BMW 3 Series Review
The BMW 3 Series is a posh saloon that’s great for the family but also loads of fun to drive. It isn’t the cheapest of the upmarket German cars, though, and some desirable kit costs extra.
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You know what you’re going to get with the BMW 3 Series. Quite simply, it’s going to be a brilliant all-round car – comfortable, practical, good to drive and desirable.
That combination has meant the 3 Series is a bigger seller than the likes of a Ford Mondeo, these days. Why? The same reason you might buy Ethiopian coffee beans over instant, or fresh sourdough over a loaf of Hovis: you don’t mind paying just a bit more for top quality.
You might consider a 3 Series over the likes of other posh German cars like the Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class, but, spoiler alert, all-told it’s the best of this bunch. In fact, the plug-in hybrid version – the BMW 330e picked up the Best Family Hybrid Car in the 2021 carwow Car of the Year Awards.
Not everyone will love the styling – it’s got a more aggressive and angular look than previous generations. But even basic versions of the BMW 3 Series are smart looking. If you do fancy something a bit more eye-catching then you can go for the go-faster body kit and big wheels of the M Sport model – like the AMG Line upgrades available on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Inside, the dashboard design is very much focused towards the driver, much like the equivalent on the bigger 5 Series. It’s physically angled towards you and this means you get a great view of all the vital controls and components.
The actual design will be familiar if you’ve owned a BMW 3 Series or 4 Series in the past, but with some obvious upgrades – the large infotainment screens for example. They are integrated into the dash and look much slicker than the Audi A4’s free-standing unit and you can now, FINALLY, get Android Auto smartphone mirroring (previously, only Apple CarPlay was available).
In fairness, you won’t necessarily need to connect your phone to get the best out 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.
Your passengers will find it easier to get more comfortable in the back of a BMW 3 Series than in a Mercedes C-Class. The boot is a decent size too. It’s big enough for a couple of large hard-shell suitcases and a set of golf clubs, and the cabin provides plenty of smaller storage spaces so it’s easy to keep the interior looking smart.
Depending on your use, the 320i petrol or 320d diesel are the best bet. M Sport is always the best trim. Head to our deals page to see what you could save on one!
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 its suspension is comfy yet is great at stopping the car leaning when you turn. It’s at least a match for the Alfa Romeo Giulia when it comes to putting a smile on your face around twisty roads.
You get five engines to choose from. These include a 320d four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine that has plenty of shove and is economical. 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. There’s also a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid called the 330e for company car drivers and those with access to charging, which is the best of its kind.
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 take care of 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 at lower speeds 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, although it might take a few attempts to actually work.
So it’s fair to say that if you’re looking for a practical, posh saloon that you’ll enjoy driving – the BMW 3 Series is the one to beat.
To get offers, take a look at the latest BMW 3 Series deals.
The BMW 3 Series’ cabin has more space for tall adults than ever and its boot is one of the biggest around – although an A4’s boot is just that wee bit more practical.
The BMW 3 Series feels roomy inside with plenty of space for you to stretch out in the front seats if you’re tall. 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 one niggle is that 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 if you suffer from backache then you have to pay extra if you want two-way adjustable lumbar support. Similarly, you only get heated front seats on SE cars as part of the SE Plus Pack, which also brings 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 anyone who insists on wearing a top hat 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 the middle seat, the rear seats are wide enough that there is enough shoulder space to carry three adults at once, but there’s a tall lump in the rear floor which makes it difficult for your middle passenger to slide across the seats and it’s raised to the extent that headroom is very tight. At least the seat’s quite nicely padded so it is comfy.
It’s dead easy to fit a child seat in the back of the 3 Series. The Isofix anchor points come with handy folding covers and the back doors open wide enough to lift in a bulky child seat. The low-down nature of the 3 Series means you’ll have to stoop down to strap in a child, 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.
The BMW 3 Series’ cabin has lots of spaces for all the bits and bobs that comes with family life. You can get a 500ml bottle into all of the door bins and the glove compartment will take another medium-sized bottle.
