The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The driver’s seat is supportive and holds you in place very well when you're cornering quickly. It’s a shame that, as with most BMWs, you have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support even on the top-spec models; it's not that pricey, though, and definitely worth adding. With a steering wheel that moves extensively up and down and in and out, plus lots of seat height adjustment, you won't struggle to get comfortable.
In fact, as you sit there with a large, well-padded armrest for each elbow to rest upon, you might think ‘perfect’ sums up the 3 Series’ driving position, but it's not quite as good as the Volvo S60's for one key reason: the pedals are offset slightly to the right. It's a problem that also exists in the Audi A4 and Mercedes C Class, and it isn’t a major blight.
The dashboard layout is excellent. That makes the 3 Series dead easy to use, and the digital dials that are added from M Sports trim are clear and show lots of information. The optional Technology Package adds a head-up display.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Forward visibility is great thanks to reasonably slim windscreen pillars, but saloons are never the easiest of cars to see out the back of. The 3 Series is no exception, with chunky rear pillars and an 'invisible' boot that sticks out past the rear screen by a couple of feet. The good news is that you get front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and BMW's Parking Assistant system, which can identify a suitable space and steer you into it, all as standard.
There's an optional 360deg camera that offers multiple views around the car, but the image flits from one camera position to the next, as you get closer to objects. That's quite distracting when you're but centimetres away from an imposing wall – it would be more helpful if the image stayed consistent.
At night, you’ll be particularly pleased with the high-intensity LED headlights that come as standard. You can upgrade these to adaptive laser units, which are ultra-bright and allow you keep the main beams on more often; they avoid dazzling other drivers by cleverly shaping their light around any cars in front.
Sat nav and infotainment
SE and Sport trims come with a pin-sharp 8.8in infotainment touchscreen, which is enlarged to 10.3in if you opt for M Sport trim. Some of the standard features included with both set-ups include sat-nav, Bluetooth, a DAB radio and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring (Android Auto isn’t yet available), as well as subscription-based connected services that provide access to the internet.
Options include the Technology Pack, which adds wireless smartphone charging, a wi-fi hotspot, a Harman Kardon premium sound system and gesture control. The latter allows you to operate functions, such as the volume or answering a phone call, by making hand gestures in the air.
How easy is it to use? Well, the gesture control is a bit of a gimmick, but in every other respect it’s very easy. You'll get your head around the menu structures in no time and the software is very responsive – more so than the C-Class’s. The standard methods of navigating the system are via the touchscreen, or, more easily on the move, by using the rotary iDrive controller between the front seats. Touchscreens can be quite distracting to use while driving, and the option of using its physical controller is one of the main reasons we prefer BMW's iDrive to the touchscreen-only Audi A4.
In the main, the interior materials feel plush. However, some areas, such as the gear selector and the plastic surrounding it, don't feel as classy as their equivalents in an A4. Also, the sprayed plastic chrome around the heater controls looks and feel a little low-rent.
It’s our job to be picky, of course, and that's just what we’re being. Yes, the 3 Series lags behind the impeccably well-made A4, but it still beats the majority of other executive saloons for quality, including the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia.
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