BMW 3 Series review
The BMW 3 Series offers the perfect blend of performance, driving dynamics, low running costs, technology and refinement
The 3 Series has always been great to drive, offering engaging handling and sure-footed road holding. The new model retains its driver appeal, punchy performance and impressive frugality, but has added a more luxurious driving experience, more interior space and an impressive array of technology to its arsenal.
While prices have risen a little since the previous generation, standard equipment is significantly higher. The updated styling is a conservative evolution of what’s gone before it, but with a stronger, lighter body the car’s refinement has improved too.
With its class-leading blend of performance and economy, the latest 3 Series goes straight to the top of the compact executive class.
About the BMW 3 Series
When BMW first launched the 3 Series 45 years ago, it had the junior executive market more or less to itself. But over the years key rivals such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class have played catch up. Plus there’s the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia to consider, along with upmarket family cars like the Skoda Superb, VW Passat and Peugeot 508.
In spite of ever-increasing competition, the BMW 3 Series is a phenomenally successful model with its six previous incarnations having sold over 15 million examples. The arrival of the seventh-generation G20 model in 2019 was the latest step in this important lineage.
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In replacing its best-selling executive saloon, BMW has managed to retain the previous model’s driver appeal while making improvements in interior space, cabin quality and cutting-edge technology.
BMW offers a wide range of engines in the 3 Series. Petrol and diesel models make up the bulk, with a plug-in petrol hybrid also offered. The 318i kicks off the range with its 154bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, followed by the 320i with 182bhp and optional xDrive four-wheel drive; a tuned version of the same unit produces 254bhp in the 330i, while a 369bhp straight-six powers the M340i xDrive.
Diesels are the 318d, 320d, 330d xDrive and M340d x Drive; the 148bhp 318d and 187bhp 320d are four-cylinder units - the latter benefiting from 48v mild-hybrid tech, while the 330d and M340d both use a 3.0-litre straight-six, delivering 261bhp and 335bhp respectively.
The plug-in hybrid 330e uses the same 182bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine as the 320i, combined with an electric motor that adds 67bhp. It offers a good combination of performance and economy along with a claimed all-electric range of up to 37.3 miles.
Four trim levels are available – SE Pro, Sport Pro, M Sport and M Sport Pro Edition. All cars are well specified with sat nav, adaptive LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and heated seats, as well as BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional which has a 12.3-inch digital instrument display that apes Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. BMW’s new Intelligent Personal Assistant is also included, and this allows you to operate many of the car’s functions via voice control.
Sport Pro models add more aggressive front and rear bumpers and exterior trims, along with sports seats and leather upholstery. The popular M Sport trim has always been the favoured choice in the UK, and if you can stretch to this model it offers a host of additional equipment including an M Sport bodykit. The range-topping M Sport Pro Edition adds 19-inch alloy wheels, unique trim detailing, plus upgraded brakes and adaptive suspension.
Used and nearly new
The BMW 3 Series is considered one of the best compact executive cars on the market, and buyers looking for a used model will find many examples up for sale at dealerships and specialist outlets. With a history dating back to 1975, many early cars are now considered classics and command strong prices. If you're in the market for an older model, it's definitely worth consulting with an expert and doing lots of research before you part with your cash.
Those seeking out more modern machinery will have the choice of saloon, estate, coupe and convertible models, while the 3 Series GT five-door hatchback offers a more niche option. It may not be the class-leader for practicality, but the 3 Series offers enough options for family life, while keen drivers will be happy with a great handling car and the choice of some outstanding petrol and diesel engines.
BMW 3 Series history
BMW 3 Series F30 Mk6: 2012-2018
A well looked after Mk6 BMW 3 Series should make a great used buy; comfortable, well-equipped and good to drive, the F30 range also offered powerful, efficient engines in petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid form. Cars produced after July 2015 were treated to a facelift, with sharper exterior styling and the introduction of LED headlights, along with BMW's iDrive system being fitted as standard on all models.
If you're after plug-in hybrid power, you'll be looking at a post-2016 car, while the Sport, Modern and Luxury trim levels offer a slightly different look to the ubiquitous M Sport-spec versions. The Mk6 3 Series had six manufacturer recall notices during its lifetime, so be sure to check all remedial work has been done before you buy. Read our full Mk6 BMW 3 Series buyer’s guide here…
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In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe BMW 3 Series offers the perfect blend of performance, driving dynamics, low running costs, technology and refinement
- 2Engines, performance and driveThe 3 Series offers class-leading performance along with an improved ride and excellent driving dynamics
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsExcellent economy and decent CO2 emissions make the BMW 3 Series a good choice for business and private users
- 4Interior, design and technologyImprovements in interior quality and technology are very welcome, but the styling is a little underwhelming
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceLeg and head room are better than before, with the 3 Series now matching or beating its rivals for interior space
- 6Reliability and SafetyProven mechanical components bode well for reliability, while its safety systems are among the best in class