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In-depth reviews

BMW 3 Series review – an impressive, but expensive executive saloon

"Brilliant BMW 3 Series is the pacesetter for executive saloon handling and performance"

Carbuyer Rating

4.4 out of 5

Owners Rating

3.4 out of 5

Read owner reviews

Pros

  • Impressive handling
  • Spacious interior
  • Excellent engines

Cons

  • Bland styling
  • Steering lacks feel
  • Expensive range-topping models

Verdict – is the BMW 3 Series a good car?

The BMW 3 Series boasts impressive handling, even if some versions can feel a bit numb when it comes to steering feel. Even the plug-in hybrid model is good to drive despite the extra weight of its battery pack. BMW has been creating some of the plushest, most attractive interiors of late, and the 3 Series is no exception, with an impressive infotainment system. It’s got expensive over the years, though, and although the M3 is the flagship performance model of the range, we think most keen drivers would be happy enough with the M340i for around £26,000 less.

BMW 3 Series models, specs and alternatives

The BMW 3 Series is a model that’s synonymous with the compact executive saloon car class, and for good reason. BMW has been making it now for almost 50 years and the 3 Series has come to set the standard, with a sophisticated premium feel and a reputation as the driver’s car of choice.

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Since then it’s been joined by other compact German saloon rivals such as the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, plus Japanese cars like the Lexus IS offering their own take on the formula, not to mention modern electric rivals like the Tesla Model 3 or Polestar 2 aiming to their slice of the company-car market thanks to favourable tax rates for EVs.

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The latest 3 Series doesn't exactly represent a radical design departure for the brand. For a company that produces such arresting, unconventional cars as the electrified BMW iX, the 3 Series is rather more unassuming – although top-spec models do look eye-catchingly sporty. A significant facelift for 2022 saw yet another iteration of the famous kidney grille, along with slimmer headlights and a more aggressive bumper treatment.

Irrespective of personal taste, few will argue against the BMW 3 Series having an upmarket image firmly on its side. Despite becoming a common sight on British roads, and a regular fixture in the top 20 of the sales charts, the 3 Series retains its upmarket appeal, perceived exclusivity and reputation as an engaging driver's car.

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The latest model feels at least as sharp and nimble as its predecessors, with the cornering poise that BMW manages to engineer into every model – and not just those with an M Sport badge. Its well-developed suspension also manages to edge its rivals’ for composure, even if it's slightly firm on the roughest B-roads. BMW’s intelligent xDrive four-wheel drive system (it can automatically and quickly send power to the wheels with most grip) is available on some models, which heightens the sense of security on poor road surfaces as well as increasing traction.

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Our only major misgiving is that the electric power steering system lacks feedback, even if it is precise. M Sport models have a noticeably more engaging feel thanks to bigger alloy wheels and wider tyres, and a suspension setup that further reduces body lean without making life too uncomfortable for passengers. The M340i xDrive is tweaked by BMW's M division, and is the hottest version of the 3 Series besides the new BMW M3, which brings even more pumped-up looks and over 500bhp. For many drivers, we’d say the M340i xDrive is likely to be plenty fast enough and easier to live with than the M3, while also costing a lot less.

Five adults will find the latest 3 Series a pleasure to travel in, thanks to an interior that boasts more rear legroom and headroom than before. Those in the front seats will enjoy a dashboard that has a sleek, hi-tech look but isn’t complicated to use. This was given a serious upgrade in late 2022, as the 3 Series moved to BMW’s latest iDrive setup that shuns a traditional binnacle in favour of widescreen displays perched atop the fascia. These boast fantastic graphics that look great, and while some may dislike the fact the climate controls also move to the touchscreen, the execution means they’re still pretty easy to use.

As before, the 320i petrol is an extremely talented all-rounder, taking around seven seconds to reach 62mph and still promising to nudge economy of more than 40mpg. The M340i is the only six-cylinder petrol in the range and boasts 369bhp, while the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is also a hugely desirable version, thanks to its great performance and low running costs, particularly for company-car drivers. That's especially the case in cities such as London, where it is exempt from the daily Congestion Charge.

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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