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BMW 3 Series review

BMW 3 Series review

The BMW 3 Series is a posh saloon that’s great for the family but also loads of fun to drive. It isn’t the cheapest of the upmarket German cars, though, and some desirable kit costs extra.

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wowscore
9/10
This score is awarded by our team of
expert reviewers
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers
after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Superb infotainment system
  • Good interior quality and space
  • Great fun to drive

What's not so good

  • Costs more than alternatives
  • Mercedes and Audi have better digital driver’s displays
  • Some basics are optional extras, not standard

BMW 3 Series: what would you like to read next?

Is the BMW 3 Series a good car?

Well, this is no surprise at all. The BMW 3 Series is a fabulous all-rounder, because it’s comfortable, practical, good to drive and desirable.

That’s why it outsells family cars these days, because people are also prepared to pay a little extra for artisan bread over Warburton’s, and don’t mind hitting Hotel Chocolat instead of Quality Street.

Of course, the 3 Series isn’t alone; there’s also the Audi A4, Jaguar XE and Mercedes C-Class, but it’s the best of this bunch. In fact, the plug-in hybrid version – the BMW 330e picked up the Best Family Hybrid Car in the 2021 carwow Car of the Year Awards.

Not everyone will love the styling – it’s more aggressive and angular looking than any older 3 Series – but even basic versions look cool. If you do fancy something a bit more eye-catching then you can go for M Sport trim, with its go-faster body kit and big wheels – like the AMG Line upgrades available on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The dashboard has the driver as its focus, much as it is on the larger 5 Series. It’s angled towards you and offers a great view of all the vital controls and displays.

It’s a similar ethos to  BMW dashboards in the past, albeit with obvious upgrades such as the large infotainment screens. These integrated screens certainly look much slicker than the Audi A4’s free-standing unit and it now has both Android Auto as well as Apple CarPlay.

In fairness, you won’t necessarily need to connect your phone to get the best out of the new BMW 3 Series’ infotainment system. It understands spoken commands pretty well, and can also route around traffic rather than sending you headlong into congestion.

Rear-seat passengers will be more comfortable in the back of a BMW 3 Series than in a Mercedes C-Class. The BMW’s boot is also a decent size. It’s certainly big enough to cope with a pair of large suitcases and a set of golf clubs. Better still, the cabin has loads of smaller storage spaces.

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!

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

So that’s the sensible side of life covered, but how does the BMW 3 Series drive? Rather fabulously, to be honest. The sharp steering flicks the car between corners and the suspension manages to be comfortable at the same time as minimising body roll in corners. In terms of entertainment, it’s a match for the brilliant Alfa Romeo Giulia.

There are five engines to choose from. These include a 320d four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine that is strong and economical. The 330i’s four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol is a bit quicker and sporty sounding, while the six-cylinder in the M340i xDrive four-wheel drive is a flying machine. There’s also a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid called the 330e for company car drivers and those with access to charging, which is the best of its kind.

When cruising, the cabin is as quiet as an Audi A4’s, and the vast range of optional driving aids mean the 3 Series can pretty much take care of itself down the motorway, as long as you keep your hands on the wheel.

The 3 Series also features some autonomous driving aids that help at lower speeds in town, such as the reversing assistant. It can even drive the car for you, reversing back the way you came should you, say, get blocked in a multi-storey car pack. However, it’s quite complicated to actually make this work.

The long and the short of it is that if you want a practical, posh saloon that you’ll enjoy driving – the BMW 3 Series is the one to beat.

How practical is it?

The BMW 3 Series’ cabin has more space for tall adults than ever and its boot is one of the biggest around – although an A4’s boot is just that wee bit more practical.

Boot (seats up)
375 - 500 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,510 litres

Even if you’re pretty lanky, the BMW 3 Series has loads of space for you to stretch out in the front. The seats themselves come with a decent amount of adjustment, so you’ll be able to get comfortable just as easily if you’re 4ft 11 or 6ft10. The steering wheel is nicely aligned with the front seat, but the one niggle is that the pedals feel like they’re offset slightly to the right.

