BMW 3 Series Review & Prices
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.
What's not so good
Find out more about the BMW 3 Series
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 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, 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 simple to use 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, while the boot is as good or better than alternatives thanks to its 480 litres of capacity (although if you want even more practicality, you should take a look at the handsome 3 Series Touring estate…).
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!
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 a smile on your face.
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, including some very impressive plug-in hybrid models.
All up, the 3 Series is a fantastic all-rounder. It’s great to drive, practical, and feels properly posh on the inside too. If it sounds like the car for you, head on over to our 3 Series deals page to see how much money you can save when you buy through carwow.
The BMW 3 Series has a RRP range of £31,605 to £51,935. Monthly payments start at £446. The price of a used BMW 3 Series on carwow starts at £22,750.
The 3 Series’ prices run the gamut from fairly affordable (if you’re looking for a basic 318i or 318d) all the way up to searingly expensive (if you’re looking at an M340i or M340d — or especially the supercar-fast M3.).
An entry-level 3 Series is significantly cheaper than an entry-level Mercedes C-Class, although that’s in part because the C-Class doesn’t currently have a basic engine option to match the likes of the 318i. Mind you, you could look at the likes of a slightly smaller (but still competitive) Mercedes CLA, which is priced much closer to 3 Series levels.
An Audi A4 is also slightly more expensive than the 3 Series at a basic level, although higher up the trim lines it’s more competitive. Interestingly, if you look a Jaguar, then you’ll find that the XE — comparable in size to the 3 Series — is slightly cheaper, while the XF — a bigger car, closer to a 5 Series in size — all-but price-matches the BMW in its basic form. The Jags have less engine and trim choice in their lineups, but are certainly worth considering from a value point of view.
In SE trim, the 3 Series’ suspension is quite soft, so it rides well around town. That said, bear in mind that M-Sport models come with stiffer, lower suspension so they ride a bit more roughly, especially on urban roads. Still, you can spec your sportier 3 Series with adaptive suspension, which when set to Comfort mode, does cope well with bumps.
The turning circle is only average, though, and the 3 Series isn’t quite as nippy in town as, say, a Mercedes C-Class. The steering is lovely — weighty but not heavy —- but the brakes can be a little snatchy until you get used to the pedal feel. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is absolutely fantastic, though.
When parking, the standard front and rear sensors, and the rear-facing camera, make life easier, although visibility out is hindered by thick rear door pillars. Optionally, you can have a very clever Active Parking Plus system that includes a 3D surround-camera system, and steering that parks the car for you. It can even learn, and repeat, regularly used manoeuvres such as how to reverse onto your own driveway.
On the motorway
The 3 Series is truly at home on the motorway, and it’s really quite refined (although the four-cylinder diesels do get noisy when you really put your foot down).
Acceleration from 50-70mph is especially impressive in models such as the 320d and 330e, so BMW clearly knows what its customers want and need. Any 3 Series makes for a pretty effortless way to cover big miles.
On a twisty road
Stick your 3 Series into Sport mode and you’ll get meatier steering feel, sharper gearbox and throttle responses, and if you’ve got the adaptive suspension fitted, stiffer shock absorbers - which help to reduce body roll through faster corners even more.
With standard rear-wheel drive, the 3 Series just feels so engaging and agile, with super-sharp steering that’s very precise. You always know exactly what the 3 Series is doing, and so it builds huge amount of confidence on a twisty road.
It is genuinely good fun to drive too — BMW has really nailed it with this 3 Series. In fact, it might just be the only car you ever need.
There’s very good storage space in the front of the 3 Series’ cabin, starting with big door bins that have a separate section for holding a bottle of water. There’s a pair of decent cup-holders, sensibly located in front of the gear lever, and they’re not too deep so if you’ve got a small cup of coffee, it’s not going to disappear down into them.
Another small storage tray can be found in front of the cupholders, as well as a big lid that covers that whole section up. You’ve got a decent storage box under the front-seat armrest, and another lidded cubby down by your right knee for ‘secret storage.’ The glovebox is a bit mediocre though, as it’s quite shallow.
Space in the back seats
Getting in and out of the back seats is easy, thanks to doors that open up nice and wide, and it’s a nice touch that the seat padding extends all the way out to cover the wheelarch so you’re not bumping against hard metal.
Space is very good for a car of this size, with impressive knee-room and a place for your feet under the front seats. The rear seat bases are quite long, too, so the backs of your legs are better-supported on a long journey.
Headroom is fine, but if you need to sit three people across the back seat, there’s a massive transmission tunnel to work around. The middle rear seat is actually reasonably roomy, aside from that though.
For child seats, there are ISOFIX points in the back, with neat flip-up covers for the anchor points, and there’s enough space to get a bulky rear-facing seat in without having to move the front passenger seat forward.
The windows are a little on the high side, so the view out for kids isn’t that great, but they do get two USB-C sockets and a 12-volt connection. There are helpful seat-back nets for more storage, and cupholders in the flip-down armrest.
In terms of boot space, the 3 Series is on a par with any other four-door saloon of similar size. It actually has 480-litres of space, which is the same as an Audi A4, and quite a lot more than the 455-litres of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It’s more spacious than a Jaguar XE or Volvo S60, too. It’s also way ahead of the 330-litres you get from the Genesis G70.
The rear seats split-fold in a 40:20:40 ratio, so you can just fold down the narrow centre bit if you need to carry something long. The boot opening is a good size, but there is a bit of a load-lip if you need to get something heavy in or out.
There are helpful storage nets at the side of the boot though, as well as tie-down hooks and a 12-volt socket. There’s an optional electric bootlid, which seems spectacularly pointless on a saloon. Just lift it up yourself…
There are levers in the boot to unlock the back seats for folding, but they’re annoyingly not sprung, so you have to lean into the boot to push them down. They fold almost (but not quite entirely) flat, and there’s enough room to fit in a mountain bike, with wheel attached, when they’re folded. With the seats up, there’s enough room for two large and two medium suitcases, AND a set of golf clubs or a baby buggy, which is very decent.
The inside of the 3 Series really is what you might call classic BMW — it’s quite conservative, but it still feels modern and nicely laid out.
The all-screen layout of the new Mercedes C-Class might be more fashionable, but the BMW’s mix of screen and physical buttons actually works a little better. The dashboard is angled towards the driver a little, and there are some nice shiny bits of metallic trim that brighten up what would otherwise be quite a dark cabin. Some of the trim patterns can be a bit headache-inducing though… Quality is great, from the solid-metal doorhandles to the lashings of soft-touch plastic everywhere — even on the glovebox lid and door bins.
All models get the big central touchscreen and digital instruments. The touchscreen can be controlled by touching it (obviously), or using the classic iDrive clickwheel. Or by flapping your hands around in front of it for ‘gesture control.’ Or by shouting at the ‘Hey, BMW’ digital voice assistant. Talk about options!
The infotainment system itself is still one of the best, with sharp graphics and a sensible menu layout. The sat-nav is good, and gets live traffic updates to help you work your way around jams and hold-ups, although it’s not quite as good at that as some third-party phone apps, such as Waze - which you could connect to via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The digital dials are slightly disappointing — the design is very dark, and there’s not as much info as you can find on the displays from Audi or Mercedes.
Up front, there’s a USB-B socket and a 12-volt connection in with the cupholders, and an optional wireless phone charger too. There’s a USB-C socket under the front-seat armrest.
The overall layout of the controls is really good, with all of your driving controls grouped on the centre console, and proper physical buttons for the air conditioning — so much better than touch-sensitive controls or a touchscreen.
The driving position is good, and you can get the seat nice and low for a sporty feel, but there’s enough height adjustment that smaller drivers can still see out properly. The steering wheel has plenty of adjustment too, but the pedals are set annoyingly off to the right a bit — it feels like your feet are in the front wheelarch.
In theory, the champion of fuel economy in the 3 Series lineup is the plug-in hybrid 330e. With its ability to run on electric power alone, it can return some spectacular economy figures (as much as 201mpg according to BMW’s claims) but to do that you’ll have to plug it in and charge it a lot, as its electric-only range is just 36-miles, compared to the whopping 68-miles claimed by the new Mercedes C 300e plug-in hybrid.
On a longer journey, a 330e will return more like 40mpg — not bad, but only about as good as a 318i petrol, and nowhere near as good as the 60mpg you’ll get from a carefully-driven 318d or 320d. Even a six-cylinder 330d is better on a long run, and is easily capable of 50mpg. Go for the 374hp M340i and you’ll be luck to get much better than 35mpg out of it…
The 330e is unquestionably the emissions champ though, with CO2 emissions of just 30g/km for the rear-wheel drive version, or up to 38g/km for the four-wheel drive model. The next best is the 119g/km for an automatic 318d, while the 320d manages 122g/km, depending on which alloy wheels you’ve fitted.
A 320i has 145g/km emissions, while a 330i does surprisingly well at 148g/km. A 330d emits 131g/km, while for the M340d it’s 159g/km and 176g/km for the M340i.
The 330e will cost nothing for the first year of tax for a private buyer, and £145 a year thereafter, while a 318d will set you back a reasonable £180 for the first year, as will the 320d.
A 320i and 330i will be in the £220 bracket, but don’t forget the £335 annual levy for cars costing more than £40,000. For company car users paying the 20 per cent tax rate, a 330e will set you back as little as £76 a month, while it’ll be at least £166 a month for a 318d. A 320d will be more like £186 per month, or for a 330i it’ll be more like £224 per month. An M340i? That’ll be £314 per month…
All 3 Series models conform to the latest Euro 6 emissions and RDE2 standards, so you’ll not get hit with ULEZ charges nor the first-year tax supplement.
The 3 Series has a full five-star safety and crash test rating from the independent experts at Euro NCAP, with a 97 per cent score for adult occupants, and an 87 per cent score for both child occupants and vulnerable road users.
As standard, all models get Active Guard Plus, which is an emergency automated braking system that can detect cyclists and pedestrians, and the bonnet pops up to cushion an impact if you were ever to hit someone. Plus, you get adaptive LED headlights, stability control, traction control, and tyre pressure monitors.
The dynamic brake lights also light up brighter under heavy braking to warn drivers behind you. You get front driver and passenger airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, and front and rear side head airbags. Only the front seats get pelvis and chest airbags, though.
For extra security, there are ISOFIX points in the rear seats, and an airbag cutoff switch for the front passenger seat, plus built-in emergency calling if you have an accident. You can also specify high-intensity ‘Laser’ headlights that automatically dim for oncoming traffic, a heads-up display that projects driving data onto the windscreen, and a Driving Assistant Professional, which helps to keep you in lane and a safe distance from the cars around you on the motorway.
There’s also the option of a BMW ‘CarEye’ built-in dash camera which automatically records what happened in the event of an accident, and there’s the option of a built-in vehicle tracker.
All BMWs come with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, and there are cost-options for extending that out beyond three years and up to 100,000-miles. There’s also an inclusive service plan for the 3 Series, which costs £25 per month, and which covers all your standard servicing costs for the first three years of ownership.
BMW also offers its own roadside assistance programme (which costs £69 per year), and also offers a specific insurance plan to cover cosmetic damage.
Generally speaking, BMWs are well made, and the current 3 Series has been in production long enough for most bugs to be ironed out, but there have been reports of niggles — especially with the infotainment system.
The current 3 Series has had a few recalls, primarily for small items such as poor battery cable designs, and sensor connections, but there have been more serious items covered, such as fragile track-rod ends (part of the steering system) and even the potential for fires caused by the plug-in hybrid 330e’s battery.
*Please contact the dealer for a personalised quote, including terms and conditions. Quote is subject to dealer requirements, including status and availability. Illustrations are based on personal contract hire, 9 month upfront fee, 48 month term and 8000 miles annually, VAT included.