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BMW 3 Series review

The BMW 3 Series is a practical-yet-high-end family car that’s great to drive. It’s very annoying that options are expensive though.

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Buy or lease the BMW 3 Series at a price you’ll love
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wowscore
9/10
This score is awarded by our team of
expert reviewers
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers
after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Excellent infotainment setup
  • Roomy, high-quality cabin
  • Exceptionally good to drive

What's not so good

  • Not as affordable as it appears
  • Rival cars have clearer digital screens
  • Too many options that should be standard

BMW 3 Series: what would you like to read next?

Is the BMW 3 Series a good car?

If you haven’t heard of the BMW 3 Series, you haven’t been paying attention. Simply put, it’s one of the best all-rounders you can buy. If you are after a premium, practical family saloon and you love to drive, this is simply the car for you.

Like shopping at Waitrose instead of Lidl, or having Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee instead of Nescafe, it’s about paying a little extra for a much higher quality product. 

Clearly the 3 Series has some tough competition from Mercedes, Audi, and even Alfa Romeo. But to cut a long story short, it’s the best car in the segment, and an award-winner too — the BMW 330e picked up the Best Family Hybrid Car in the 2021 carwow Car of the Year Awards.

It’s arguably not the most handsome car in the class, as the styling is a bit overdone and fussy in places. But it’s undeniably appealing, especially in the more muscular M Sport form, which comes with a sporty bodykit. Inside, the dash is angled slightly towards you, in the grand BMW tradition, and borrows a fair amount from the larger 5 Series so the quality levels are great. 

It’s not the most innovative interior, and the cabin of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class makes it look a little old-fashioned. But everything works really well, and the infotainment system is pretty simple and includes voice control and sat-nav that can route you around traffic snarl-ups. 

You’ll find there’s more than enough space in the cabin for most, while the boot is as good or better than alternatives with 480 litres to work with.

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!

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

That’s all the sensible stuff taken care of, but the real joy of 3 Series ownership is driving it. It really nails that classic BMW feeling of precise driving, with feedback and involvement to keep you engaged. 

Refinement is excellent, and optional driving aids mean that it can take care of basic lane keeping and staying a safe distance from the car in front on the motorway (as long as you’re paying proper attention too, of course). 

There are some clever functions, such as a ‘reversing assistant’ that can help you retrace your steps out of a tight spot. However, these are part of the extensive and expensive options list that can hike the price up excessively. 

You can choose from a series of engines, with BMW offering a mix of efficiency and performance throughout the line-up. 

Prices start from just over £33,000, and rise above £50,000 depending on which engine you opt for. Head on over to our 3 Series deals page to see how much money you can save when you buy through carwow.

How practical is it?

The BMW 3 Series has plenty of space inside even for taller passengers, and its boot is a healthy size too – unless you go for the 330e plug-in hybrid.

Boot (seats up)
375 - 500 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,510 litres

There’s plenty of space in the front of the 3 Series to get comfy and stretch out, and the driving position is spot-on, aside from the pedals being slightly offset to one side. The basic seats look a little flat, but they’re actually very comfortable, and they drop down nice and low, thanks to standard height adjustment. One quibble, though — adjustable lumbar support is on the options list, which is not great news for bad back sufferers. 

You also don’t get heated seats as standard — you’ll have to upgrade to the SE Pro pack for that, which also comes with man-made leather trim and sports seats. Adding in the Comfort Pack gets you an electric bootlid, keyless entry, and a heated steering wheel. 

You do get plenty of space in the back as standard. There’s enough room both for legs and heads to allow a six-footer to get comfy, even if someone equally tall is sitting up front. As ever, the middle rear seat is a little cramped, and the transmission tunnel eats into space for feet, but that’s par for the course in this class of car. That said, there’s enough shoulder room to just about squeeze in three adults sitting side by side, as long as one doesn’t mind that centre-seat hump.