You can fit a few phones under the central armrest, while there is also a pair of cupholders under a cover in front of the gear lever, along with a 12V socket and a USB port. This section has a lid on it and if you have a particularly chunky USB cable you won’t be able to fully close the top to keep things 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 matches up to the luggage compartments in close rivals like the Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia, but is slightly larger than those in the Jaguar XE, Mercedes C-Class and Volvo S60.
Getting heavy things in and out isn’t too bad as the opening is wide and a nice square shape and there isn’t too much of a lip. There’s space for two large and two small suitcases will fit alongside a set of golf clubs or a bulky baby buggy, depending on your familial needs. While an Audi A4 has the same size boot, it’s a bit more practically shaped than the 3 Series’ and so you can squeeze a little bit more in.
There are also a couple of hooks to hang shopping bags on and plenty of tethering hooks if you really need to lash something down. A ski hatch between the rear seats means you can feed some long luggage poking through from the boot and still carry two passengers in the back. There’s also a 12V socket in the boot so you can plug in a drinks cooler or a portable vacuum cleaner should you need to give everything 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. There are levers to lower the seats by the boot opening but unfortunately, they only release the seats from their fastenings so you still have to lean in to push them all the way down.
There’s a slight step between the seats and the boot when you drop everything down it’s not enough to prevent you from sliding flat pack furniture in without any hassle. With all the seats down, you can even get a bike in with both wheels attached.
You don’t get any underfloor storage, however, and an elasticated nest is only available as part of the rather expensive optional Comfort Pack.
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.
There is a wide range of different engines in the BMW range with a choice of petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrids. Depending on which version you go for, 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 get from 0-60mph, 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.
The more powerful 320d is a much better bet. This 190hp model gets from 0-60mph in a more sprightly 7.1 seconds and returns almost identical fuel economy to the 318d – 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 get various models, including the 320d, with four-wheel drive (which BMW calls xDrive) but it will impact the 3 Series’ fuel economy. It’s only really worth considering 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. An even more powerful 340d is available too, with 0-60mph taking a ridiculous 4.6 seconds.
The 320i four-cylinder petrol is worth a look for those who are more likely to stick to lower mileage trips around town. It should manage better fuel economy on short journeys and is a little smoother than the four-cylinder diesels. The overall average fuel economy is only around 42mpg though. In terms of performance, this 184hp model matches the 320d’s 7.1-second 0-60mph sprint time.
There’s also a 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 will give plenty of high-end sports cars a run for their money.
If you’re more interested in fuel economy than outright speed, then the 330e is worth a look. This plug-in hybrid model pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver 292hp. It’ll sprint from 0-60mph in less than six seconds and – according to BMW – returns almost 217mpg.
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 chips 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.
You’ll find the BMW 3 Series very easy to drive. You get a very good view out despite the relatively low-slung seating position thanks to rather thin pillars beside the windscreen. The creases on the bonnet give you a good idea of where the front corners of the car are but you can get it with plenty of driver assistance systems to help make parking a doddle.
The standard kit includes parking sensors, a reversing camera and BMW’s parking assistant system, which lets the car steer into parallel spaces or parking bays for you.
There is also a clever reversing assistant system. It remembers where you steered for the previous 50 metres and can automatically reverse out of tight streets or tricky parking spaces. It isn’t the most reliable system ever, though, 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 the tight spot in the car park that you got caught in, you’ll find it deals with pothole-ridden urban streets very well – it’s almost as comfortable and cosseting as the Audi A4. Even M Sport models, which come with stiffer, lowered suspension, do a good job ironing out bumps. Cars with the optional Adaptive M Suspension strike an even better balance between comfort and sportiness though. 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 and to make it that bit more entertaining.
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.
The BMW 3 Series is capable of showing its grown-up side when you have finished your fun and just want to cruise home. You’ll hear very little wind and tyre noise at speed and the optional driving aids help make cross-country trips feel like a walk in the park.
You get cruise control on every BMW 3 Series and it will apply the brakes 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 an emergency to avoid collisions. All this helped the 3 Series achieve the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating with strong scores across the board.
The BMW 3 Series has one of the most high-tech interiors of any saloon but its design is a bit conservative and some flashy features cost extra.