BMW 3 Series Saloon full 9 point review
The entry-level 3 Series – the 318i – provides decent pace, although its 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine needs to be worked hard. Performance from the other petrol models is generally effortless, whether they use a four- or six-cylinder engine. The petrol-electric 330e plug-in hybrid is also rapid and the M3 performance car is hilariously quick. All of the four- and six-cylinder diesel engines are strong, bar the entry-level 316d, which feels underpowered.
Ride & Handling
We’ve only driven the 3 Series with optional adaptive M Sport suspension, which makes it brilliant to drive, if not a match for the Jaguar XE. You can choose between sportiness or comfort settings, while the rear-wheel drive chassis provides grippy, well-balanced handling. Four-wheel drive xDrive models improve traction on slippery roads. The steering is responsive, but has an inconsistent feel as you turn the wheel. The M3 is hugely capable, if not as thrilling as you might expect.
If refinement is important choose a six-, rather than three- or four-cylinder model, and go for petrol rather than diesel. The four-cylinder diesels, especially, are rather boomy. Road noise is muted in all but the M3, but there’s more wind noise at speed than in many rivals. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is remarkably smooth, but otherwise the 3 Series isn’t as refined as it should be.
Buying & Owning
Every engine returns excellent economy, but the 320d ED Plus is particularly impressive; this version also has very low CO2 emissions, which makes it especially attractive to business users. The six-cylinder and M3 models are pricier, but cost less to run than many rivals. Juicy dealer discounts and strong resale values keep whole-life costs down for private users, while BMW’s fixed-price servicing deals are good value for money.
Quality & Reliability
The 3 Series’ cabin has a real feel-good factor, with appealing soft-touch plastics, smart detailing and switchgear that has a precise, well-engineered feel. There are some less attractive materials further down the cabin, but the overall impression is as classy as in any rival bar the Audi A4. BMW didn’t perform especially well in our latest reliability survey, although Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes fared worse. The 3 Series’ three-year unlimited mileage warranty is more generous than some.
Safety & Security
The pre-facelift model scored a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating when tested in 2012. The tests have become more stringent since then. There are six airbags as standard but no driver’s knee bag. A city braking system to help avoid collisions is part of an option pack that includes a lane departure warning system. Security expert Thatcham gave the car five stars out of five for resisting theft and four out of five for withstanding being broken into, which is par for the class.
Behind The Wheel
The 3 Series’ ergonomics are generally good – the controls are simple and easy to use and BMW’s iDrive control system is the most user-friendly around. The seats are supportive, while visibility is pretty good and reversing sensors, automatic lights and rain-sensing wipers are standard across the range. It’s a shame, then, that the manual seat adjustment is a bit fiddly and that the pedals are slightly offset.
Space & Practicality
It’s not the roomiest car in its class, but the 3 Series is practical enough to work as a family car. There’s ample headroom up front, and a couple of six-footers fit comfortably in the rear seats. A firm cushion and bulky floor tunnel make life less comfortable for a central rear passenger. The boot is a decent size at 480 litres, although it has a narrow opening that limits what you can put in. Split-folding rear seats with a useful 40:20:40 layout are an optional extra.
Entry-level SE models come with sat-nav, cruise control, climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, Bluetooth and a digital radio. The next step up - ED Plus – is our favourite trim; it adds leather upholstery and heated front seats. Models further up the range gain more luxury kit, while M Sport adds cosmetic upgrades and bespoke bumpers and suspension. The M3 is a trim level all of its own, with a range of upgrades and distinctive wider bodywork.