BMW 3 Series saloon
Price £25,160 - £41,015
- Low running costs
- Upmarket image
- Great to drive
- High list prices
- Expensive options
- Firm suspension on M Sport
At a glance
"The BMW 3 Series has set the standard in the compact executive class for many years. It handles brilliantly, looks great and is affordable to run."
The BMW 3 Series saloon is simply one of the best all-rounders on sale today. The name is a familiar one, having been around for over 40 years now and establishing an enviable reputation in that time. Driving fun is core to this car's appeal, but it's also solidly built, practical and (if you choose the right engine) extremely efficient.
It's not without rivals, of course: the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50 and Jaguar XE are all clamouring for a piece of the action in this class – popular with well-heeled family buyers and company-car users alike.
The 3 Series looks have evolved continiously over the years, but it has always presented a sleek, sporty and sober image to the world. Smart alloy wheels and eye-catching bodykits on high-spec M Sport models complete the picture.
It's not all about form over functon, though. The 3 Series is also a supremely well though-out car, with intuitive controls, excellent fit and finish and a generous amount of standard equipment (like all BMWs these days, every 3 Series has satellite navigation).
Plenty of engine and trim-level combinations ensure there's a 3 Series saloon for most tastes, but if none of them quite suite your requirements, there's always the BMW 3 Series Touring estate or BMW 3 Series GT hatchback – not to mention the closely related BMW 4 Series coupe, convertible and ‘Gran Coupe’, which share most of their components with the 3 Series.
Performance and handling are among the 3 Series’ strongest attributes, thanks largely to its rear-wheel-drive layout – a relative rarity in mainstream modern cars. The steering and gearboxes (both manual and automatic) are excellent, as is the range of four and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines.
Early 2016 saw the arrival of the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid model, which can return up to 148mpg fuel economy and emits only 49g/km of CO2, which means owners don’t have to pay road tax or the London Congestion Charge.
That's the most efficient 3 Series, but many other versions – particularly the diesels – are very affordable to run thanks to BMW's ‘EfficientDynamics’ technology, which keeps fuel economy up and CO2 emissions down.
In fact, the BMW 320d diesel model is our pick of the range. Although it can’t match the 330e's headline-grabbing efficiency figures, it has a more reasonable purchase price and strikes an excellent balance between fuel economy and performance. Like most BMWs, it's a sensible investment, too, holding on to a good deal of its value secondhand.
There are four BMW 3 Series trim levels: SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. Whichever you go for, sat nav, Bluetooth phone connectivity, alloy wheels, climate control and DAB digital radio come as standard.
Inside, while there's more legroom than in the last 3 Series, the BMW still isn’t quite on terms with its rivals in this area. The boot will hold 480 litres of luggage, but more mainstream rivals such as the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb have it beaten here.
Buyers can of course choose the 3 Series GT hatchback or 3 Series Touring estate if more space is needed – but you will of course need to shell out a bit more up front.
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 and sat nav is standard on all models
The boot in the BMW 3 Series is the same size as what you get the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 and bigger than the Jaguar XE’s
The BMW 3 Series is safe, reliable and satisfying to own, with tried-and-tested engines from the rest of the range