BMW 3 Series review
Crowned the Best Compact Executive Car of 2013 by Auto Express, the latest BMW 3 Series is better built and a great drive
The BMW 3 Series has dominated the compact executive sector since it was first introduced back in 1975. This all-new, sixth-generation model has a lot to live up to, then - especially since recent improvements to the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class have weakened its grip on the class crown – but the result is a car that’s raised the bar even further. It’s bigger, better built and more refined than ever before, plus it comes packed with kit and is available with a wide range of punchy and efficient petrol and diesel engines. In fact, it was crowned Best Compact Executive model at our New Car Awards 2012. As you’d expect, it’s offered as a sleek saloon and a practical Touring estate model. But as of 2013, it’s also available as an even more spacious 3 Series GT model, which BMW says offers the “dynamic, sporting” qualities of the saloon, with the “practicality and versatility” of the Touring. The manufacturer’s intelligent new xDrive four-wheel-drive system is now available in the UK for the first time, and gives BMW a direct rival to the popular Audi quattro models. The new 3 Series Coupe has already been revealed in concept form and will be badged 4 Series when it arrives in showrooms by the end of 2013, with a 4 Series Convertible and more practical four-door Gran Coupe following.
Our choice: 320d EfficientDynamics
In profile, the 3 Series looks restrained. The three-box shape is simple, and has echoes of the larger 5 Series. We think it’s more visually appealing in bright colours, such as the standard Alpine White of our test car. Up front, there’s a pronounced snout, courtesy of the large kidney grille and slender headlamps, while the ringed LED daytime running lights you get with the £710 optional xenon headlamps are a classy touch. At the rear, the short tail is lower than the Lexus IS, and it looks a lot tidier. EfficientDynamics models feature smaller 16-inch alloys than the rest of the range, but these look lost in the arches, and there’s no option to upgrade to bigger wheels. Inside, there’s a mixture of minimalist buttons mixed with information-packed displays. A high-resolution screen sits on top of the dash, while colour displays are also set into the simple four-dial instrument pod. But these modern read-outs make the orange dot-matrix figures for the climate control system seem a little dated. Still, the cabin is well built overall, while the silver metal trim on the dash and centre console gives it a lift.
The BMW 3 Series provides an excellent drive, and truly matches its predecessor in terms of sheer fun behind the wheel. The driver can easily keep control thanks to excellent grip and direct steering. Meanwhile, the standard Drive Performance Control offers the driver three operational modes to choose from - EcoPro, Comfort and Sport. You can also add variable ratio Sport steering and Adaptive Drive dampening as optional extras. The usual range of four and six-cylinder engines are available, with the 320d IS 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel returning 64.1mpg while offering great performance, too. If you're after outright performance, then the 335i's 3.0-litre turbo petrol is probably the right option; it reaches 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds, but mpg does suffer at 35.8mpg. In 2013, BMW introduced the Audi quattro-rivalling 3 Series xDrive, which offers strong grip in wet conditions without loosing any of that great balance so familiar in BMWs - although, it's only available on the 320i. All models get a six-speed manual gearbox and an eight-speed automatic is also available as an option.
This latest 3 Series finished ninth in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey, with owners praising its low running costs, strong performance and fine handling, as well as its ease of use. It wasn’t rated so highly in terms of reliability, although there don’t appear to be any specific problems buyers need to be aware of. One thing owners did criticise in Driver Power 2013 was the BMW dealer network. This was ranked a lowly 24th out of 31 in our dealer survey – one place behind Audi and a long way back from chart-topping Lexus. Although the garages present a professional appearance, respondents complained about unhelpful staff and expensive repairs. The 3 Series scored the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, but it makes do with only six airbags to the eight seen in the Lexus. Other standard safety kit includes adaptive brake lights, auto lights and wipers and rear parking sensors. Unlike the IS, safety kit such as lane change assist, blind spot warning and auto high beam is available as an option on this lower-spec model.
BMW has answered criticism of the previous-generation 3 Series’ cramped cabin, by making the new car bigger in almost every area. The wheelbase has been stretched by 50mm, which has paid dividends inside. It now rivals the Audi A4 for space, with rear seat passengers getting decent head and legroom. There’s also plenty of storage, thanks to deep door pockets, a large glovebox and plenty of cupholders. The boot has also been made bigger, and it’s now capable of carrying a decent 480 litres of luggage. It’s a good shape and it matches the Audi A4 for size, although the BMW does have a higher loading lip, which makes loading more difficult. Unfortunately, you’ll have pay around £650 extra if you want the flexibility of 40:20:40-split folding rear seats, plus luggage nets behind the front seats and across the boot – although the folding rear bench can be bought on its own for £390.
In the compact executive car class the BMW 3 Series is leading the way in terms of efficiency. Thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics technology combined with reduced body weight, all four-cylinder diesel engines now emit sub 120g/km of CO2. The standout option is the 320d ED which emits an impressive 109g/km of CO2 and returning a mighty 68.9 mpg. On top of this, even some of the most powerful 3 Series engines - such as the turbocharged 2.0-litre 328i - manage to keep CO2 emissions at around 149 g/km. There are also lots of pre-paid servicing packages available to help keep maintenance costs to a minimum.