BMW 3 Series (2015-2018) Review & Prices
The 3 Series is a car that can do it all, but some models are pricier than other used alternatives
What's not so good
Find out more about the BMW 3 Series (2015-2018)
There are many cars that are considered good all-rounders, but the BMW 3 Series is arguably the one car that truly justifies this description.
It has classy styling on the outside, a well-built and comfortable interior, rear- and four-wheel drive options, saloon, convertible and estate body styles, and even plug-in hybrid and performance powertrains.
As well as having a wide range of features that mean there’s a 3 Series for just about everyone, it’s also great to drive.
The BMW 3 Series has been around since 1975, with the sixth generation introduced in 2011. By the time the model received a mid-life update in 2015, it accounted for around a quarter of all cars sold by the German firm.
The 3 Series strikes a good balance between feeling sporty and being genuinely practical – like a trusty pair of trainers
The executive saloon version we’re focusing on here will have likely lived a fairly unexciting life racking up motorway miles, but it still has sporty looks that have aged really well. Even the early cars could be mistaken for something much more modern thanks to narrow headlights and a chunky rear end.
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 the minimalist interior of the BMW 3 Series still cocoons you in a sea of soft-touch materials and upmarket metal-effect trims.
Its light controls make it easy to drive in town and there’s a good view out of the road ahead. Unfortunately it’s not quite as comfortable over rough roads as an A4, but it’s much more fun to drive on a twisty back road than these cars – especially if you find one with the optional M Sport adaptive suspension.
Choice is a good thing, but sometimes it’s possible to have a little too much. That might just be the case with the 3 Series, which had 11 engine options when the mid-life update went on sale, including the economical plug-in hybrid and performance-focused M3.
The 320i petrol was a completely new engine when the 3 Series launched in 2011 and promised more than 50mpg to drivers with a light right foot. This engine is best-suited to those who won’t do too many miles, sticking mostly to the city, and is a better all-rounder than the lower-powered 316i that came in 2012.
If you want power but don’t fancy the full fat M3, there’s the 335i, which uses a 3.0-litre straight-six engine that makes a healthy 306hp. With 2015’s update this was replaced by the 326hp 340i at the top of the regular 3 Series line-up.
As for diesels, the 320d EfficientDynamics Edition offers the lowest running costs for those who travel long distances, promising an official figure of 69mpg (or 73mpg for post 2015 cars) and annual tax of just £20 for vehicles registered before 31st March 2017 thanks to low CO2 emissions. The regular 320d is much more common, though, and still offers over 60mpg with tax of just £30.
The cheaper 316d and 318d were added in 2013 and offer similar economy and emissions but with lower power outputs, making the 320d the more desirable option. From 2015 the 335d became a hugely popular diesel choice, because it had fantastic performance of 313hp and a massive 630Nm of torque, while also being capable of 51mpg.
There are also a couple of hybrid options, with the first being 2012’s ActiveHybrid 3. It can only go two miles on electric power and returns 48mpg, which is nothing to write home about, but its 340hp makes it pretty nippy in a straight line.
More impressive is the 330e that came in 2015. Its 252hp output might be less exciting but as a plug-in hybrid it can offer ultra-low running costs, with official economy figures of up to 149mpg and an electric-only range of up to 25 miles. These models gave favourable company car tax so there are plenty to be found on the used market. As with any plug-in hybrid, though, it’s only worth buying if you can keep the batteries charged. Otherwise a regular petrol will be more economical.
If looking at a 3 Series registered after 1st April 2017 when tax rules changed, most will face a flat rate of £155 per year. However, if the car cost more than £40,000 when new, there’s an extra £355 to pay for five years after the car’s first tax payment, so check with the owner whether this is the case.
As if that all wasn’t enough to take in, most of these engines come with rear-wheel drive as standard, but BMW’s all-wheel drive system – called xDrive – came along on the 320i in 2012. It was added to the 320d, 330d and 335d in 2013.
Starting with ES, which is only available on 316d models, the 3 Series gets 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning and a 6.5-inch colour screen with BMW’s iDrive infotainment system.
SE models get a different alloy wheel design, rear parking sensors, two-zone air conditioning and automatic rain sensing and headlight activation. The Sport trim gets a subtly sporty makeover with redesigned bumpers and a black chrome exhaust tip, while inside there’s a gloss black finish with red accents.
Opt for the Modern trim and you get some design tweaks that give a more sophisticated look, with bespoke bumper designs, matt chrome exterior and interior touches. Luxury models were a bit pricier when new and had an enhanced specification such as 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery and wood trimmings.
M Sport enhanced the 3 Series’ appearance in a similar fashion to the Sport trim, but also received lowered and stiffened suspension to improve handling. Inside you’ll find sport seats with leather upholstery and a unique steering wheel.
Optional extras to look out for in the classifieds include a reversing camera, 40:20:40 split rear seats and a head-up display.
Little of note changed with 2015’s update, but the infotainment technology was beefed up to make it quicker and more responsive while the interior was given more chrome flourishes on all but entry-level SE models.
If practicality is key you’ll be wanting the Touring estate version of the 3 Series, which has a 495-litre boot (or 1,500 litres if you fold the seats down).
However, the saloon model we’re looking at here is not far off this, offering 480 litres – exactly the same size as the boot you get in the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. As a result, it’ll have no trouble carrying a set of golf clubs, a baby buggy or some bulky soft bags. Its square shape helps make it easier to pack full of large luggage than the Mercedes but the Audi’s opening is even wider still.
