One of the finest premium four-door saloons you can buy.

Introduction

Truly genre-defining cars don’t come along very often, but if there’s one enduring mainstay reference point of the automotive industry, it’s that the best compact executive car you can buy is the BMW 3 Series. It has been going more than 40 years and, for the vast majority of that time, it has been the yardstick by which all its competitors are measured – and they’re usually left found wanting. Today, the Three is not quite so far ahead of the pack, if it’s still class-leader at all, but it remains a superb vehicle in many respects. In the Saloon line-up of the 3 Series, there are over 30 different drivetrain and spec combinations alone, with another four provided by the 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid, so there should be a variant to meet every conceivable need. A wide range of excellent engines and the choice of traditional rear- or four-wheel drive keeps the sixth-generation Three, launched in 2012, at the sharp end of the market.

 

Body Style: Saloon                 Seats: 5                          MRP from £25,580 - £41,435

  

Did you know? This generation of 3 Series is the first of the six built across 40 years that has an entirely turbocharged engine line-up.

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Verdict: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (8.6/10)

The BMW 3 Series remains one of the finest premium four-door saloons you can buy. Its very name defines the sector it competes in, but rival companies have rolled up their sleeves and set about closing the gap to the German machine over the years. It’s also one of the older cars in the class, meaning it will be due for replacement soon, but that doesn’t alter the fact it’s still the first choice to make if you’re a keen driver, even if its chassis lacks the ultimate sparkle of its predecessors. It also has a top-quality cabin, plenty of equipment throughout the range, and a collection of powerful, efficient engines to select from. If we’ve got any criticism of the Beemer at all, it’s the safe styling – and a midlife model facelift in 2015 hardly altered its appearance at all. Other than that, this is a glowing report card for the latest generation of a heavyweight champion of the car game.

Design & Exterior

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Interior & Comfort

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Technology & Connectivity

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Performance & Handling

★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10) 

Safety Features

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Specs & Trims

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Running Costs & Fuel Economy

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Pricing

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

 

BMW 3 Series

We Like

Great chassis balance

Strong engines across the board

High levels of refinement

We Don't Like

Sober styling

Endangered six-cylinder engines

Can be pricey

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Design & Exterior: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

BMW 3 Series

If the styling is the BMW’s weakest suit, that’s not to say the car is ugly. Prise the blue-and-white roundels off the front and rear of it, and we’d wager nine out of ten people would immediately identify it as a BMW 3 Series. It has taut lines and the thrown-back cabin that emphasises its rear-drive bias, but it’s surpassed for kerb appeal by the Jaguar XE and especially the Alfa Romeo Giulia – and it’s also perhaps behind its two bitterest rivals, the clean-cut Audi A4 and the elegant Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The midlife 2015 facelift was something of a missed opportunity, because BMW was extremely reluctant to take the surgeon’s knife to the 3 Series’ looks, so it’s hard to distinguish the newer cars from the 2012 originals. To recap for you, the 2015 tweaks amounted to revised light clusters at both ends, some moderate bumper reshaping, and a choice of a few new colours for the body. As with many BMWs, the 3 Series’ appearance is considerably improved by being specified as an M Sport model and then finished in a strong colour.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Interior & Comfort: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

BMW 3 Series

BMW’s dashboard design isn’t exactly flamboyant, but it’s mighty effective. Crisp, clear dials and a logical order to the switchgear makes it a doddle to operate – and, of course, as a BMW the 3 Series has the best infotainment control system around. The iDrive set up has been refined and finessed for the best part of 20 years, which means it’s the most intuitive set-up to use whether the car is stationary or on the move; touchscreens just don’t get close, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Otherwise, the visibility out of the cabin is excellent, and so is the quality of the fixtures and fittings, although this is one area where BMW has always had to play second fiddle to its Bavarian neighbour Audi. Good news, though, as leather upholstery is standard on every grade, bar SE and Sport.

