The BMW 3 Series is practical, well built and pretty good fun to drive, but adding some desirable optional extras can really push the price up
The BMW 3 Series is a compact executive saloon with sporty looks and an excellent infotainment system, but it’s starting to show its age in the face of newer, more comfortable alternatives.
Sure, it might not have the same elegant cabin as a Mercedes C-Class or feel quite as well built as the Audi A4, but its minimalist interior still cocoons you in a sea of soft-touch materials and upmarket metal-effect trims.
Taking pride of place inside is a 6.5-inch infotainment display. It’s sharp, easy to read and much more intuitive than anything you get in the C-Class or Jaguar XE. Satellite navigation comes as standard and you can even get it with a widescreen digital display instead of conventional instruments – just like the Audi A4.
As with the Audi, you have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support. As a result, you might find long journeys take their toll on your back but at least Sport, EfficientDynamics and M Sport models come with more supportive seats as standard.
The 3 Series strikes a good balance between feeling sporty and being genuinely practical – like a trusty pair of trainers
When it comes to engine choices, the BMW is streets ahead of the Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar. There are 11 to pick from, including a fuel-sipping hybrid and a raucous high-performance M3 model. If you do plenty of city driving you’ll want a 318i 2.0-litre petrol while a 320d 2.0-litre diesel will be more economical if you do lots of motorway miles.
Whichever you pick, the 3 Series is pretty easy to drive around town. You get a good view out and its light controls make dodging through tight streets a breeze.
Unfortunately it’s not quite as comfortable over rough roads as an A4 and you’ll hear a little more wind and tyre noise on the motorway than in a C-Class. It’s much more fun to drive on a twisty back road than these cars, however – especially if you pay extra for the M Sport adaptive suspension.
So alternatives might be more relaxing, but you can rest easy in the BMW knowing it earned a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating in 2012. The tests have been made stricter since, but it’s still well worth considering if you’re looking for a well-built saloon that’s packed with tech and fairly good fun to drive.