BMW 3 Series (2015-2018) review
The BMW 3 Series is practical, well built and pretty good fun to drive, but adding some desirable optional extras can really push the price up
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The BMW 3 Series is a compact executive saloon with sporty looks and an excellent infotainment system, but it’s starting to show its age in the face of newer, more comfortable alternatives.
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 its minimalist interior of the BMW 3 Series still cocoons you in a sea of soft-touch materials and upmarket metal-effect trims.
Taking pride of place inside is a 6.5-inch infotainment display. It’s sharp, easy to read and much more intuitive than anything you get in the C-Class or Jaguar XE. Satellite navigation comes as standard and you can even get it with a widescreen digital display instead of conventional instruments – just like the Audi A4.
As with the Audi, you have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support. As a result, you might find long journeys take their toll on your back but at least Sport, EfficientDynamics and M Sport models come with more supportive seats as standard.
The BMW 3 Series’s wide boot opening makes it easier to pack full of luggage than the C-Class or XE – it’s big enough to carry a large baby stroller with the back seats up and a bike with them folded away.
The 3 Series strikes a good balance between feeling sporty and being genuinely practical – like a trusty pair of trainers
When it comes to engine choices, the BMW 3 Series is streets ahead of the Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar. There are 11 to pick from, including a fuel-sipping hybrid and a raucous high-performance M3 model. If you do plenty of city driving you’ll want a 318i 2.0-litre petrol while a 320d 2.0-litre diesel will be more economical if you do lots of motorway miles.
Whichever you pick, the BMW 3 Series is pretty easy to drive around town. You get a good view out and its light controls make dodging through tight streets a breeze.
Unfortunately it’s not quite as comfortable over rough roads as an A4 and you’ll hear a little more wind and tyre noise on the motorway than in a C-Class. It’s much more fun to drive on a twisty back road than these cars, however – especially if you pay extra for the M Sport adaptive suspension.
So alternatives might be more relaxing, but you can rest easy in the BMW 3 Series knowing it earned a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating in 2012. The tests have been made stricter since, but it’s still well worth considering if you’re looking for a well-built saloon that’s packed with tech and fairly good fun to drive.
The BMW 3 Series’ sporty cabin is still spacious enough for four adults, but its rather firm central rear seat and large lump in the rear floor mean your fifth passenger will feel quite cramped
The 3 Series’ cabin feels as plush as it is comfy – especially in the front. Just avoid the optional red leather seats unless you want its interior to look like the inside of an abattoir
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. Mid-range Sport, M Sport and top-spec Shadow Edition models all get more thickly bolstered sports seats that’ll help hold you in place tightly in sharp corners.
Unfortunately, adjustable lumbar support – to help reduce back ache on long journeys – is a £265 optional extra on all BMW 3 Series models. It’s well worth paying for however, especially 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 Mercedes C-Class or Jaguar XE and the seats themselves are nicely padded and quite supportive.
Sadly, the central seat is raised over the outer two and there’s a large lump in the roof that cuts into your central passenger’s headroom. There’s also a tall hump in the floor that they’ll have to lift their feet over when they climb in – if you regularly carry three people in the back you’ll be better off with the roomier Audi A4.
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.
You get a few handy storage bins in the BMW 3 Series but not quite as many as in the A4. The BMW’s door bins are just about big enough to hold a 1.5-litre bottle in the front but you’ll only be able to store a one-litre bottle in each of its back doors.
The can-sized cupholders in front of the gear lever aren’t quite as spacious as the Audi’s and there’s only just enough room to hide a smartphone under the front armrest. The BMW’s glovebox is reasonably roomy but you’ll have to part with an extra £75 if you want a folding rear armrest with built-in cupholders in SE, Sport and EfficientDynamics models.
The BMW 3 Series 480-litre boot is 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 or a baby buggy and 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.
You get a few tethering points and some large luggage nets in the BMW 3 Series to secure smaller items and there’s a useful storage cubby on each side of its boot to stop a few loose items rolling around. You even get a large underfloor storage compartment in all but hybrid 330e models that’s just about big enough to hold a few soft bags.
