Review

BMW 3 Series saloon

BMW 3 Series saloon

reviewed by Carbuyer

Pros
  • Great to drive
  • Upmarket image
  • Low running costs
Cons
  • High list prices
  • Expensive options
  • Firm suspension on M Sport models

"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 that'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 the BMW's appeal. A 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 fuel 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 six trim levels to choose from: ES, SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. All are reasonably well equipped, with alloy wheels, climate control, DAB digital radio and a Bluetooth phone connection fitted as standard. However, SE is our pick of the line-up, as it adds desirable extras such as parking sensors, along with automatic lights and wipers.

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 3 Series 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 to buy.

Find out what we think is the best compact executive car by watching our video below.

 

MPG, running costs & CO2

4.8 / 5

The BMW 3 Series boasts an impressive range of economical petrol and diesel engines

Engines, drive & performance

5 / 5

All BMW 3 Series models are fun to drive, from the basic diesel to the range-topping petrol

Interior & comfort

4 / 5

The BMW 3 Series boasts a decent amount of equipment, but sat-nav is only optional on all models

Practicality & boot space

3.2 / 5

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 out there

Reliability & safety

4.2 / 5

The BMW 3 Series is safe, reliable and satisfying to own, with tried-and-tested engines from the rest of the range

What the others say

4.8 / 5
based on 3 reviews
5 / 5
"What's immediately clear is that BMW hasn’t taken any risks with the styling. Viewed in profile, the handsome newcomer shares much with its successful predecessor. The nose drops lower, but the upright windscreen and trademark Hoffmeister kink in the C-pillars are familiar design touches."
4.5 / 5
"There are four different handling modes - Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, each altering ride, steering and throttle responses. In Eco Pro mode even such things as the level of air con, heated seats and mirrors are reduced to help you make that next petrol station. The six-speed manual comes as standard, but BMW's eight-speed auto is also now available across the range (for £1500)."
5 / 5
"BMW is to make a big deal of its new trim 'lines' at launch: Sport, Modern and Luxury. These sit above ES and SE and let buyers choose a 3 Series with the right colour 'mood'. Fine - but around two in three UK 3 Series are M Sport spec."
What owners say 
4.2337944664032
4.2 /5 based on 506 reviews
65%
 of people would recommend this car to a friend
Last updated 
6 Mar 2015
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