In-depth reviews

BMW 3 Series review: a great car, but electric rivals are closing the gap

The BMW 3 Series offers fine performance, driving dynamics, technology and refinement, but electric rivals are catching up

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

Price
£40,180 to £60,020
  • Great to drive
  • Excellent infotainment
  • Frugal yet potent engines
  • High list prices
  • Steering slightly lifeless
  • Plug-in hybrid is costlier to run than rivals
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The 3 Series has always been great to drive, offering engaging handling and sure-footed road holding. The latest 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 3 Series went straight to the top of the compact executive class when it launched, and a facelift in 2022 only strengthened its hand.

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 SuperbVolkswagen Arteon, and Peugeot 508. And let’s not forget the all-electric threat of the Tesla Model 3, which is offering company car buyers some very favourable tax rates and blisteringly quick performance.

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.

In replacing its best-selling executive saloon, BMW managed to retain the previous model’s driver appeal while making improvements in interior space, cabin quality and cutting-edge technology. A refresh in 2022 introduced reworked styling inside and out – taking inspiration from the larger BMW 5 Series, with slimmed-down headlights and a larger and more aggressive lower grille for the popular M Sport trim.

The interior now features BMW’s ‘Curved Display’, with an instrument and infotainment panel that appears seamless and sits perched atop the dashboard, running BMW’s latest OS 8 software.

​​BMW has offered a wide range of engines in the 3 Series in the past, but those choices were slimmed down as part of the updates we’ve already mentioned. Gone are the 154bhp 318i, 254bhp 330i, 148bhp 318d, 282bhp 330d, and the four-wheel drive option for the 320i and 320d, to be replaced with a 182bhp 320i, a 187bhp 320d (with some 48v mild-hybrid tech), a 369bhp straight-six M340i xDrive, and a 335bhp high-performance M340d xDrive with a muscular 700Nm of torque

For company car drivers, there’s a plug-in hybrid 330e. It uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as the 320i, but also adds an electric motor for a combined output of 288bhp. BMW claims its 3 Series PHEV can travel up to 38.5 miles purely on electric power, and it can also be equipped with either rear or four-wheel drive.

Two trim levels are available throughout the 3 Series range – Sport and M Sport. All cars are well appointed with sat nav, LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlayAndroid Auto and heated seats, as well as BMW’s Live Cockpit Plus with Curved Display. BMW’s new Intelligent Personal Assistant is also included, allowing you to operate many of the car’s functions via voice control.

The popular M Sport trim has always been the favoured choice in the UK with its more aggressive M Sport bodykit. The range-topping M340d and M340i high-performance versions go further still with 19-inch alloy wheels, unique trim detailing, upgraded brakes and sports 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 high prices. If you're in the market for an older model, it's worth consulting with an expert and doing lots of research before you part with your cash.

Those seeking 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

Used BMW 3 Series Mk6 - front

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 received 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. Sport, Modern, and Luxury trim levels offer a slightly different look from 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…

Frequently Asked Questions
We think the BMW 3 Series is one of the best cars in its class. It’s highly enjoyable to drive and boasts some excellent on-board technology, but this hasn’t resulted in the sacrifice in overall refinement. It’ll have affordable running costs for private buyers, but company car drivers may want to look at an all-electric Tesla Model 3, or the Mercedes C300e, because both have lower company car tax costs.

For an alternative review of the BMW 3 Series, visit our sister site carbuyer.co.uk...

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    318i SE 4dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £30,470

Most Economical

  • Name
    330e SE Pro 4dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £36,970

Fastest

  • Name
    M340i xDrive 4dr Step Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £48,070

Shane is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2021, he worked as a radio producer and presenter for outlets such as the BBC.

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