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What Car? says

5 out of 5 stars

For Superbly built and engineered – great to drive

Against Firm ride; not that practical

Verdict One of the best used cars money can buy.

Go for… 320d ES

Avoid… 330i M Sport

BMW 3 Series Saloon
  • 1. The firm suspension shows up bumps and rough surfaces at low speed
  • 2. Posher cars get the iDrive rotary control, which some people find extremely awkward
  • 3. The cabin is beautifully quiet, with little road, suspension or wind noise
  • 4. Back seats are comfortable for anyone up to six feet tall
  • 5. All engines are tough and reliable, and will last many thousands of miles
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BMW 3 Series Saloon full review with expert trade views

The BMW 3 Series is the benchmark for how a compact executive car should handle. It grips well, it's poised at all times, and it steers accurately. The suspension is firm, but never uncomfortable – however, the optional sports set-up can be too harsh for some.

The 3 Series is also a quiet cruiser, with little road or suspension noise. Wind noise is noticeable only at high speeds. All drivers should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel, because there's loads of adjustment in the front seats and steering wheel. All but the tallest passengers will find the back seats comfortable. The boot is a generous size, but is a slightly unusual shape.

In 2008, the range underwent a subtle face-lift, with a revised grille and front end and new rear lights.

Trade view

Car supermarkets and online retailers usually have a great selection of ex-fleet 3 Series for sale.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

The 3 Series has a confusing array of engines, of which many are the same size but with different power outputs, while some have also been uprated over the years.

The 120bhp or 141bhp 2.0-litre 318d is acceptable, but we’d go for the 320d, which initially came with 163bhp, but was uprated to 175bhp in September 2007 and then 181bhp in March 2010.

There’s also the frugal 161bhp 320d Efficient Dynamics version, which was launched in August 2009, and the 114bhp 316d released in June ’09. For more oomph there are the 3.0-litre models, which range from 194bhp to 282bhp.

If you don't cover many miles, then one of the petrol models might prove better value. The refined 2.0-litre 318i and 320i come with between 127bhp and 168bhp, while the strong six-cylinder engines have between 215bhp and 302bhp.

All versions come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but a six-speed automatic 'box was as an option.

Entry-level models come without alloys, but get a CD player, air-conditioning and four electric windows.

ES specification gets alloys and front foglights. SE cars are one of the most common models on the used market and come with bigger alloys, a multi-function steering wheel, traction control and reversing sensors. The M Sport editions get a muscular bodykit, larger alloys and the firmer sports suspension.

In mid-2009, the SE Business Edition was introduced, which added leather upholstery, Bluetooth and sat-nav to the standard SE spec.

Trade view

Simply stunning as a used buy – the 320d SE should be on every used buyer’s shortlist.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

Fuel-saving Efficient Dynamics technology was introduced to the 3 Series range in 2007 and has been steadily improved since, making later cars noticeably more efficient.

The 316d introduced in 2009 averages 62.8mpg and has CO2 emissions of 118g/km, while the 320d Efficient Dynamics edition of the same year is capable of 68.9mpg and emits just 109g/km.

The pre-Efficient Dynamics cars are far less efficient than the later cars. Initially, the 318i managed 37.2mpg and emitted 182g/km of CO2, while the newer version does 44.8mpg and 147g/km. It’s a similar story with the more-powerful 320i: it averaged 37.2mpg and produced 182g/km of CO2, while the current car jumps to 44.1mpg and has emissions of 149g/km.

The least-powerful models are in insurance group 21, rising to group 38 for the range-topping diesel models.

Typically, franchised BMW dealers have some of the UK’s highest labour rates, so look to independent specialists when servicing cars more than three years old.

Trade view

Car supermarkets and online retailers usually have a great selection of ex-fleet 3 Series for sale.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor

There’s not much to moan about, but over the years a number of common faults have surfaced with the 3 Series.

Door handles have been known to stick and the interior trim can work itself loose. There are also some reports of diesel turbos failing, rapidly wearing front brakes, central-locking malfunctions and air-con issues.

The majority of 3 Series came with run-flat tyres as standard, but due to the expense of replacing them some owners fit standard tyres instead. Some claim this drastically improves the car’s ride quality, but unless tyres with exactly the same rolling circumference are fitted, the pressure sensor system can malfunction. BMW, however, advises against replacing the run-flat tyres with non-run-flat alternatives.

Most 3 Series started life as fleet or company cars. This generally mans that they’ve been correctly maintained and cared for, but you should only buy cars with a full service history. There are plenty of cars to choose from, so you can afford to be fussy.

Trade view

Simply stunning as a used buy – the 320d SE should be on every used buyer’s shortlist.

Matt Sanger
What Car?'s Used Car Editor
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