If you need to carry very large luggage you can fold the back seats down using handy remote levers mounted up by the bootlid. If you want to carry long items poking through from the boot plus two passengers in the back seats at once you’ll have to find a car with the optional three-way (40:20:40) split rear seats. These were standard in Sport models but optional across the rest of the range.
The BMW 3 Series’ standard-fit front seats are supportive and come with enough adjustment for you to find your ideal driving position – even if you’re very tall. Unfortunately, adjustable lumbar support – to help reduce back ache on long journeys – was an optional extra on all trims, so be sure to check if it’s fitted to any used example you’re buying if you do lots of motorway miles.
Space in the back is pretty generous. There’s more head and leg room than you’ll find in either the C-Class or Jaguar XE, and the seats themselves are nicely padded and quite supportive.
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to fit a child seat in the back of the BMW 3 Series. The rear doors open reasonably wide and the Isofix anchor points are clearly marked with folding covers instead of the easy-to-lose removable caps you get in the Audi.
It might be most at home on the motorway, but the BMW 3 Series is still easy to drive around town. Sure, its manual gearbox might not be quite as slick as the one in an Audi A4 but the optional eight-speed automatic is silky smooth, especially at slow speeds.
The BMW 3 Series‘ large windows and thin pillars between the windscreens and doors give you a good view out and help make it easy to spot traffic approaching at junctions. It’s reasonably manoeuvrable too, and all models come with rear parking sensors as standard.
The standard BMW 3 Series doesn’t soften bumps and potholes around town quite as well as the A4, but this was rectified with the optional M Sport Adaptive suspension, so keep an eye out for this.
This upgraded suspension also comes with a sports mode that’ll let you make the most of an empty back road. It makes the BMW 3 Series feel much more agile than the softer A4 and C-Class and stops its body from leaning too much in tight corners.
Sadly, it’s not all good news. On the motorway you’ll hear more wind and tyre noise in the BMW than in the Mercedes – especially if you pick a model with larger 19-inch alloy wheels – and its diesel engines aren’t quite as quiet as in the Audi.
Although the 3 Series is appealing in so many ways, the main thing that might put you off is its reliability record, with some owners complaining of recurring issues and high wear of consumables.
All of the engines on this car use a timing chain, which have been known to cause issues here. Be sure to take the car out on a test drive and listen for a tick, whine or rattle, which could all be signs of problems. Post 2015 diesels are your best bet for avoiding this.
If you’re buying a 3 Series with a six-cylinder engine, be alert to rough idling or a dip in power while driving. This could be a sign that the engine timing solenoids are not working properly, leading to a pricey fix.
Other issues include the fact that Bluetooth smartphone connectivity can be temperamental, but if this is the case you can take the car to a BMW dealer to get a software update that fixes the issue. Meanwhile, owners have also reported that the 3 Series gets through brake discs and pads quicker than usual, which is something to add to your running cost calculations.
Recalls are a normal part of the car industry and come about when manufacturers and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) spot a potential issue with a car. These can vary from major mechanical issues to smaller electric problems that require a quick fix.
These should have been done by the previous owners, but if you want to know if your vehicle has any outstanding recalls you can contact your local dealer, or if you want to read more about recalls take a look at this handy guide.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its patchy reliability record, there are quite a few recalls for the sixth-generation BMW 3 Series, though fortunately they tend to relate to a small run of cars each time.
Various issues with the exhaust gas recirculation system could lead to a fire. This related to some 3 Series models built between 9th December 2011 and 17th September 2018.
Fuel pump problems could lead to the engine struggling to start and in extreme cases a loss of power. This affects some 3 Series between 1st September 2013 and 30th April 2014.
A faulty seat belt retractor could make it difficult or impossible to pull the belt out in low temperatures. Some cars built between 1st September 2014 and 31st March 2015 are affected.
Some recalls for very low numbers of 3 Series includes a rear window that could become detached, bolts on the rear axle that could break free, and an electric failure in the power steering system. But as we said, all the issues around recalls should have been settled prior to buying the car, but just check to make sure that’s the case.
Safety and security
When the BMW 3 Series was safety tested by Euro NCAP, it scored the full five stars. Although testing has become stricter since then, its huge scores in each segment mean it was one of the safest cars of its time.
It received a massive 95% rating for adult occupants, while family buyers will be reassured by its 84% child occupant score. Furthermore, its 86% safety assist rating is also very high for the time.
Driver assistance systems available on higher trims include active cruise control, lane change warning system and lane departure warning, while a 360-degree view and head-up display were available as an optional extra.
There are two obvious choices in competition with the 3 Series and both also come from German manufacturers. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 both do the smart, sophisticated and premium car thing just as well as the BMW. Both are more comfortable over long distance drives, but neither is as fun on a winding road.
The Jaguar XE went on sale in 2015 in direct competition with the updated 3 Series. It doesn’t quite have the same combination of posh-but-well-built cabins of those mentioned above, but it’s probably the most enjoyable in corners.
If you fancy a left-field choice, the Lexus IS 300h is a hybrid with an excellent reliability record and low running costs, while the Alfa Romeo Giulia is a gorgeous saloon that’s great to drive, though the interior isn’t quite as fancy as those above and it has a patchy reliability record.
If you're considering a used BMW 3 Series? You can browse the latest stock from a network of trusted dealers right here on carwow. And if you need to sell your old car first, we can help with that too.