BMW 3 Series Review

The new BMW 3 Series is a posh saloon that’s great for the family but also loads of fun to drive. Its latest look isn’t to everyone’s taste, though and some desirable options cost extra

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after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Great to drive
  • Good interior quality and space
  • Superb infotainment system

What's not so good

  • Divisive styling
  • Costs more than alternatives
  • Plenty of expensive optional extras
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BMW 3 Series: what would you like to read next?

Overall verdict

There’s a good reason the BMW 3 Series eventually outsold established saloons such as the Ford Mondeo. It’s the same reason people now prefer Ethiopian coffee beans and sandwiches made from fresh sourdough: quality has never been so affordable.

Today, the posh 3 Series still does battle with the everyman Mondeo, but more directly with the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and Volvo S60. But, spoiler alert – all-told it’s the best of this bunch, winning our overall Car of the Year award for 2019.

Its styling isn’t to everyone’s taste, but entry-level versions of the BMW 3 Series look smart. If you find them a little sombre you can always have the go-faster body kit and big wheels of an M Sport car, just like the AMG Line upgrade you can get for the Mercedes C-Class.

Get inside and you’ll be greeted by BMW’s driver-focused dashboard design which has been inspired by the one in the bigger 5 Series. It points a few degrees towards you to give you a brilliant view of all the controls.

The design will be familiar if you’ve owned a BMW 3 Series or 4 Series in the past, but the large infotainment screens fitted to this new version are an obvious upgrade. They look much slicker than the Audi A4’s free-standing unit and you can now get smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android phones – finally.

In fairness, you won’t necessarily need to connect your phone to get the best our of the new BMW 3 Series’ infotainment system. It understands spoken commands just like your smartphone and can also route around traffic rather than sending you headlong into congestion like many in-built sat-navs.

Interior space has also increased making the BMW 3 Series more comfortable in the back than a Mercedes C-Class. It’s happy carrying four tall adults and, while the boot’s no bigger than the old car’s, it’s still large enough for a couple of large hard-shell suitcases and a set of golf clubs. Smaller storage spaces are also abundant so it’s easy to keep the interior looking smart.

Keen drivers have always been drawn to the BMW 3 Series, but those who love luxury and technology now have more reason to choose one before an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class

Mat Watson
carwow expert

So the BMW 3 Series does most of the sensible stuff very well, but how does it drive? Well, its sharp steering lets you flick between corners and special dampers in the suspension (that absorb bumps well) stop the BMW leaning like an overloaded container ship when you turn. It’s at least a match for the Alfa Romeo Giulia when it comes to putting a smile on your face.

You get five engines to choose from. These include a 320d four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine has plenty of shove and will be very cheap to run. The 330i’s four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol is quicker and sportier, while the six-cylinder in the M340i xDrive four-wheel drive is a rocket ship – accelerating from 0-60mph in just 4.2 seconds. There’s also a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid called the 330e for company car drivers and those with access to charging.

But, even if you act like a yob, the BMW 3 Series is always very well behaved. At a cruise, the cabin is as quiet as an Audi A4’s and a host of optional driving aids mean it can cruise itself down the motorway so long as you keep your hands on the wheel. You can’t get much more relaxing than that.

You can also have autonomous driving aids that help in town, such as the reversing assistant. It can drive the car for you, reversing back the way you came should you, say, get blocked in a multi-storey car pack – though, it might take a few attempts to actually work.

So it’s fair to say that the BMW 3 Series is better in every way than the car it replaces, while still maintaining the sporty character of every version that has come before. If you’re looking for a practical, premium saloon that you’ll enjoy driving – it’s the one to beat.

To get offers, take a look at the latest BMW 3 Series deals.

How practical is it?

The BMW 3 Series’ cabin has more space for tall adults than ever and its boot is one of the biggest around, but three adults will still feel a bit cramped in the back.

Unlike some small saloons, the BMW 3 Series’ cabin cocoons you without making you feel cramped. It’s spacious and sporty in equal measure.

Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
375 - 500 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,510 litres

The new BMW 3 Series is larger in every dimension than the car it replaces so it feels roomier inside. There’s plenty of space for you to stretch out in the front seats if you’re tall and the seats themselves come with a decent amount of adjustment as standard to help you get comfy. The steering wheel is nicely aligned with the front seat, but the pedals feel like they’re offset slightly to the right.

