BMW 3 Series saloon
Price £24,255 - £43,885
- Great to drive
- Upmarket image
- Low running costs
- High list prices
- Expensive options
- Firm suspension on M Sport models
At a glance
"The BMW 3 Series is one of the best compact executive cars money can buy, thanks to its mix of driving fun and low running costs."
The BMW 3 Series is a compact executive saloon car that's great to drive and surprisingly cheap to run. It's a rival for the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4, Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50, and it's powered by a range of powerful yet efficient petrol and diesel engines. In our opinion, it's the best all-rounder in its class.
Its sporty nature is obvious from the outset with a stylish design, big bumpers and – on top-of-the-range models – large alloy wheels. Inside, the high-quality cabin oozes upmarket appeal, with an easy-to-use dashboard and enough toys to keep the driver and passenger entertained.
There are plenty of versions to choose from, so there should be a BMW 3 Series for everyone. The conventional saloon can trace its heritage back 40 years and is still the top seller today, while if you need a bit more space, there's also the practical BMW 3 Series Touring estate or BMW 3 Series GT hatchback. However, the coupe and convertible models now bear the BMW 4 Series badge, even though they share most of their components with the 3 Series.
Sharp handling and strong performance lie at the heart of BMW's appeal. The rear-wheel-drive layout, precise steering and well weighted controls make it a joy to drive on twisting back roads, while the four and six-cylinder diesel engines are quick yet surprisingly economical. There's even the option of a petrol-electric hybrid version – although with its turbocharged six-cylinder petrol, the emphasis is on performance rather than economy.
Even so, the 3 Series’ entertaining driving experience doesn’t mean big fuel and tax bills. Thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics technology, the 3 Series emits surprisingly little CO2, while fuel economy is excellent, particularly from the diesels.
If we had to choose one model, it'd be the BMW 320d, which offers a decent blend of performance and economy. But if out-and-out speed is more important, then the BMW 335i is hard to beat.
There are seven trim levels to choose from: ES, SE, Efficient Dynamics, Sport, M Sport and Luxury. All are reasonably well equipped, with alloy wheels, climate control, a DAB digital radio and a Bluetooth phone connection fitted as standard. However, SE is the pick of the line-up, as it adds desirable extras such as parking sensors, along with automatic lights and wipers. The EfficientDynamics model is also available in Business trim. Aimed at company-car users, it features heated leather seats and sat nav.
If the 3 Series has a weakness, it's poor interior space. The latest version is a vast improvement on its predecessor, with more legroom for rear-seat passengers and a 480-litre boot, but it can't match mainstream rivals such as the Skoda Superb or Ford Mondeo. The Touring estate has more boot space, while the 3 Series GT hatchback rivals the larger 5 Series for interior space, but both cost thousands of pounds more than the saloon.
Find out what we think is the best compact executive car by watching our video below.
The BMW 3 Series boasts an impressive range of economical petrol and diesel engines
All BMW 3 Series models are fun to drive, from the basic diesel to the range-topping petrol
The BMW 3 Series boasts a decent amount of equipment, but sat nav isn’t even standard on top-spec models
The boot in the BMW 3 Series is identical in size to the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, but there are more practical cars on the market
The BMW 3 Series is safe, reliable and satisfying to own, with tried-and-tested engines from the rest of the range