Seat-height adjustment is standard, too – so you can adopt either ‘racing driver’ or ‘almost SUV’ driving positions, but it’s a shame that you have to pay extra for two-way adjustable lumbar support. Similarly, you only get heated front seats on SE cars as part of the SE Plus Pack, which also brings man-made leather seats and (rather oddly) a bigger fuel tank.

There’s no need to shell out extra cash to make the back seats comfortable, though. For a start, the 3 Series has plenty of space for a six-foot passenger to sit behind an equally tall driver without their knees or feet touching the seat in front.

It also has good headroom, so as long as everyone takes off their top hats they’ll be fine – unless they’re in the middle seat, that is.

That’s because while the rear seats are wide enough to carry three adults at once, there’s a tall lump in the rear floor that makes it difficult for your middle passenger to slide across the seats. It makes headroom tight, too. Still, at least the seat’s quite nicely padded.

Fitting a child seat in the back of the 3 Series is a doddle. The Isofix anchor points come with handy folding covers and the back doors open wide enough to lift in a bulky child seat. The low-down nature of the 3 Series means you’ll have to stoop down to strap in a child, but it’s no more difficult than in the likes of the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. There’s just enough space for someone to sit between two child seats, too – for short journeys at least.

Good news. There are plenty of spaces and cubbies for all the bits and bobs that family life makes you bring along. You can get a 500ml bottle into all of the door bins and the glove compartment will take another medium-sized bottle.

In addition, you can fit a few phones under the central armrest, and there are two cupholders under a cover in front of the gear lever, as well as a USB port and a 12V socket. Bear in mind though, that this section has a lid on it and if you have a chunky USB cable you won’t be able to fully close the top.

Speaking of USB ports, there’s another under the front armrest and a pair in the back between the front seats but they’re all of the newer USB-C type so won’t work with older cables. There’s also a folding rear armrest with a pair of built-in cupholders.

The BMW 3 Series has plenty of boot space; its 480 litres matches the luggage compartments in close rivals such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Audi A4, and is larger than those in the Jaguar XE, Mercedes C-Class and Volvo S60.

Getting heavy things in and out isn’t too awkward because the boot lip is pretty low and the opening itself is a good, regular shape. There’s space for two large and two small suitcases alongside a set of golf clubs or a bulky baby buggy. However, while the boot in an Audi A4 is the same size as the BMW’s, it’s slightly better shaped, so lets you get that little bit more in.

You can hang shopping bags on a couple of hooks, and there are plenty of tethering hooks if you really need to lash something down. Meanwhile, the ski hatch between the rear seats means you can feed long luggage through from the boot and still carry two passengers in the back. There’s also a 12V socket in the boot so you can plug in a drinks cooler or a portable vacuum cleaner should you need to give everything a spring clean.

Ultimate practicality is boosted by the fact you can fold down the back seats in a three-way 40:20:40 split. There are levers to lower the seats by the boot opening but unfortunately, they only release the seats from their fastenings so you still have to lean in to push them all the way down.

There’s a slight step between the seats and the boot when you drop everything down it’s not enough to prevent you from sliding flat pack furniture in without any hassle. With all the seats down, you can even get a bike in with both wheels attached.

There’s no underfloor storage, however, and an elasticated nest is only available as part of the costly Comfort Pack.

What's it like to drive?

Unlike most saloons, the BMW feels sporty and comfortable – especially in models with adaptive suspension – but you have to pay extra for its clever driver assistance systems.

The BMW 3 Series offers a huge range engines, comprising petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrids. Depending on which you go for, it’ll come with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox and either rear- or four-wheel drive.

The entry-level 150hp diesel 318d is the slowest in the range, taking a ‘relaxed’ 8.4 seconds to get from 0-60mph, but it also returns around 55mpg. These cars only come with a six-speed manual gearbox, however, so they’re best avoided unless you’re on the hunt for a bargain.

