In-depth Reviews

BMW 3 Series saloon (2005-2011)

"The BMW 3 Series lags behind Audi’s A4 for comfort and ultimate practicality, although few cars are as fun to drive."

Carbuyer Rating

4.0 out of 5

Owners Rating

4.4 out of 5

Read owner reviews

Pros

  • Classy design and interior
  • Wide range of fast and fuel efficient engines
  • Class-leading driving fun

Cons

  • Pricey options
  • A common sight in the UK
  • Limited access to the boot

The BMW 3 Series is the king of the hill in the compact executive car class and is a great car to drive. That's why it's named Best Executive Car in our 2011 Car of the Year awards. That said, it’s not perfect – the cabin, for example, is not as versatile or spacious as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the boot is not as large the one in Audi’s A4. Even so, it’s a good all-rounder, and what’s more it has some of the cleanest, greenest engines in its class. The diesel versions offer staggering fuel economy, as well as being refined and powerful, while the range-topping V8-engined M3 offers supercar-rivalling performance. That said, standard 3 Series models lag behind the class best for comfort, especially in M Sport trim. In 2011, this version of the BMW 3 Series was replaced by an all-new model – read all about it in our latest BMW 3 Series review.

MPG, running costs & CO2

The 320d offers 68.9mpg

BMW has an engineering philosophy called EfficientDynamics that basically means it’s always striving to make its cars as fuel efficient and environmentally sound as possible. As such, even the more powerful petrol versions are relatively frugal. The diesels are hugely impressive - the 320d EfficientDynamics model, for instance, returns 68.9mpg. That’s very close to the figure returned by the hybrid Toyota Prius.

Engines, drive & performance

You’re guaranteed quiet progress when you step on the throttle

The steering can feel quite heavy, but it’s accurate. On M Sport versions the rim of the steering wheel is spongy and thick, which gives it a sporty feel. Whatever engine you choose – petrol or diesel – you’re guaranteed quiet, smooth progress when you step on the accelerator. Most popular is the 320d diesel, which blends 60mpg economy with lively performance. Unlike some other cars in the class, the 3 Series is rear-wheel drive, so power goes to the back wheels, allowing the front tyres to handle the steering alone. For this reason, the 3 Series feels agile.

Interior & comfort

A slight lack of comfort is the 3 Series’ only flaw

Comfort, or a slight lack of it, is arguably the 3 Series’ only major flaw. The driving position offers plenty of adjustment and the rear seats are spacious, but there’s no ignoring the firmness of the ride. In an effort to make the car ‘sporty’, the suspension is quite stiff, so lumps and potholes on the road can be felt in the cabin. It’s not jarring, but the 3 Series doesn’t feel very cushioned over the worst surfaces. It’s more apparent in M Sport versions, which get even stiffer suspension.

Practicality & boot space

The small boot is hard to access

Traditional four-door saloons are less practical than today’s popular family car choices such as 4x4s, people carriers and hatchback ‘crossovers’. The 3 Series has quite a small boot even when compared to other saloons, and the opening is quite narrow. However, it will still swallow a pair of golf bags, and there’s room in the cabin for four adults - so long as the rear passengers aren’t much over six-feet tall.

Reliability & safety

Surveys suggest reliability could be better

The 3 Series placed a very average 53rd of 100 in the 2010 Driver Power customer survey for reliability, although owners were more impressed by its build quality – awarding the car 18thplace. The Lexus IS, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 all beat it in the reliability rankings. Like many cars, the 3 Series has been subject to a few recalls, the last in 2009 for a faulty seatbelt tensioner, but it’s not plagued by issues.

Price, value for money & options

Business Editions get leather upholstery

The BMW 3 Series is comparatively expensive. More can be bought for less elsewhere – take Ford’s Mondeo as an example. But in terms of prestige, running costs and resale values, it’s a value for money car, and is priced at a similar level to its Mercedes-Benz and Audi rivals. Special Business Editions get leather upholstery, satellite-navigation and Bluetooth phone connectivity for an extra £1,000, which is a good-value package.

Recommended

New BMW M3 and M4 xDrive models storm in
2021 BMW M3 and M4 xDrive
BMW M3 saloon
18 Apr 2021

New BMW M3 and M4 xDrive models storm in

BMW M3 saloon review
BMW M3 Competition saloon - front on view
BMW M3 saloon
15 Mar 2021

BMW M3 saloon review

2021 BMW M3 Competition saloon now on sale
BMW M3 saloon
12 Jan 2021

2021 BMW M3 Competition saloon now on sale

Special edition cars: the best, worst and weirdest
Jeep Cherokee SUV
15 Dec 2020

Special edition cars: the best, worst and weirdest

Most Popular

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
13 Apr 2021

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Best new car deals 2021
Skoda Fabia
Deals
16 Apr 2021

Best new car deals 2021

Facelifted 2021 Volkswagen Polo arrives
2021 Volkswagen Polo - front 3/4
Volkswagen Polo
21 Apr 2021

Facelifted 2021 Volkswagen Polo arrives

Tips & advice

View All
Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
13 Apr 2021

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide
Tips and advice
10 Nov 2020

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide

PCP vs HP – what's the difference?
Tips and Advice
23 Mar 2020

PCP vs HP – what's the difference?

Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Tips and advice
24 Feb 2021

Average speed cameras: how do they work?

Best cars

View All
Best car interiors
Best cars
10 Mar 2020

Best car interiors

Best electric cars
Best cars
24 Dec 2020

Best electric cars

Best cheap-to-run cars
Toyota Prius front 3/4 cornering
Best cars
1 Feb 2021

Best cheap-to-run cars

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks
Hot hatches
9 Apr 2020

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks