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
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. 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.
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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 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, 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
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…
For an alternative review of the BMW 3 Series, visit our sister site carbuyer.co.uk...
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe BMW 3 Series offers fine performance, driving dynamics, technology and refinement, but electric rivals are catching up
- 2Engines, performance and driveThe 3 Series offers class-leading performance along with an improved ride and excellent driving dynamics
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsPetrol and diesel versions have excellent economy and emissions, but the plug-in hybrid isn’t the cheapest company car to run
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe 3 Series has a high-quality interior quality and great on-board technology, but losing physical air-con controls is a backwards step
- 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 SafetyThe BMW 3 Series scores highly for NCAP safety, and its unlimited mileage warranty compares well with rivals