The 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
The 3 Series’ interior certainly looks sportier than any small executive car this side of a Jaguar XE. The BMW’s minimalist dashboard and simple centre console are angled slightly towards the driver’s seat, which combined with its low-slung seating position makes you feel more cocooned than in a Mercedes C-Class or Audi A4.
Everything you’ll regularly touch feels pretty solid, too – even low down by the door bins. Sure, some of the plastics and storage bin lids might not feel quite as well damped as in the Audi A4 but the 3 Series certainly edges ahead of the Mercedes C-Class and Jaguar XE in terms of high-quality materials.
Even entry-level cars come pretty well-equipped. You get a 6.5-inch infotainment display with built-in satellite navigation, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity as standard but you’ll have to pay an extra £1,295 on SE, Sport and EfficientDynamics models if you want leather seats.
Pick a Sport or EfficientDynamics models over a basic SE car and you’ll get a selection of glossy black interior trims on the doors and dashboard while Sport versions come with red stitching and thickly bolstered front seats to hold you firmly in place in tight corners.
Sport and EfficientDynamics models also come with leather seats while M Sport cars get a dark grey roof lining and some aluminium dashboard inserts with contrasting blue trims. You also get switchable ambient LED lighting – albeit in just orange or white, as opposed to the rainbow of colours available in the C-Class – and a folding rear armrest.
Range-topping M Sport Shadow Edition cars come with all the M Sport’s extra features but add a more powerful Harmon Kardon stereo. Unfortunately, you still have to fork out £900 if you want the professional navigation system with concierge service and a widescreen display.
Even with these bright red leather seats, the 3 Series’ cabin doesn't feel as special as in other alternatives. At least all of its high-tech features are dead easy to use…
All 3 Series come with a 6.5-inch infotainment system as standard. It’s mounted snugly in the dashboard rather than standing proud like the iPadesque displays you get in a C-Class and A4, but you can still glance at it easily while you’re driving.
You navigate through its intuitive menus using a rotary scroll wheel down on the centre console. This might not seem as high-tech as the touchscreens you get in the Audi and Jaguar but it falls easily to hand and means you can quickly tweak some of the BMW’s settings without taking your eyes off the road.
The standard-fit sat nav system is dead easy to use. The scroll wheel makes inputting a postcode a breeze and it’s a doddle to add a waypoint to your route. The graphics themselves don’t look quite as futuristic as the A4’s high-resolution Google Maps but they’re easy to read and you won’t have any trouble following its clear, concise directions.
If you don’t like BMW’s own sat-nav system, you can get Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring for an extra £235 across the range. This’ll let you use your phone’s navigation and media-streaming apps through the BMW’s built-in display. Sadly, you can’t get a similar feature for Android or Windows devices.
You can get a larger 8.8-inch display as part of the £900 Professional Media package if you’re having trouble reading the 6.5-inch screen. This brings with it a wifi hotspot and live traffic updates but you’ll have to hand over £1,495 if you also want BMW’s concierge service and a head-up-display feature that shows your speed and directions in the windscreen.
There’s also an optional digital display that replaces conventional analogue dials – just like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system. The 3 Series’ Digital Cockpit isn’t quite as large or as sharp as the A4’s but it helps the BMW feel almost as modern and only costs £295.
The upgraded Harmon Kardon stereo is quite a bit more expensive but it sounds much better than BMW’s own rather weedy system. It comes fitted to all M Sport Shadow Edition models as standard but costs an extra £675 across the rest of the range.