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BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series – premium saloon showdown

If you’re after a luxurious family saloon then chances are you’ve looked at the BMW 3 Series and its larger brother, the 5 Series. But how do the two cars compare?

Take a look at just how much carwow can help you save on either of these plush saloons by heading over to our new car deals page. If you’re not sure what to buy, read our list of the 10 best large family cars and or check out our car chooser tool for help making a decision.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series prices

As you’d expect from the slightly smaller BMW executive saloon, the 3 Series has a lower price compared to the 5 Series, starting at £25,580 for the base model – the SE. Even in this trim, satellite navigation, active cruise control, climate control and Bluetooth phone connection are standard.

Meanwhile the slightly larger 5 Series is priced from £36,270 for the SE trim. Optional extras and premium touches can rapidly increase the price though, even more so than the 3 Series, despite the larger of the two being offered with more standard equipment – like leather seats. Naturally, you can save money on either car by buying your next BMW with carwow.

3 Series on the left, 5 Series on the right

It’s fair to say both cars share a lot of design elements. BMW’s trademark two-part grille is a dominant feature on both, although the 5 Series has a bolder and smarter finish – and it’s the more recently released of the two cars.

Because the 3 Series is a bit older than the 5 Series, there are some striking differences too. The new 5 Series benefits from sharper, more edgy lines on the bonnet, front-end and side of the car, while the headlights are squarer in shape and larger. At the rear, though, the two remain pretty similar.

It’s also worth noting that while the 5 Series is larger in size, the more aggressive exterior design elements help shield this. The 3 Series is older now and the design is a little safer, but still looks good alongside rivals such as the Audi A3 and Mercedes C-Class.

3 Series on the left, 5 Series on the right

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series interior

The 3 Series’ interior looks a bit dated now when compared to its competitors, and looks even more so alongside the new 5 Series. There are clear similarities in the layout, with the large satellite navigation display dominating in both dashboard designs and plenty of plush touches. That said, the 3 Series interior is still solidly built out of plush-feeling materials, so don’t let that put you off.

However, the 5 Series’ interior is refreshed, modern and uncluttered, with additional leather and premium plastics that take things up another level compared to the 3 Series. This is what you would expect from a car in the class above, though.

The design itself isn’t particularly striking, but the technology and equipment – like the iDrive infotainment screen – impress and the 5 Series has a more driver-focused dash when compared to other premium executives. In comparison, the 3 Series feels well-built and also has the iDrive system, but doesn’t have the plushness and style of its older sibling.

3 Series on the left, 5 Series on the right

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series practicality

Despite being a little smaller, the 3 Series is impressively practical when it comes to passenger space, with plenty of leg and knee room in the back even for tall adults. However, trying to squeeze a third person in the back will be tough, because the middle seat is pretty tight.

The 480-litre boot is the same as the space offered in the Audi A3 and Mercedes C-Class, so there’s a generous amount of luggage capacity. A whole host of cubby holes and storage spots make the premium saloon a surprisingly strong family car, with some smart features.

A bit more space available all round means the 5 Series is a relaxing and luxurious cruiser. There’s a lot of leg, foot and knee room in the back and a good amount of headroom too. Up front, it’s similarly roomy and easy to get comfortable in. The car has been stretched a little compared to the old model, making it even more practical, while a 530-litre boot and host of storage spaces only add to this.

BMW 3 Series on the left, BMW 5 Series on the right

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series engines

The 3 Series is powered by a series of petrol engines, with a 1.5-litre unit providing impressive performance for its small size and 2.0-litre turbocharged engines offered in a range of outputs – meaning you can get the spec that suits you. If you want even more power, though, there’s also a punchier 3.0-litre turbo petrol.

Alongside the petrol units, there’s also a 2.0-litre diesel and a 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel in two different power outputs. Plus, a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with a small electric motor in the gearbox is also available for the 3 Series, boosting the overall power to 250hp.

The 5 Series comes with a range of engines to choose from too. On the petrol side, there’s a smooth and economical 2.0-litre model generating 49mpg. The 3.0-litre turbo adds more punch and power and comes with xDrive four-wheel-drive. Meanwhile the 2.0-litre diesel returns 68.8mpg and there’s a 3.0-litre straight-six option too, with 265hp and a 60.1mpg fuel economy figure – impressive, considering the performance available. Put simply, there isn’t a huge amount to separate the cars in terms of engines, unless you’re after a really small petrol engine.

3 Series on the left, 5 Series on the right

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series driving

BMWs have always been praised for their driving dynamics and that doesn’t change with these two. Due to its slightly smaller dimensions, the 3 Series is a little more agile and has a bit more of a sportier feel. It’s a fun car to drive and comfortable as a passenger too, with excellent suspension, although you should add the optional adaptive dampers so you can switch the suspension between comfort and sport.

The steering is accurate and agile, while if it’s specified right it can really feel like a proper sports car. Punchy and responsive engines help make the 3 Series an exciting and enjoyable car to drive. The handling really is one of its key strengths, but it’s an equally comfortable motorway cruiser too.

On the subject of motorway cruising, that’s where the 5 Series really excels. The car feels poised and balanced on the road, with a comfortable ride and plenty technology to aid the driving experience. But, most of this will mean a costly trip to the options list for things like the steering assistant and adaptive cruiser control.

Nevertheless, the 5 Series also feels enjoyable and fun to chuck around country lanes and corners. It has the on-road character of a much smaller car and is entertaining to drive, while feeling safe at the same time. It’s a major plus for the 5 Series over rivals such as the A5 and E-Class.

BMW 3 Series on the left, BMW 5 Series on the right

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series verdict

The 3 Series and 5 Series are both brilliant cars worthy of consideration. The 3 Series is the less expensive of the two and is a little smaller, but still provides a plush feel and plenty of equipment, but for those who don’t need the extra space and want to reign in the pennies a little. It’s a fun car to drive and is top for handling.

But, if you want something with a bit more presence on the road, with a more modern, high-tech interior and some extra room, the 5 Series is the one for you. Both cars offer up enjoyable handling and plenty of space, but the 5 Series is a fair bit more expensive and the price can go up even more with optional extras.

BMW 3 Series vs BMW 5 Series video reviews

Watch our in-depth video reviews to find out more about these two cars.

BMW 3 Series Saloon 2017 Mat Watson review

BMW 5 Series 2017 Mat Watson review

Save money on your next new car

To see how much carwow could help you save on either of these premium cars, head over to our BMW 3 Series deals page and our BMW 5 Series deals page. To see what else this class has to offer, take a look at our car chooser or read our list of the best executive cars on sale.

BMW 5 Series

Agile mid-size saloon packs more tech than ever
£36,755 - £52,525
Read review Compare offers

BMW 3 Series

A sporty saloon with economical engines
£27,800 - £45,975
Read review Compare offers
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