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 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 Superb, Volkswagen Arteon 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.
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 offers a wide range of engines in the 3 Series, but choices were slimmed down as part of the 2022 update. Petrol and diesel models make up the bulk, with a plug-in petrol hybrid also offered. The 318i which used to kick off the range with its 154bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine is no longer available. The 320i is now the entry-level version, with 181bhp 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.
The diesel range once included the 318d, 320d and 330d xDrive, but just the 320d and high-performance M340d xDrive have been carried on for the facelifted model. The 187bhp 320d is a four-cylinder unit which now benefits from 48v mild-hybrid tech, while the M340d uses a 3.0-litre straight-six delivering 335bhp and a muscular 700Nm of torque.
The plug-in hybrid 330e uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as the 320i, and this is combined with an electric motor to produce 288bhp. BMW claims that its 3 Series PHEV can achieve up to 188.3mpg, and it can travel up to 36 miles on purely-electric power. The 330e can even be specced with either two- or four-wheel-drive.
Plug-in hybrid power should prove the most popular with company car drivers, as its CO2 emissions of as little 34g/km mean a Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax rate of just 12 per cent.
Two trim levels are available throughout the 3 Series range – Sport and M Sport. All cars come well equipped with sat nav, LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and heated seats, as well as BMW’s Live Cockpit Plus with Curved Display. BMW’s new Intelligent Personal Assistant is also included, and this allows 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, and if you can stretch to this model it offers a host of additional equipment including an M Sport bodykit. The range-topping Performance versions add 19-inch alloy wheels, unique trim detailing, plus upgraded brakes and upgraded 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 technologyBMW has introduced welcome improvements to the interior quality and on-board technology of the 3 Series
- 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