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 has pretty decent storage space up front, with big door bins that can hold a 500ml bottle of water, and plenty of space left for wallets, sunglasses and loose change. The door pockets are also lined to cut down on rattles. 

There’s a storage space under the front centre armrest, which is a little shallow, but which will definitely hold a couple of phones and the all-important bag of Werther’s Originals. In front of the gear selector, there’s a lidded area which has two slightly small cupholders, a 12-volt socket and a USB port. Just remember that a dangling USB cable means you won’t be able to close the lid. 

There’s another USB port under that armrest, but it — like the two sockets in the back — is the new USB-C type, so you’ll have to bring an adaptor or two if you’ve still got one of the older cables. There’s also a folding rear seat armrest that houses two more cupholders. 

With 480 litres of luggage space, the 3 Series is right on the money for this class. That figure is a match for what you get in an Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo Giulia, slightly more than the 455 litres you get in the new Mercedes C-Class, and a good bit more than the 410-litre Jaguar XE or 380-litre Volvo S60. 

The boot lid opens nice and wide, and there isn’t much of a loading lip, but it is ever so slightly shallow — the Audi A4’s boot is a touch deeper and squarer. Still, there’s space for suitcases or golf clubs, and if you need more practicality, you can always upgrade to the handsome 3 Series Touring estate.

There are also a couple of hooks to hang bags from, and little chrome tie-downs if you really need to bungee something into place. There’s a ski-hatch flap in the centre rear seat for longer items, and a 12-volt socket if you want to leave a laptop securely charging back there, or plug in an accessory such as a cool-box or portable vacuum. 

If you need to get longer items in, the seats split and fold in 40:20:40 formation, and you can unlock the seatbacks by tugging a handle in the boot. They’re not spring-loaded, though, so you still have to push them down by hand, and the boot floor and folded seatbacks don’t make an unbroken surface — there’s a small step. 

There’s plenty of space on offer, and you can fit in bulky items like a mountain bike pretty easily. You don’t get any underfloor storage, however, and an elasticated net is only available as part of the optional Comfort Pack.

What's it like to drive?

The BMW 3 Series has a rare blend of comfort, refinement, and sportiness but you’ll have to pay extra for clever suspension and electronic driver aids.

There’s a broad spread of performance and economy options for the 3 Series, although there is a little less choice than there used to be. If you want a manual gearbox, for example, then your only option is the basic 318d. 

That entry-level 150hp 2.0-litre diesel is better than it sounds though, with reasonable performance and an impressive potential of 60mpg. Of course, the more powerful 190hp 320d is the better bet. Paired to an eight-speed automatic it will scamper to 60mph in just 6.8secs, and yet can still hit the same economy highs as the 318d. 

You can also add xDrive four-wheel drive if you live somewhere that gets lots of snow (but you’ll pay at the pumps as it’s heavier). It’s a hugely relaxing car to drive, either way, with excellent refinement and the potential for more than 600 miles on a tank of fuel.

You could step up to the inline-six cylinder 330d, which has 285hp, serious performance (5.3secs 0-60mph) and can still do better than 50mpg on a long run. It’s also wonderfully refined and smooth to drive, but clearly it’s an expensive option, especially when the 320d is such a good all-rounder. 

Again, four-wheel drive is an option. For the ultimate in diesel performance, there’s the 340hp M340d xDrive, with standard all-wheel drive and the sort of performance that goes with the famous BMW M badge. It’s a £51,515 car, though and that’s before options, so you’d have to consider it a bit of an indulgence.

At the other end of the scale is the petrol-engined 318i, which makes a mere 156hp, and accelerates to 60mph in 8.4secs. Hardly all that bad, then, and a good choice for those whose mileage is mostly done in-town but perhaps not the stuff of which BMW legends are made. 

A 184hp 320i might be a better bet — it brings the 0-60mph time down to 7.1secs, and yet it should still return a real-world 44mpg. It’s not the most potent engine to drive, but it’s smooth and suits the 3 Series rather well. 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 reach 60mph from rest in 5.8 seconds.

