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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For The 3 Series is a benchmark for driving pleasure, with space and quality on top

Against It's expensive to buy second-hand, but that's about all there is to complain about

Verdict The 3 Series is superb in every way, but it's quite costly to buy

Go for… 318i

Avoid… 330i

BMW 3 Series Saloon
  • 1. Equipment levels are good across the range, but SE's the best to buy
  • 2. This model can get a couple of adults in the back or make a stab at family duties
  • 3. Good overall reliability, but watch for suspension failure
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BMW 3 Series Saloon full review with expert trade views

The most crucial part of the 3 Series' appeal is the class-leading way it drives.

It's true that, compared to the car it replaced, this model was designed to be a little less sporting, so that it could compete with the comfort and refinement of the likes of the Mercedes C-Class, but it still remains the best car in its class to drive.

It has a fantastic blend of ride, handling and well weighted controls that none of its rivals can touch. Whatever you want in a car – whether it's an exciting drive or something more refined and relaxing – the 3 Series provides it.

What it also provides is decent space. Whereas previous versions had been rather cramped, this model can get a couple of adults in the back or make a stab at family duties.

Build quality is as good as you could expect of a German prestige saloon and equipment levels are good across the range.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Buyers can be picky as lots around, diesels good news, Touring sought after

James Ruppert
Used car guru

There isn't a bad 3 Series – or even a disappointing one. The best two models are the petrol 318i and the diesel 320d, with the 318i preferable thanks to its lower purchase price. However, if you cover a lot of miles, then the better economy of the diesel car may be more attractive.

The 1.9-litre engine in the 316i is a little weak for a car of this size, and the 320d is worth the extra over the 318d. Gearboxes aren't a worry: manuals are slick, autos are smooth.

Trim-wise, on most early models, it's a question of standard or SE, but Sport and ES gradually joined the range over the years. On early cars, if there is a choice at all, the SE's extra equipment makes it the one to go for, but on later cars, ES is the top choice, with much of the SE's attractions at a lower cost.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Good overall reliability; low repair bills, but watch for suspension failure

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

The only trouble with the 3 Series is that it's so desirable, which keeps resale values high and makes it an expensive used buy.

However, once you have one, running costs aren't too bad. Four-cylinder petrol cars can return well over 30mpg on a run, and even the six-cylinder models aren't too far behind, as long as you drive gently.

For the optimum fuel economy, the diesels are best. In the 320d, you'll see mpg as high as the upper 40s, and even the 330d returns over 40mpg, which is remarkable in a car that hits 60mph in just over seven seconds.

Insurance won't be cheap, with no models below group 11, but that's no worse than rivals from Audi and Mercedes. Perhaps most surprisingly, maintenance costs aren't steep, either. Figures from Warranty Direct show that average bills are on a par with those for VWs.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Buyers can be picky as lots around, diesels good news, Touring sought after

James Ruppert
Used car guru

You'd expect the 3 Series to prove a tough, well built saloon and that's very much the case. Although there have been a few recalls over the years, relating to (among other things) the side airbags, brakes, wheels and suspension, the 3 Series is a very sound piece of engineering.

Figures from Warranty Direct show it to have better-than-average reliability, with the cars requiring little time off the road when problems do occur. Whatcar.com reader reviews certainly bear this out, with few reporting problems and, in most cases, when things did go wrong, the dealers were very prompt and efficient in sorting things out.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Good overall reliability; low repair bills, but watch for suspension failure

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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