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 and two passengers in the back seats at once you’ll have to pay extra for three-way (40:20:40) split rear seats. These are standard in Sport models but cost £325 across the rest of the range.
With all the back seats folded the BMW’s boot floor is almost completely flat and there’s enough space to carry a large TV box or even a bike with its wheels attached. If you need to carry even bulkier luggage, the Audi’s wider boot is slightly easier to load.
The BMW 3 Series comes with a huge range of engines to choose from and it’s pretty good fun to drive. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as comfortable as some other small saloon cars
The 3 Series happily trades a bit of comfort for sharper, sportier handling but you can get adaptive suspension if you want to have your cake and eat it
You can get the BMW 3 Series with a slightly bewildering range of engines – there are 11 in total, including a high-performance M3 model.
You should consider a 318i or 320i petrol model if you spend lots of time driving around town. The former’s a little sluggish but BMW claims it’ll return 52.3mpg – although you’ll probably see a figure in the low forties in normal driving conditions. The 320i model’s a bit more expensive but it’ll return very similar real-world fuel economy and is significantly faster – it’ll accelerate from 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds compared to the 318i’s 8.9 seconds.
There’s also a hybrid 330e model that’s ideal if you do lots of short city journeys and have somewhere to plug your car in overnight. It’ll manage 25 miles in electric-only mode on a full charge but don’t expect to be able match BMW’s rather optimistic 134.5mpg claimed fuel economy.
A 320d model will be a much better option if you do lots of motorway miles. It’s a touch more expensive to buy than a comparable 320i petrol but it’ll return 55mpg in real-world conditions compared to BMW’s claimed 64.2mpg. It’ll accelerate from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds too, so it’ll have no trouble keeping up with fast-moving traffic.
If you’re looking for something a little quicker that’s just as at home on long journeys you should check out a BMW 330d. These six-cylinder cars are even smoother than four-cylinder 320d models and can sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.6 seconds. This turn of speed comes at the expense of fuel economy, however – BMW claims they’ll return 56.5mpg but you’ll have to make do with a real-world figure in the low forties.
If outright pace is your number one priority there’s only one 3 Series for you – the 431hp M3. These super-quick saloons can leap from 0-62mph in just 4.3 seconds but they cost from more than £58,000 and struggle to return more than 25mpg.
You can also get four-wheel drive (that BMW calls xDrive) in 320d, 320i, 330d and 335d models. It’ll give you a little extra grip in slippery conditions but you’d be better off putting the money towards a good set of winter tyres instead.
A more worthy upgrade is the eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s smoother than the manual and almost as responsive as the twin-clutch automatic you can get in the Audi A4 but it’s noticeably smoother at slow speeds and only sets you back around £1,500 more than the manual.
It might be most at home on the motorway, but the BMW 3 Series is still dead 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. You can even get a surround-view camera system that’ll show you a bird’s eye view of your car and its surroundings on the central infotainment display for an extra £500.
The standard BMW 3 Series doesn’t soften bumps and potholes around town quite as well as the A4, but you can rectify this by paying extra for the optional M Sport Adaptive suspension. It’ll set you back from £515 to £750 (depending on which model you pick) but helps make the 3 Series as relaxing as possible to drive.
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.
Thankfully, every 3 Series comes with cruise control as standard and you can get adaptive cruise control – that’ll maintain a safe distance to other cars then return to a preset speed when the road’s clear – for an extra £620.
The BMW 3 Series earned a full five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP back in 2012 but the tests have been made much stricter since. As a result, cars such as the Audi A4 (that earned a five-star rating in 2015) will provide a little extra protection in a crash.
For a little extra peace of mind you’ll want to consider the optional Driving Assistant pack. It only costs £370 but it comes with automatic emergency braking that’ll help stop the car if it senses an obstacle ahead and lane departure warning to help stop you wandering out of your lane on the motorway.
The BMW 3 Series’ cabin comes with one of the best infotainment systems around but its subtly sporty interior design could do more to stand out from the crowd