£25,160 - £41,015 Price range
35 - 69 MPG
The facelifted BMW 3 Series is one of the best all-rounders currently on sale and remains top of the small executive car class despite tough opposition from the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and Jaguar XE.
BMWs are known for being good to drive, and the 3 Series doesn’t disappoint in this regard – even if the Jaguar XE has closed the gap. The BMW is fun to drive quickly down your favourite country road, but is equally at home on the motorway.
High quality plastics are used for most of the interior and the centre console points at the driver so it’s easier to use on the move. There’s also plenty of space, with room for tall adults in the back and a boot that’s big enough for most family holidays.
Its engine range is superb and includes everything from a frugal 1.6-litre diesel through to the twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in the performance-oriented M3. The 2.0-litre diesel is the pick of the range, though, because it strikes an excellent balance between fuel economy and performance.
This current model will be replaced in 2018 – take a look at its replacement undergoing testing by reading our BMW 3 Series price, specs and release date article.
The BMW’s dashboard is pretty minimalist, with very few buttons – it’s nicely designed and well put together. The centre console controls and displays are angled towards the driver, making them easier to see and use when you’re at the wheel. The material quality was updated in 2015 and testers reckon it is almost at Mercedes C-Class levels.
The driving position is excellent, but there aren’t fine enough adjustments on the seats for some critics, so give it a try before you buy. You can always opt for electrically adjustable seats if you can’t quite get your driving position right.
BMW 3 Series interior space
Compared to the old 3 Series, there’s far more head and legroom for rear-seat passengers, making it a pleasant place to sit for long journeys. Although the transmission tunnel that runs the length of the car’s interior eats into foot room for anyone sitting in the middle of the rear seat.
BMW 3 Series boot space
There’s also a load more boot space – there’s now 480 litres of space – but fold-flat rear seats are a cost option. If you need more load capacity, read our review of the BMW 3 Series Touring estate – it’s as good as the 3 Series but has a bit more day-to-day practicality.
The BMW 3 Series is one of the world’s first sports saloons and as such it has always had an excellent reputation for delivering driving thrills – something this new model does little to diminish.
Its rear-wheel drive chassis lets you steer the back of the car on the throttle and it feels perfectly balanced. Even when you’re not gunning it, the 3 Series seems to have more grip than its rivals and it doesn’t suffer from the torque steer (a writhing sensation through the steering wheel under acceleration) that front-wheel-drive models such as the Audi A4 are susceptible to.
BMW’s £750 adaptive dampers, which allow you to alter the firmness of the car’s suspension, are worth considering. Effectively they give you the best of both worlds allowing for a pillowy ride on a long cruise, before tightening up for better body control when the road turns twisty.
Another option is the £85 Servotronic variable power steering. At low speeds it means you barely have to turn the wheel when manoeuvring out of tight spaces. Out on the motorway it’s not as sensitive to inputs to make the car feel less nervous and more planted at high speeds.
BMW builds some excellent engines and in the 3 Series there’s a wide variety (10 in all) to choose from. Entry point to the range is the 318i, while the mega 340i sits at the top. If you’re covering lots of miles the diesels are the ones to go for. The 320d offers a near-perfect balance of performance and economy, while the 335d xDrive ups the pace considerably, but doesn’t cost silly money to run.
BMW 3 Series petrol engines
You may be surprised to learn that nestled under the 318i’s stylish snout is a three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine plucked from the Mini Cooper. Despite its pokey size the wonders of turbocharging mean it’s a decent performer getting from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds and onto 130mph flat out. Its puny capacity translates into cheap running costs – fuel economy sits at 52.2mpg and road tax is an affordable £110 a year.
Both the 320i and 330i use turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines. The former produces a decent slug of performance – its 184hp getting the car from 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds, on the way to a 146mph top speed. The 252hp 330i maxes out at 155mph and bolts from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds. There’s a price to pay at the pumps, of course, the 330i returning fuel economy of 43.5mpg and needing £180 to tax every year. The 320i gets fuel economy of 47.9mpg and is £50 less to tax.
If you want proper performance, plus a six-cylinder engine that’s turbine smooth, pleasing on the ear and a perfect match for the 3 Series then the 326hp 340i could be just the ticket. It gets from 0-62mph in a hair-raising 5.5 seconds and could go way past 155mph were it not electronically limited. Fuel economy of 36.7mpg and £225-a-year road tax isn’t cheap, but it’s cheaper to run than an M3 and as quick as makes no difference on a public road.
BMW 3 Series diesel engines
The 316d is actually a 2.0-litre. Limping from 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds, its performance isn’t really befitting of the BMW badge. The 318d is a bit more like it, but if it was our money we’d head straight for the 320d – it hits 62mph from a standstill in 7.5 seconds, returns fuel economy of 72.4mpg and requires just £20 to tax. Few would argue that it’s the sweet spot in the range, particularly if you cover lots of miles.
That leaves the 330d and 335d xDrive – six-cylinder, 3.0-litre turbocharged units that show just how far diesel power has come. Horsepower may be the most common judge of a car’s performance – with 258hp (330d) and 313hp (335d) both of the high-end diesels have plenty – but it’s their torque that is the real eye-opener. The 413Ib ft the 330d produces is available from just 1,500rpm, which in the real world means warpdrive overtakes. With 465Ib ft the 335d offers more of the same, while its xDrive four-wheel-drive system digs into the tarmac launching the BMW from 0-62mph in less than five seconds and giving it superb stability. Both models get around 50mpg and annual road tax won’t cost you more than £180 a year.
