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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For The 3 Series Coupe handles superbly and has some fantastic engines

Against It just doesn't look special enough, especially for a coupe. Very expensive to buy used

Verdict It's refined, solid, rewarding to drive and very desirable. Holds its value really well, too

Go for… 325Ci SE

Avoid… Pre-facelift cars

BMW 3 Series Coupe
  • 1. Inside and out, the styling isn't as special as you'd expect of a coupe
  • 2. Tracking can go awry, which ruins the handling and causes premature and uneven tyre wear
  • 3. The suspension is the most likely area to cause problems, so insist on a good test drive
  • 4. If the engine cooling fan has been replaced, inspect the cylinder head gasket closely for damage
  • 5. Space in the front seats is terrific, and everything is very comfortable
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BMW 3 Series Coupe full review with expert trade views

You won’t be disappointed if you enjoy driving. The handling is sharp, involving and addictive, but there’s plenty of grip and some useful electronic driver aids that stop it getting out of control. Even with the firm sports suspension, though, it rides all but the worst bumps in comfort.

It’s also a terrific motorway cruiser. The excellent driving position and logical controls come into their own on long hauls and the cabin effectively shuts out external noise, apart from tyre rumble.

Whichever engine and gearbox you pick, you'll have plenty of power at your command, all delivered very smoothly. Drive more sensibly, and the engines are surprisingly frugal, too.

Inside and out, the styling is bland – too close to the 1998-2005 3 Series saloon’s – but the quality of materials and rock-solid build are beyond reproach. So is the amount of space in the front.

However, this isn't the most practical of machines. Adults in the back will complain about the shortage of headroom, and the boot is no more than average, either.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

330d preferred by most, but 318Ci looks great value. Lots of M3s to choose from

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

They’re all good, but go for a post-September 2001 car. That’s when the 3 Series Coupe gained an uprated chassis, better security and standard air-con across the range.

However, even from its launch in May 1999, it was well equipped: alloy wheels, alarm, anti-lock brakes, traction control and electric windows were standard.

Nonetheless, many were stacked with options, so hunt down an SE car with tasty extras. Look especially for leather, sat-nav and xenon headlights, which will improve resale value.

Early 318Ci models had a 1.9 engine, which was replaced by a better 2.0-litre 318Ci in 2001. Our favourite is the 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine – either the 170bhp 323Ci or, on later cars, the 192bhp 325Ci – which gives the best mix of performance, refinement and economy.

The 330Ci petrol and 330Cd are swift, but you’ll need deep pockets to buy one. The 320Cd diesel is smooth, quick and economical.

Trade view

James Ruppert

318Ci very popular, 325Ci Sport pre face-lift ’03 good value

James Ruppert
Used car guru

You’ll pay a wedge to get hold of one. The oldest, high-mileage 318Ci cars are far cheaper but, even then, the same money will bag you a newer, faster, more stylish-looking coupe from another manufacturer.

However, the car only loses its value slowly, so you’ll reap the dividends when you sell it on.

Running costs won’t hurt too much. For example, the 318Ci is remarkably cheap to service – some superminis cost more – but the 330Ci will add another 25% or more to your bill. Even then, a 330Ci should work out cheaper than the equivalent Mercedes CLK to service.

Insurance is competitive (groups 13-17) and fuel costs are pretty decent. The 320Ci, 325Ci and 330Ci all fall close to 30mpg on the official combined average, the 318Ci just short of 40mpg. The 330Cd diesel is good for over 40mpg and the 320Cd nudges 50mpg.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

330d preferred by most, but 318Ci looks great value. Lots of M3s to choose from

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

If a potential buy doesn’t have a complete service history, walk away. A fully-stamped service book not only reduces the risk of buying a dud, it also increases its desirability (and therefore price) when you sell it on later.

The suspension is the most likely area to cause concern, so listen out for any tell-tale clonks on a test drive. But also check the tracking, which can also go awry. Sub-standard handling and premature or uneven tyre wear are sure signs of possible trouble.

Also watch for misfiring engines on early cars, and check that the electric fan for the engine works properly. Some fail – and even when they’ve been replaced, damage may already have been done. So if the service records show that a new one has been fitted, inspect the head gasket closely.

However, the vast majority are trouble-free, robust and will give at least a decade of good service if looked after.

Trade view

James Ruppert

318Ci very popular, 325Ci Sport pre face-lift ’03 good value

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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