Review

BMW 3 Series saloon

£25,160 - £41,015

The BMW 3 Series is a car that manages to be all things to all people. The name has been around for over 40 years now and in that time it's established itself as a supremely competent compact executive car. The BMW 3 Series offers genuine driving pleasure in a well built, practical and economical package.

Rivals to the 3 Series abound, with the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 being the most obvious alternatives. The BMW also faces competition from the Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50 and the excellent Jaguar XE – which runs it close for the title of best compact executive car.

The 3 Series is a driver-focused car and its design makes this very clear from the outset. Purposeful looks, prominent bumpers and chic alloy wheel designs combine with a sleek and upmarket interior to make an extremely stylish and desirable car.

But BMW has also ensured the 3 Series is useable: its well thought-out controls, high-quality cabin and generous equipment – including standard sat nav – ensure it's a practical proposition for day-to-day driving.

BMW offers a 3 Series for every taste, with myriad versions to choose from – in fact, there's arguably too much choice, so specifying a 3 Series can be a time-consuming exercise. The conventional 3 Series saloon is BMW's top seller, but if you’re after more space the BMW 3 Series Touring estate or BMW 3 Series GT hatchback should suit your needs. If you want even more style and sporty looks, the BMW 4 Series coupe and convertible share most of their components with the 3 Series.

Strong performance and sharp handling are at the heart of the 3 Series’ driving experience. The rear-wheel-drive layout, accurate steering and nicely weighted control make it a joy to drive on twisty A-roads, while the four and six-cylinder diesel engines offer a great blend of power and economy.

A plug-in hybrid version of the 3 Series, called the 330e, joins the range in spring 2016. BMW says it can return up to 148mpg and emits just 49g/km of CO2, exempting the car from both road tax and the London Congestion Charge.

Elsewhere in the range, BMW's EfficientDynamics technology ensures all but the most performance-orientated 3 Series offer low tax bills and high fuel economy. But if you’d rather have outright speed and performance, the BMW 340i is seriously swift and appealing.

Unless you can afford the running costs and purchase price of that version, though, our pick is the BMW 320d. Its diesel engine provides an excellent blend of performance and economy, and like all BMWs, it should hold its value well on the used market.

BMW offers the 3 Series in four trim levels: SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. Standard equipment across the range includes sat nav, Bluetooth phone connectivity, alloy wheels, climate control and DAB digital radio. BMW's EfficientDynamics technology is available as an option, regardless of what trim level you specify.

While this car has more rear legroom than the previous-generation 3 Series, interior space remains the BMW's sole weak spot. Its 480-litre boot is large enough, but the 3 Series still can’t match rivals like the Skoda Superb or Ford Mondeo for sheer spaciousness.

The 3 Series Touring estate has a bigger boot and the 3 Series GT hatchback comes close to matching the larger BMW 5 Series for interior space, but they cost thousands of pounds more than the standard 3 Series saloon.

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