Seat-height adjustment comes as standard – so you can hunker down or rise up to get an unobstructed view out – but you have to pay extra if you want two-way adjustable lumbar support to help reduce backache on long drives. Similarly, heated front seats for SE cars only come as part of the SE Plus Pack alongside man-made leather seats and (rather oddly) a bigger fuel tank.

You don’t have to pay any extra to make the back seats nice and comfortable, though. There’s plenty of padding beside the seat to stop you bumping against the hard metal door frame when you get in and out and there’s plenty of space for a six-foot passenger to sit behind an equally tall driver without their knees or feet touching the seat in front.

There’s a decent amount of headroom, so providing you aren’t carrying any professional basketball players there’ll be space for adults to stretch out without brushing against the roof – unless they’re in the middle seat, that is.

Speaking of middle seats, there’s a decent amount of shoulder space for carrying three adults at once too, but there’s a tall lump in the rear floor which makes it difficult for your middle passenger to slide across and headroom is very tight. At least their seat’s quite nicely padded and the BMW 3 Series’ wide rear seats mean there’s enough shoulder room to go round.

It’s dead easy to fit a child seat, too. The standard Isofix anchor points come with handy folding covers and the back doors open wide enough to lift in a bulky child seat. You’ll have to stoop down some way to strap in a child though, but it’s no more difficult than in the likes of the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. There’s just enough space for someone to sit between two child seats, too – for short journeys at least.

There’s plenty of space in the BMW 3 Series’ cabin for you to store plenty of family bits and bobs. All four door bins are big enough to carry a 500ml bottle and there’s space in the glovebox for another medium-sized bottle.

There’s room for a few phones under the central armrest and there’s a pair of cupholders under a folding cover in front of the gear selector where you’ll also find a 12V socket and a USB port. Unfortunately, if you have a particularly chunky USB cable you won’t be able to fully close the lid to keep things looking neat and tidy.

Speaking of USB ports, there’s another under the front armrest and a pair in the back between the front seats but they’re all of the newer USB-C type so won’t work with older cables. There’s also a folding rear armrest with a pair of built-in cupholders.

The BMW 3 Series has 480 litres of boot space, which is no more than you got in the old model. It’s still just as large as the boots in the Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia and slightly larger than in the Jaguar XE, Mercedes C-Class and Volvo S60.

The boot opening is wide and square and the load lip isn’t too sizeable so you can lift heavy objects in and out without too much hassle. Two large and two small suitcases will fit with enough space left over for a set of golf clubs or a bulky baby buggy.

You get plenty of tethering points and a pair of shopping hooks and there’s a ski hatch between the rear seats so you can carry two back-seat passengers and some long luggage poking through from the boot at once. There’s also a 12V socket so you can plug in a drinks cooler or a portable vacuum cleaner should you need to give the boot a spring clean.

If you need to carry some very large luggage, the back seats flip down in a three-way 40:20:40 split using levers by the boot opening. Unfortunately, they don’t spring down automatically so you still have to lean in to push the seats all the way down yourself. There’s a slight step between the seats and the boot too, but you’ll still be able to slide in some heavy flat-pack furniture without any hassle. With all the seats down, there’s enough space to carry a bike with both its wheels attached.

You don’t get any underfloor storage, however, and elasticated nest are only available as part of the rather expensive optional Comfort Pack.

What's it like to drive?

Unlike most saloons, the BMW feels sporty and comfortable – especially in models with adaptive suspension – but you have to pay extra for its clever driver assistance systems.

The BMW 3 Series has always been one of the sportiest saloons on sale and this new model doesn’t break the mould. It drives brilliantly and even manages to be very comfortable, too.

Mat Watson
carwow expert

You can get the BMW 3 Series with two diesel and three petrol engines, or as a plug-in hybrid model. Depending on which version you pick, you can get a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox and either rear- or four-wheel drive.

The entry-level 150hp diesel car is called the 318d. It is the slowest in the 3 Series range, taking a pretty leisurely 8.4 seconds to reach 60mph from rest, but it’s pretty cheap to run – BMW claims it returns around 55mpg. These cars only come with a six-speed manual gearbox, however, so they’re best avoided unless you’re looking for a diesel 3 Series on a budget.

If not, the more powerful 320d is a much better bet. This 190hp model completes the 0-60mph sprint in a more spritely 7.1 seconds and returns almost identical fuel economy – if you pick a model with a manual gearbox, that is. It’s a little thirstier with the optional eight-speed automatic (which comes as standard in all but 318d and 320d cars) but this upgrade makes the 3 Series much more relaxing to drive – especially for long periods. If you’re looking for an economical and relaxing long-distance cruiser, the 320d is the car to go for.