Practicality

As the largest 3 Series yet, four adults should get comfortable within the BMW with little difficulty. The boot holds 480 litres – exactly the same size as the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, and Alfa Giulia – but folding rear seats are a cost option. If specified, they split 40:20:40 and, bizarrely, this feature is standard on the 330e hybrid, although that car has a smaller boot at 370 litres on account of the electric ancillaries it has to carry. Finally, the driving position should suit everyone, as manual adjustment of the seat and steering column are standard range-wide, although electric seats are an option on every single 3 Series, including the 340i.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Technology & Connectivity: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

BMW 3 Series

The 3 Series has a wealth of technology, with satnav standard on all cars as part of BMW’s decision to democratise mapping across its entire UK fleet in 2015. It is, mind you, Business navigation on a 6.5-inch screen; the flashier Professional Nav on the 8.8-inch iDrive screen is a cost option throughout the line-up and it only comes as part of a bundle with other tech. Bluetooth, DAB, Wi-Fi preparation, and BMW’s ConnectedDrive services are standard, while options for reasonable money include a TV function, Apple CarPlay, Head-Up Display, wireless charging for a smartphone, Voice Control, and two sound system upgrades, culminating in a 600-watt Harman Kardon set-up.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Performance & Handling: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

BMW 3 Series

Yep, we’ve gone for full marks, even though we’d say the 3 Series is not quite as sharp as it once was. In a wholly understandable and honourable move, BMW has decided to up the comfort levels of the 3 Series, but the pay-off is that the Mk6 feels ever-so-slightly softer around the edges than preceding generations. You can counter that with optional adaptive dampers, which include sportier modes that feel a touch sharper than the passive set-up, but ultimately the 3 Series isn’t quite the athlete it once was.

It is still the best thing to drive in the class, though, closely followed by the Jaguar and Alfa Romeo. And what the BMW has on its side is a massive array of wonderful drivetrains. Only the 316d takes longer than 10 seconds to hit 62mph from a standstill, the rest of the cars running times between 4.8- and 8.9 seconds (this latter figure for the 318i, an intriguing three-cylinder proposition), and every engine is a smooth, quiet operator.

Power ranges from 136- to 326hp for the petrol engines, and 116- to 313hp for the diesels. Many models come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but an exquisite eight-speed auto is either an option or standard-fit higher up the range; it’s well worth getting, as it often improves economy and performance at the same time – plus, it’s just a lovely, lovely thing to use.

The models that can be fitted with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel system are the 320i, the 320d, and the 330d, while for the top-dog 335d, xDrive is mandatory. We say top dog, because it can hit 62mph from rest in just 4.8 seconds, while the 326hp 340i petrol takes 5.1 seconds. We’d love to steer you towards the 340i, which has the most outright driving thrills, but in reality a 320d M Sport with the automatic transmission and rear-drive is the sweet spot of the range.

Recommended engine: 320d M Sport Auto

0-62 MPH

7.5 seconds

Fuel economy

64.2 mpg

Emissions

116g/km

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Safety Features: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

BMW 3 Series

The BMW comes with a five-star Euro NCAP rating, with high scores across the board – 95-, 84-, 78-, and 86 percent, for adult occupant safety, child occupant safety, pedestrian safety, and safety assist features, respectively. Six airbags, two ISOFIX seat mountings, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning, DSC, and a tyre-pressure monitoring system are all standard, with options including adaptive lighting, Active Cruise Control with Stop&Go, blind-spot monitoring, and Lane Keep Assist.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Specs and Trim Levels: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

BMW 3 Series

Colours

There are 18 colours overall, two solid and the rest metallic, with six of their number made up by expensive 'Individual' hues. Alpine White and Jet Black are the no-cost options, although bear in mind neither the M Sport cars nor the 330d in Luxury spec can be finished in the latter. Of the metallic paints, Glacier Silver, Mineral Grey, Black Sapphire, and Melbourne Red can be specified on any car. Mineral White, Platinum Silver, Jatoba, Mediterranean Blue, and Imperial Blue Xirallic are available on anything apart from the M Sport cars. Estoril Blue, in contrast, is only for the M Sport variants.

The six Individual shades are Champagne Quartz, Tanzanite Blue, Smoked Topaz, Citrine Black, Brilliant White, and Moonstone. The last two of these are special order paints.

Trim Levels

These run SE, EfficientDynamics (ED) Plus, ED Sport, Sport, Luxury, and then M Sport. Not all engines are available at all levels, and the ED Plus/ED Sport grades are specifically for a detuned version of the 320d. SE comes with dual-zone climate control, 17-inch wheels, and a multifunction steering wheel. The ED Plus benefits from leather upholstery with heated front seats, while the ED Sport changes the 16-inch fuel-saving wheels of the Plus for a set of 17-inch items.