The 190hp 320d gets from 0-60mph in 7.1 seconds and is almost as thirstless as the 318d – if you pick a model with a manual gearbox, that is. It’s a little thirstier with the optional eight-speed automatic (which comes as standard in all but 318d and 320d cars) but this upgrade makes the 3 Series much more relaxing to drive – especially for long periods. If you’re looking for an economical and relaxing long-distance cruiser, the 320d is the car to go for.

Various models, including the 320d, are available with xDrive four-wheel drive but it will impact the 3 Series’ fuel economy. It’s only really worth considering if you live somewhere prone to particularly bad winter weather.

There’s also a 330d diesel model with a six-cylinder engine. This is more powerful and smoother than the four-cylinder units but it drinks a bit more – BMW claims it’ll return around 47mpg. It’s worth a look if you do lots of long journeys and you fancy something smooth and punchy, though – if only because it’ll sprint to 60mph from rest in 5.5 seconds. An even more powerful 340d is available, with 0-60mph taking just 4.6 seconds.

The 320i four-cylinder petrol is worth a look for those who mainly do lower-mileage urban trips. It’s smoother than the diesels and should be a little more economical in town. The average economy is around 42mpg, and it matches the 320d’s 7.1-second 0-60mph sprint time.

There’s also a faster 330i petrol model, but it’s expensive to buy, costly to run and can’t match the performance of the 330d.

Right to the top of the 3 Series’ performance ladder is the M340i, a four-wheel-drive, six-cylinder petrol model that will accelerate from 0-60mph in just 4.2 seconds.

If you’re a business driver, the 330e is worth a look. This plug-in hybrid model pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver 292hp. It’ll sprint from 0-60mph in less than six seconds and – according to BMW – returns almost 217mpg.

A full charge lets you travel for 40 miles using just electric power, but you’ll struggle to match this figure. Nevertheless, the 330e is still impressively economical, especially around town where the electric motor does most of the work. On faster roads, the petrol engine chips in to help out so smoothly that you’ll barely notice.

It’s well worth a look if your commute is relatively short and you have somewhere to charge the car regularly.

The BMW 3 Series is very easy to drive. The rather thin windscreen pillars mean you get a very good view out, and the creases on the bonnet give you a good idea of where the front corners of the car. You can also get it with plenty of driver assistance systems to help make parking a doddle.

Standard kit includes parking sensors, a reversing camera and BMW’s parking assistant system, which steers the car into spaces or parking bays for you.

There is also a clever reversing assistant system. It remembers where you steered for the previous 50 metres and can automatically reverse out of tight streets or tricky parking spaces. It isn’t the most reliable system ever, though.

Any 3 Series deals well with scarred urban streets. Even M Sport models, which have stiffer, lowered suspension, iron out bumps decently well. The optional Adaptive M Suspension strikes an even better balance between comfort and sportiness though. In Comfort mode, the suspension softens to make motorway journeys super relaxing, while Sport mode stiffens everything up on twisty roads.

The steering becomes a little heavier in Sport mode, but even without the selective drive modes the BMW 3 Series feels just as nimble as the agile Alfa Romeo Giulia. It’ll certainly put a bigger smile on your than the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.

However, the BMW 3 Series is also capable of showing its grown-up side when you want to cruise home. There’s very little wind and tyre noise at speed and the optional driving aids help make cross-country trips feel like a walk in the park.

You get cruise control on every BMW 3 Series and it will maintain a safe distance to other cars, but you can pay extra to get an upgraded system that’ll accelerate, brake and even steer for you on motorways. The driving assistant professional pack also comes with evasion aid that helps brake and steer for you in an emergency to avoid collisions. All this helped the 3 Series achieve the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating with strong scores across the board.

What's it like inside?

The BMW 3 Series has one of the most high-tech interiors of any saloon but its design is a bit conservative and some flashy features cost extra.

Style

The BMW 3 Series comes with a posh-feeling cabin which has plenty of high-tech equipment.

Sure it doesn’t look quite as eye-catching as the stylish interiors you get in the Mercedes C-Class and even the Volvo S60, but it has the rather humdrum Audi A4 beaten in the design stakes. This is thanks to its more dramatic swooping dashboard design and raised centre console which makes you feel cocooned like you’re sitting in a low-slung sports car – classic BMW.

