear seats are a £650 optional extra, however, but the folding rear bench can be bought on its own for £390. It adds a bit of an unexpected cost to the purchase price, though.
Thanks to special fuel-saving technology and the reduced weight of the BMW 3 Series, all of the four-cylinder diesel engines now emit less than 120g/km of CO2. That makes it really cheap to tax, keeping running costs as low as possible.
We'd go for the 320d EfficientDynamics model, which emits only 109g/km of CO2 and returns an excellent 68.9 mpg. The whole range is pretty good, in fact- even the turbocharged 2.0-litre 328i manages to keep CO2 emissions below 150 g/km. Running costs were praised by owners in the Driver Power survey, and it's clear why - there are even some decent pre-paid servicing packages to keep the car running smoothly at minimal cost.