Sport is a level up, but it goes back to cloth trim, although Drive Performance Control, Sport-specific exterior and interior styling, and Red Coral dash trim all make up for that. Luxury uses various small details to up the opulence factor, while M Sport brings the usual accoutrements of stylish lower bodywork, an interior dominated by M Sport-detailing, sports seats, sports suspension, and all-LED headlights.

Size and Dimensions

The 3 Series is one of the more compact models in its class and so should present no significant size issues for owners in terms of garaging or parking.

Length

4,633mm

Width

1,811mm (excluding door mirrors)

Height

1,441mm

Max towing weight without brake

From 695kg (318i/320i rear-wheel drive) - 750kg (any xDrive or six-cylinder model)

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Running Costs & Fuel Economy: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

BMW 3 Series

Among a sea of very efficient petrol and diesel motors, there are three distinct eco-champs in the line-up. For those on a budget, the 116hp 316d can get close to 70mpg with emissions dipping beneath the 110g/km mark. It’s not a three-cylinder engine, like its 318i entry-point petrol analogue, instead being a heavily detuned version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel used in the 318d and 320d models.

That same engine is well worth having in the 320d ED Plus, targeted squarely at fleet buyers. With Active Air Flaps in its kidney grilles, its power detuned from the 320d’s 190hp (to 163hp, but torque stays at 295lb ft), and a set of Michelin Energy Saver tyres on 16-inch alloys, it can give back more than 74mpg with emissions of 102g/km.

But your eye can’t help but be drawn to the 330e. Using a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with electric augmentation, the quoted figures are 148mpg and just 44g/km of CO2 emitted. It has a zero-emissions range of 25 miles, so to achieve those extraordinary economy figures you’re going to have to regularly charge the 330e up – but it’s a really fine plug-in hybrid and well worth consideration, as it’s not even particularly expensive at £34,500… and the Government will then give you another £2,500 off in the form of a plug-in car grant.

Reliability and servicing

The 3 Series is reasonably reliable, but owners do report niggling issues with electrics and brake judder, so don’t expect it to be faultless. A three-year, unlimited mileage warranty at least provides plenty of peace of mind for most buyers.

Servicing is done on the condition-based say-so of the car itself, with plans available from BMW to pay for years’ worth of maintenance costs for a one-off, moderate fee.

Petrol models

No fixed schedule – BMW Condition-Based Servicing.

Diesel models

No fixed schedule – BMW Condition-Based Servicing.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Pricing: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

BMW 3 Series

The cheapest BMW 3 Series is a petrol version (318i) and the most expensive is a diesel (335d), showing how times have changed over the years – diesels were once minority interest in the 3 Series family. Quite a few petrol models come in at less than £30,000, but the best diesels are all beyond that figure. And, while the standard specification is fairly generous on every model, there’s still the potential to add lots of costly options to lowlier variants that can make them look ludicrously expensive. Which is why it often makes economic sense with the 3 Series to just aim near the top of the tree anyway, as cars like the 340i and 335d xDrive come with plenty of extra equipment fitted as standard and will have strong residual values.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Recommendations

Green Car Buyer

The hybrid 330e iPerformance has CO2 outputs as low as 44g/km on the right wheels, while it’s still capable of 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds.

Company Car Buyer

Geared specifically towards the fleet user, the 320d ED Sport has some decent kit, a punchy diesel engine, and low running costs.

Car Enthusiast

To sample a modern-day 3 Series that is as close to the traditional great BMWs, you need the only six-cylinder petrol left, the 340i M Sport.

Rivals

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Alfa returns to the compact executive market with a stunningly good saloon, which also happens to looks absolutely divine.

Audi A4

Probably the class leader. Still has that slightly aloof manner with regards dynamics, but in all other respects, it’s a fantastic four-door.

Jaguar XE

A good dynamic alternative to the BMW, the XE shows the sheer depth of talent in this segment – it’s excellent, and yet not class-leading.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

If comfort is your priority, go for the Merc. Has a superb ride and a lovely, if idiosyncratic, cabin. Not hugely thrilling to drive, though.

Volkswagen Passat

Perennially trying to force its way into this premium battle, the Volkswagen is classy, but nevertheless feels a step below the main contenders.

What others say

What Car?

“If you choose the right version and add the right options, the BMW 3 Series is still one of the best executive cars around.”

Car Buyer

“The BMW 3 Series has set the benchmark against which executive saloons are judged, and though some rivals are newer, it continues to do so.”

 

Be part of something big