Just like the bigger 5 Series, every BMW 3 Series comes with plenty of cool brushed metal-effect trims on the dashboard which link the air vents beside the doors to the climate control buttons on the centre console.

Speaking of buttons, all the BMW 3 Series’ switches are laid out neatly and in sensible groups – one for the climate control, another for the stereo and a third for the infotainment system shortcuts.

Those shortcut buttons are surrounded by a glossy piano-black plastic trim, but there are several different trims that you can swap it out for, including varnished ash wood, unpolished oak or aluminium effect.

The SE cars get fabric seats as standard, but you can swap in some black man-made leather ones instead. If you get a Sport or M Sport model then you get leather sports seats as standard.

These come in a range of colours including black, brown, cream and blue with your choice of contrasting grey, cream, blue and orange stitching. Clearly, some combinations are more tasteful than others…

All the materials in the BMW 3 Series’ cabin – from the lining of the door pockets to the lid on the glovebox – feel lovely and plush. The only hard bits are on the lower edges of the centre console and behind the front door openings.

Infotainment

Few cars can match the level of tech packed into the BMW 3 Series. Unfortunately, lots of it will cost extra if you don’t go for a high-spec car.

Every car gets a pair of screens as standard, which is more than you get on the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. There’s a 9-inch display on the dashboard and a 6-inch one that replaces some of the functions of conventional analogue dials in front of the driver. The main one on the dash is a touchscreen that can also be controlled using the rotary iDrive controller on the centre console, while the latter has its own dedicated buttons on the steering wheel.

You’ll find the BMW system is logically laid out and more responsive than the equivalent system in the Mercedes C-Class and it is intuitive to use and easy to program the sat nav easier, too.

All the bells and whistles come when you go for an M Sport model with the upgraded Live Cockpit Professional system. This brings a much larger 12-inch instrument display that you can configure using buttons on the steering wheel. It’s clear and sharp but it can’t display quite as much information as the similar screens you can get in a Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.

Alongside this display, M Sport models also get a beefier 10-inch central touchscreen with plenty of flashy passenger-impressing features, including the BMW Personal Assistant.

This feature lets you operate loads of the system’s features using gesture controls or just by talking to it. Say ‘Hey BMW’ and then tell it what you want it to do. It lets you set the sat-nav, change the cabin temperature, make phone calls, change the volume of the stereo and even adjust the mood lighting.

It understands plain English rather than just the robotic phrases favoured by many simpler systems, so saying ‘I’m hot’ will automatically change the climate control to a lower setting. In fact, it’s even clever enough that it will even be able to recognise whether it’s the driver or passenger speaking and adjust the temperature on their side of the car accordingly.

Unlike the similar ‘Hey Mercedes’ system, you can change the BMW’s activation word to give your car a pet name, too. Just don’t tell your friends how to do this unless you fancy yelling out ‘Dave/Chantelle is a legend’ every time you need to tweak the climate control settings.

This system doesn’t work in conjunction with the 3 Series’ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring features, however, which is a shame because the 3 Series’ satellite navigation isn’t quite as good at avoiding traffic some of the apps on your smartphone, like Waze. It’s still one of the best standalone systems out there, though.

Unfortunately, wireless charging to help keep your phone topped up with juice costs extra, as does the upgraded Harman Kardon stereo system. The standard stereo sounds pretty good but this upgraded system packs an extra punch thanks to its beefier speakers and more powerful amplifier.

BMW 3 Series colours

BMW Unique paint - Dravit grey
Free
BMW Unique paint - Oxide grey
Free
BMW Unique paint - Tanzanite blue
Free
Metallic - Black sapphire
Free
Metallic - Mineral grey
Free
Metallic - Mineral white
Free
Metallic - Sunset orange
Free
Solid - Alpine white
Free
Solid - Jet black
Free
Metallic - Melbourne red
From £695
Metallic - Phytonic blue
From £695
Metallic - Portimao blue
From £695
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