BMW 3 Series saloon (2005-2011)

BMW 3 Series saloon (2005-2011)

reviewed by Carbuyer

  • Classy design and interior
  • Wide range of fast and fuel efficient engines
  • Class-leading driving fun
  • Pricey options
  • A common sight in the UK
  • Limited access to the boot

"The BMW 3 Series lags behind Audi’s A4 for comfort and ultimate practicality, although few cars are as fun to drive."

The BMW 3 Series is the king of the hill in the compact executive car class and is a great car to drive. That's why it's named Best Executive Car in our 2011 Car of the Year awards. That said, it's not perfect – the cabin, for example, is not as versatile or spacious as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the boot is not as large the one in Audi's A4. Even so, it's a good all-rounder, and what's more it has some of the cleanest, greenest engines in its class. The diesel versions offer staggering fuel economy, as well as being refined and powerful, while the range-topping V8-engined M3 offers supercar-rivalling performance. That said, standard 3 Series models lag behind the class best for comfort, especially in M Sport trim. In 2011, this version of the BMW 3 Series was replaced by an all-new model – read all about it in our latest BMW 3 Series review.

MPG, running costs & CO2

4 / 5

The 320d offers 68.9mpg

BMW has an engineering philosophy called EfficientDynamics that basically means it’s always striving to make its cars as fuel efficient and environmentally sound as possible. As such, even the more powerful petrol versions are relatively frugal. The diesels are hugely impressive - the 320d EfficientDynamics model, for instance, returns 68.9mpg. That’s very close to the figure returned by the hybrid Toyota Prius.

Engines, drive & performance

4 / 5

You’re guaranteed quiet progress when you step on the throttle

The steering can feel quite heavy, but it’s accurate. On M Sport versions the rim of the steering wheel is spongy and thick, which gives it a sporty feel. Whatever engine you choose – petrol or diesel – you’re guaranteed quiet, smooth progress when you step on the accelerator. Most popular is the 320d diesel, which blends 60mpg economy with lively performance. Unlike some other cars in the class, the 3 Series is rear-wheel drive, so power goes to the back wheels, allowing the front tyres to handle the steering alone. For this reason, the 3 Series feels agile.

Interior & comfort

3.5 / 5

A slight lack of comfort is the 3 Series’ only flaw

Comfort, or a slight lack of it, is arguably the 3 Series’ only major flaw. The driving position offers plenty of adjustment and the rear seats are spacious, but there’s no ignoring the firmness of the ride. In an effort to make the car ‘sporty’, the suspension is quite stiff, so lumps and potholes on the road can be felt in the cabin. It’s not jarring, but the 3 Series doesn’t feel very cushioned over the worst surfaces. It’s more apparent in M Sport versions, which get even stiffer suspension.

Practicality & boot space

3 / 5

The small boot is hard to access

Traditional four-door saloons are less practical than today’s popular family car choices such as 4x4s, people carriers and hatchback ‘crossovers’. The 3 Series has quite a small boot even when compared to other saloons, and the opening is quite narrow. However, it will still swallow a pair of golf bags, and there’s room in the cabin for four adults - so long as the rear passengers aren’t much over six-feet tall.

Reliability & safety

3.5 / 5

Surveys suggest reliability could be better

The 3 Series placed a very average 53rd of 100 in the 2010 Driver Power customer survey for reliability, although owners were more impressed by its build quality – awarding the car 18th place. The Lexus IS, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 all beat it in the reliability rankings. Like many cars, the 3 Series has been subject to a few recalls, the last in 2009 for a faulty seatbelt tensioner, but it’s not plagued by issues.

Price, value for money & options

3.5 / 5

Business Editions get leather upholstery

The BMW 3 Series is comparatively expensive. More can be bought for less elsewhere – take Ford’s Mondeo as an example. But in terms of prestige, running costs and resale values, it’s a value for money car, and is priced at a similar level to its Mercedes-Benz and Audi rivals. Special Business Editions get leather upholstery, satellite-navigation and Bluetooth phone connectivity for an extra £1,000, which is a good-value package.

What the others say

4.1 / 5
based on 4 reviews
4 / 5
The premium image, impressive build quality and engaging handling are strong draws, while eco-friendly engineering tweaks seal the deal – what's more the 320d EfficientDynamics emits only 109g/km of co2 and returns 68.9mpg.
5 / 5
Our 2010 Compact Executive of the Year. We'd recommend the 320d for its superb economy and low emissions. The opposite is true of the 335i, but it's still a superb car.
14 / 20
A victim of its own success in that everyone on the planet owns one, so forget ideas of premium status. But for real drivers this is still Earth's best small saloon car.  
5 / 5
The sharp-edged styling won't be to everyone's taste - although we think it looks better than before - but beneath it lies the most complete compact executive that we've yet seen.
4 / 5
Believe it or not, you can have your cake and eat it. The BMW 320d provides the premium badge and punchy performance you would expect from a diesel compact executive model – and it also features the firm's EfficientDynamics stop-start fuel-efficiency hardware.
Last updated 
28 Jun 2013
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