You can also get the mighty M340i straight-six 3.0-litre turbo petrol, with four-wheel drive and a 4.1sec 0-60mph time. As an M-lite option, this isn’t quite an M3, but it packs more than enough punch, and with xDrive as standard as well, it’ll be able to tackle most conditions with ease. The claimed fuel economy for this sporty option isn’t too bad though, with BMW claiming close to 37mpg. 

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 – return 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 electric motor.

Even though you sit quite low in the 3 Series (unfashionably so in this everything-has-to-be-an-SUV age) the visibility out of the windscreen is pretty good, thanks to relatively slim front pillars. It also helps that you can see quite a bit of the bonnet, helping you to aim the car, and there are loads of optional assistants to help you in tight spaces.

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’s even a clever ‘reversing assistant’ which can remember where you’ve been driving, and memorise and repeat certain manoeuvres. It takes a bit of getting used to, though, and isn’t the simplest system to use. 

One surprise, especially if it’s been a few years since you last drove a 3 Series, is that it’s really comfortable over bumps. True, there’s always a slightly sporty underlying firmness to the suspension, but the 3 Series really is good at ironing out the worst surfaces these days.

That goes double for models fitted with the optional adaptive suspension, and even if you specced your car with the lower, stiffer M-Sport springs and dampers, it’s still very competent. If you’ve got that adaptive suspension, then you can switch it to Sport mode to stiffen everything up for twisty roads, and then switch it back to Comfort for when you just want to cruise along. All 3 Series also come with an Eco Pro mode, which helps to save a little extra fuel. 

In Sport mode, the steering — already precise and full of feel — stiffens up a bit, and the 3 Series really does set the class standard for driver enjoyment, even if the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia run it close in that regard. 

Overall refinement is excellent too, and on a long cruise there’s very little in the way of excess tyre roar or wind noise. That gives the 3 Series an enviable combo of long-range comfort, and twisty road entertainment. 

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.

What's it like inside?

The BMW 3 Series packs lots of tech into its cabin, but you do have to pay extra for some of the choice items.

BMW 3 Series colours

BMW Unique paint - Dravit grey
Free
BMW Unique paint - Oxide grey
Free
BMW Unique paint - Tanzanite blue
Free
Metallic - Black sapphire
Free
Metallic - Mineral grey
Free
Metallic - Mineral white
Free
Metallic - Sunset orange
Free
Solid - Alpine white
Free
Solid - Jet black
Free
Metallic - Melbourne red
From £695
Metallic - Phytonic blue
From £695
Metallic - Portimao blue
From £695
Next Read full interior review
Buy a new or used BMW 3 Series at a price you’ll love
We take the hassle and haggle out of car buying by finding you great deals from local and national dealers
RRP £33,250 - £51,885 Avg. carwow saving £3,267 off RRP
  • Build your perfect car or choose from our recommendations based on your needs
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Compare offers
Is this car right for you?
  • 1. Tell us what you want from a car
  • 2. We’ll tell you if it matches
  • 3. Only takes 1 minute
Take the quiz
Buy or lease the BMW 3 Series at a price you’ll love
We take the hassle and haggle out of car buying by finding you great deals from local and national dealers
RRP £33,250 - £51,885 Avg. carwow saving £3,267 off RRP
carwow price from
Cash from
£30,680
Monthly from
£367*
Used from
£23,495
Ready to see prices tailored to you?
Compare offers
Buy or lease the BMW 3 Series at a price you’ll love
We take the hassle and haggle out of car buying by finding you great deals from local and national dealers
RRP £33,250 - £51,885 Avg. carwow saving £3,267 off RRP
carwow price from
Cash from
£30,680
Monthly from
£367*
Used from
£23,495
Ready to see prices tailored to you?
Compare new offers Compare used deals
BMW 3 Series
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