You can also get 320d models with four-wheel drive (which BMW calls xDrive) but it makes the 3 Series less fuel-efficient. Only consider this upgrade if you live somewhere prone to particularly bad winter weather.

There’s also a 330d diesel model with a six-cylinder engine. This is more powerful and smoother than the four-cylinder units in 318d and 320d cars but it costs more to run – BMW claims it’ll return around 47mpg. It’s still worth considering if you do lots of long journeys and you fancy something smooth and punchy, though – if only because it’ll sprint to 60mph from rest in a hot-hatch-rivalling 5.5 seconds.

If you spend more time pottering around town, the 320i four-cylinder petrol is worth a look. It’s a little smoother than the four-cylinder diesels and returns better fuel economy on short journeys. Take in a mix of city and motorway driving, however, and BMW claims it’ll return just 42mpg. In terms of performance, this 184hp model matches the 320d’s 7.1-second 0-60mph sprint time.

There’s also faster 330i petrol model available, but it’s expensive to buy, costly to run and can’t match the performance of the 330d. BMW claims it’ll manage just 41mpg and reaches 60mph from rest in 5.8 seconds.

Climb right to the top of the 3 Series’ performance ladder and you’ll find the M340i. This four-wheel-drive, six-cylinder petrol model will accelerate from 0-60mph in just 4.2 seconds when it goes on sale later in 2019 and should give plenty of high-end sports cars a run for their money.

If you’re more interested in fuel economy than outright speed, the 330e is worth a look. This plug-in hybrid model pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver 252hp. It’ll sprint from 0-60mph in less than six seconds and – according to BMW – returns almost 150mpg.

Even on a full charge – which lets you travel for 40 miles using just electric power – you’ll struggle to match this rather optimistic figure, but the 330e is still impressively economical, especially around town where the electric motor does most of the work. Head out onto a faster country road or motorway and the petrol engine chimes in to lend a hand, but it does it so smoothly you’ll barely notice.

It’s well worth a look if your commute is relatively short and you have somewhere to charge the car regularly so you can maximise the car’s use of its electric motor.

The BMW 3 Series is very easy to drive. Despite the relatively low-slung seating position you still get a good view out thanks to rather thin pillars beside the windscreen. Creases on the bonnet give you a good idea how far away each corner of the car is and you can get it with plenty of driver assistance systems to help make parking a doddle.

Parking sensors, a reversing camera and BMW’s parking assistant system all come as standard which let the car steer for you into bay and parallel spaces. You can also get a clever reversing assistant system which remembers your steering inputs for the previous 50 meters and can automatically reverse out of tight streets or tricky parking spaces – although it isn’t the most reliable system ever and the BMW’s turning circle isn’t quite as tight as a Mercedes C-Class’.

Once you’ve extricated your BMW 3 Series from a car park, you’ll find it deals with pothole-ridden streets very well – it’s almost as comfortable and cossetting as the Audi A4. Even M Sport models with stiffer, lowered suspension do a good job ironing out bumps, but cars with the optional Adaptive M Suspension strike an even better balance between comfort and sportiness. In comfort mode, the suspension softens to make motorway journeys super relaxing, while sport mode stiffens everything up to stop the BMW 3 Series’ body leaning on twisty roads.

The steering also becomes a little heavier in Sport mode, but even without the selective drive modes you’ll find the BMW 3 Series feels just as nimble as the impressively agile Alfa Romeo Giulia. It’ll certainly put a bigger smile on your face on an empty backroad than the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.

When you’ve finished having fun and just want to cruise home, the BMW 3 Series shows its grown-up side. You’ll hear very little wind and tyre noise at speed and the 3 Series’ optional driving aids help make cross-country lopes feel like a walk in the park.

Every BMW 3 Series comes with cruise control that’ll brake for you to maintain a safe distance to other cars, but you can pay extra to get an upgraded system that’ll accelerate, brake and even steer for you on motorways. The driving assistant professional pack also comes with evasion aid that helps brake and steer for you in emergency scenarios to avoid collisions. All this helped the 3 Series achieve the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating which strong scores across the board.

What's it like inside?

The BMW 3 Series has one of the most high-tech interiors of any saloon but its design isn’t particularly eye-catching and some flashy features cost extra.

Next Read full interior review
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