Costs & verdict
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
Broadly speaking, the 3 Series is priced between the slightly cheaper equivalent Audi A4 and the slightly more expensive Mercedes C-Class. Resale values are predicted to be strong by class standards, so, if you're buying privately, after three years you can expect a 3 Series to have retained a big chunk more of its value than a C-Class and a reasonable slice more compared with an A4.
The cheapest version for company car drivers (and our favourite version) is the 330e plug-in hybrid; its low CO2 emissions keep it in the lower benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bands. To get the best economy out of the 330e you need to keep the battery charged – otherwise you’re basically running on its 2.0-litre petrol engine alone. The battery takes 6 hours to charge from empty if you plug into a regular domestic three-pin socket, which falling to an official 3hrs 36min if you plug into a proper electric car charging point using the optional type 2 lead.
The 318d will feature on many company car lists, as will the 320d, and neither incurs the 4% diesel surcharge because they're RDE2 compliant. In fact, with both occupying the same BIK tax bracket, upgrading to a 320d looks all the more tempting. The 320d is particularly efficient because it has mild hybrid assistance. That means it's also very economical in real-world driving, as it proved to be in our True MPG tests.
Equipment, options and extras
Mid-range Sport trim is our favourite. As well as coming with sportier bumpers and 18in alloy wheels, it also brings the sumptuousness of leather seats that are heated in the front. These are added to the standard 3 Series' equipment, which includes three-zone climate control (with a separate controller for rear passengers), cruise control, power-folding door mirrors and automatic lights and wipers. Factor in the aforementioned infotainment features and visibility aids and you have a very well equipped car.
However, people clearly appreciate sporty looks: most BMW buyers opt for the even more aggressive-looking M Sport trim. We wouldn’t necessarily endorse this, because it doesn’t give you a whole lot more than added style for your money, and if this is your thing, we'd recommend a drive before you buy. To reiterate what we said earlier, M Sport models have rather a firm ride, so you might want to consider replacing the default M Sport suspension with the optional adaptive M suspension. It comes as part of a pricey M Sport Plus Package – although it’s standard on the range-topping M340i and M340d.
In the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, BMW finished 9th out of 31 manufacturers – behind Lexus, but ahead of Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes. A good performance for the brand, but the 3 Series itself was a little less impressive, finishing in 6th out of 11 rivals in the Executive car category – putting it ahead of the A4, C-CLass and Alfa Romeo Giulia, but behind the Jaguar XE and Volvo V60.
BMW provides a three-year warranty with no mileage cap – relatively impressive for the class, because many rivals have a mileage limit. You can also extend the 3 Series’ warranty for an extra cost if you intend to keep the car for longer. The 330e plug-in hybrid has cover for the battery extended to six years (capped at 60,000 miles between years three and six).
Safety and security
The 3 Series landed a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP and achieved highly impressive scores in each specific area that was tested. The organisation has made its tests more stringent recently and the A4 and C-Class were tested too long ago to compare directly against the 3 Series, but it outscored the Volvo S60.
All versions of the 3 Series come with a healthy roster of active safety systems that are designed to prevent you from having a bump, along with passive ones to protect you if you do. The list includes automatic emergency braking (AEB) that looks out for pedestrians as well as cars, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition.
The optional Driving Assistant Professional pack further reduces your chances of an incident with the addition of lane-keeping assistance, blindspot monitoring and cross-traffic alert; the latter warns if you’re about to pull out of a side junction into the path of an oncoming car.
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