10 best alternatives to the BMW 3 Series

November 15, 2022 by

The BMW 3 Series has, over the last 45 years or so, established itself as one of the best all-round cars money can buy.

Being known for its excellent handling, swift, efficient and characterful engines and reasonable running costs, the 3 Series has evolved over the years to either keep or set the pace in terms of what people should expect from an executive car.

Offered in saloon or estate guises, the 3 Series coupe and convertible were spun off some years ago to become the BMW 4 Series.

With prices starting at a little under £39,000 the 3 Series has never been a cheap car, but strong residual values mean monthly repayments on a finance plan need not break the bank.

But what if the 3 Series isn’t right for you? Maybe the BMW badge just doesn’t do it for you; perhaps you’d like something with more of a focus on luxury and comfort rather than driving dynamics; or maybe you want an electric car rather than the petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options offered by BMW with the 3 Series.

Whatever your reasons…

Our pick of the best BMW 3 Series alternatives comprises:

  1. Mercedes C-Class
  2. Audi A4
  3. Volkswagen Arteon
  4. Tesla Model 3
  5. Volvo S60
  6. Alfa Romeo Giulia
  7. Jaguar XE
  8. BMW i4
  9. Peugeot 508
  10. Skoda Superb

1. Mercedes C-Class

Best for: luxury and comfort

You can trust the company that invented the motor car to field a decent competitor to the 3 Series, and you’d be right to do so: the latest Mercedes C-Class offers a masterclass in luxurious, effortless comfort.

While its boot is a little smaller than the BMW’s and the large central infotainment screen won’t be to all tastes, it really is an excellent car that will make you feel special each time you open the door and climb aboard.

2. Audi A4

Best for: understated modernity

The last of the ‘big three’ German luxury brands, Audi’s A4 may not be quite as fresh as the more recently released BMW and Mercedes, but it’s still an excellent executive car nonetheless.

With excellent interior design and quality, plus all the tech you’re likely to need, the A4 is a refined executive car, and a consummate all-rounder, and it also looks rather attractively priced next to its BMW and Mercedes rivals.

3. Volkswagen Arteon

Best for: being utterly stunning

Volkswagen reality knocked it out of the park when it came so styling the Arteon; that sleek coupe-like profile really makes it stand out on the road, and it looks particularly striking in bronze or deep metallic blue.

Sure, the inside isn’t quite as impressive, playing it far safer and conforming to the ethos VW has become known for over the years, but it’s still a nice place to be – if a little off the pace compared to the BMW and Mercedes mentioned above. Still, the Arteon is a lovely car to drive and look at, and that’ll be more than enough for most., The Shooting Brake wagon is arguably even more fetching.

4. Tesla Model 3

Best for: tech and performance

Anyone considering an executive car should give serious thought to the Tesla Model 3. With an excellent range from its large battery, fast recharging and access to Tesla’s Supercharger network, life with a Model 3 is about as easy as things get where EVs are concerned.

Don’t forget to factor in a serious turn of speed, too, as this electric car can keep up with serious performance machines in a straight line at least. The interior may be a little too minimalist for some tastes, and build quality can be slightly inconsistent, but those are about the only downsides.

5. Volvo S60

Best for: promoting a sense of serenity

Okay, so it might be a bit of a stretch to argue that a car can encourage a state of emotional and spiritual contentment, but the S60’s interior is a thing of near perfection, with thoughtfully chosen materials and a design that errs just on the right side of minimalism.

The only real disadvantage is that you can’t buy a new S60 any more as Volvo has withdrawn it from sale, leaving you two options: the equally lovely V60 estate, or a pre-loved S60 saloon (the latter is highlighted in the link below).

Either way, once you’re sat in the posh, refined and well-equipped cabin of the Q3, you’re likely to surmise that you made the right choice. There’s even a Sportback version if you’d like a more coupe-like profile, though this isn’t quite as practical as the standard SUV version.

6. Alfa Romeo Giulia

Best for: being the best-handling car in its class

The Alfa Romeo Giulia is brilliant but flawed: on the one hand it looks amazing and handles like a proper sports car, while on the other interior quality isn’t as strong as it could be and the rear seats are tight.

But perfection is boring while character is compelling, and you’re unlikely to be bored in the Giulia. Just to give you an idea of how focussed its design team was on making it handle well, all models – from the standard 2.2-litre diesel to the 510hp Quadrifoglio performance version – have a carbon-fibre propshaft (manufactured by Hitachi, if you’re interested) for strength and lightness in the drivetrain.

7. BMW i4

Best for: being an electric 3 Series

Just to give you an idea of how ahead Tesla was in the switch to electric cars, the Model 3 came out four years before the BMW i4, while the Tesla Model S was around for almost a decade prior. Now that BMW has an electric saloon car (two in fact, with the BMW i7 sitting above the i4), though, it’s certainly worth considering as an alternative to the 3 Series.

The i4 is essentially an electric 3 Series, with a similar interior and comparable handling, and all that is for the good. Refinement is excellent, and while it may not be quite as exciting to drive as the Giulia, the i4 is still a very engaging EV.

8. Jaguar XE

Best for: handsome looks, sharp handling

The Jaguar XE is very similar to the Alfa Romeo Giulia in some ways, being similarly tight in the rear while also being a truly excellent car to drive.

It also, unfortunately, suffers in comparison to the BMW in terms of interior fit and finish and infotainment, though a 2019 facelift did much to improve things. We’d argue that the XE is as handsome a car as the VW Arteon, too.

9. Peugeot 508

Best for: being cool, calm and collected

The 508 is emblematic of Peugeot’s ascent, being a thoroughly modern and sophisticated saloon (there’s also an SW estate). With handsome looks and a cool interior design, the 508 really does stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.

Sure, it’s not as sharp to drive as the BMW 3 Series, and no, the infotainment is a little off the pace, but the 508 is a very comfortable car, and a darn good looking one to boot.

10. Skoda Superb

Best for: space, value for money

The Skoda Octavia may more closely resemble the 3 Series in terms of size, but where price is concerned the Skoda Superb sits closer – although even it starts at about £10,000 less.

That means you can get a top-of-the-range Superb for about the same as an entry-level 3 Series, and along with all the extra equipment and a potent 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engine, you’ll be getting an incredibly practical car, and one that also offers excellent comfort, refinement and handling.

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