BMW 3 Series Hybrid
The 330e is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol and a small electric motor in its gearbox. The combined power of the two is 250hp and more impressively 309 lb ft of pulling power that is available almost from a stands still. Getting from 0-62mph takes just 6.1 seconds, and the car emits just 44g/km of CO2 for free road tax and exemption from London’s Congestion Charge.
As ever, if you want the fastest 3 Series on the road, you’ll need a hardcore BMW M3.
Predictably, it's also a pretty good engine to use. Performance is modest. described as "adequately quick" in one review. And while it can become a little vocal at higher revs, it's responsive - particularly so when selecting the sport mode in the automatic gearbox. There are better models in the 3-Series range, but those on a budget will find plenty to like,
Of the two engines tested at launch, the ubiquitous 320d came away with most praise, and it’s likely to be one of the range’s biggest sellers. It provides 181bhp and reaches 60mph in about 7.6 seconds. The reviews say it's not absolutely the quietest diesel in the class, but it’s pretty close and is still a model of refinement and usable torque.
Having such strong torque low down and coupled to an aerodynamic body also makes the 320d incredibly economical, with a quoted average of 62.8mpg, giving a range of over 800 miles. Running costs become even cheaper with the sub-120g/km road tax, free for the first year and £20 a year thereafter.
Our favourite quote that sums up the 320d comes from Autocar: “If Superman drove a car, in fact, he’d probably drive a new BMW 320d”
That means a power output of 161bhp, enough for a 0-60mph time of only 8 seconds. It’ll also do 143mph, but combined economy is a staggering 68.9mpg, and 109 g/km of CO2 (£20 tax a year) - this could offer the best mix of performance and economy of any car on the market.
If there’s one criticism of the 320d ED, it’s that there’s a little too much noise - but there’s plenty of torque, and testers say you won’t notice the performance deficit to the regular 320d. It also has a sport mode, to sharpen up responses. Unlike the previous 320d EfficientDynamics, the new model can also be had with an automatic transmission, and you can improve the styling by specifying BMW’s M Sport trim.
Testers say that for efficiency-minded private buyers, and particularly company car users, the 320d EfficientDynamics is “a no-brainer”.
The 320i engine itself is another high point, though it isn't covered in detail in either review. It's essentially the same unit as that of the more powerful 328i, but detuned to a still-reasonable 181 horsepower. It's smooth, punchy and manages 41.5 mpg with the manual gearbox.
Previous 3-Series with the 328i badge were granted amazingly smooth and tuneful straight-six engines. In a world of emissions regulations and expensive fuel, BMW has now downsized this to a 2.0-litre turbocharged four. Some testers mourn the absence of a characterful howl, but you certainly benefit in economy - the 328i is now a car that manages 44mpg on the combined cycle.
Like previous 328is it’s quick, too. Acceleration is described as “effortless”, with 60mph arriving only 6.1 seconds after you put boot to carpet through the smooth, fast 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s also quiet and incredibly torquey from low revs, and still makes a decent noise near the red line. The inline-six wail may be gone, but few will be that bothered.
There’s only a few reviews of the 335i, the current 3 Series range topper, and they're slightly mixed. Two testers gave it the perfect rating, being hugely impressed with the improvements over the standard car, and reckoned it was a worthy addition to the already incredibly capable line-up.
However one said that this engine was feeling a bit outdated when compared to the other 3-Series engines.
Despite its name, the 335i has a 3.0 petrol engine under the bonnet. However, that appears to be the only area where there are any ‘faults’ with it – the testers were highly admirable of the meaty performance, courtesy of the twin-turbos, alongside excellent refinement and decent fuel consumption (40 mpg may not make it the most efficient 3 Series on sale, but it’s a huge feat given the performance on offer). Do note though that one review struggled to hit that figure.
The only quibbles that we have with it are that the options can turn the 335i into a fairly expensive car, and the very brilliant 320d is probably the pick of the range, as it offers enough pace for most people yet is significantly cheaper to buy and run than the 335i.
That being said, it’s still a very impressive car, and the superb engine certainly bodes well for when it’s reworked for the upcoming M3.
The 3 Series scored the maximum five stars during industry-standard Euro NCAP tests and it comes with a multitude of standard safety features including airbags, stability control (which stops the car spinning) and automatic emergency braking.
Specifying the head-up display improves the 3 Series’ safety credentials too – you never need to take your eyes off the road to check speed, gear or lighting functions.
The 3 Series costs from £25,160 and the basic specification is pretty good – automatic air-con, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, DAB (digital) radio and cruise control are all standard kit.
The 2015 facelift updated the infotainment system – it is now compatible with high-speed 4G Internet and can be configured to work with smartphone apps such as Spotify.
The options list is somewhat silly though – it’s possible to double the price of your 3 Series if you get carried away adding extras.
The 3 Series is available in several trim levels: SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. The Sport and M Sport are two of the most popular models with buyers.
BMW 3 Series Sport
Sport trim adds a blacked out grille and wing mirrors on the outside, as well as black interior plastic and sport seats inside. The steering wheel has contrasting red stitching and there is a Sport+ button, which makes the car feel more sporty to drive.
BMW 3 Series M Sport
M Sport means buyers can get looks similar to those of the sporty M3, at a much cheaper price. It includes kit such as a more aggressive body kit, sports suspension, 19-inch M Sport alloy wheels and chrome exhaust tips. Inside there is an M Sport leather steering wheel and the sport seats are Alcantara leather as standard. The distinctive M emblem decorates almost every interior surface.
The astronomical carwow score shows just how highly rated this car is. It’s not just better than anything in the sector, but one of the best cars on sale in any class.
With a wide range of options and specifications, it’s simply a case of designing a 3 Series to fit your budget and buying it. Whichever it is, you’ll have one of the most complete packages you can buy today.