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 – but at least this isn't too pricey. 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 even think ‘perfect’ sums up the 3 Series’ driving position. There is one potential issue: the pedals are offset slightly to the right. This is a problem that also exists in the Audi A4 and Mercedes C Class, though, and it isn’t a major blight in the automatic cars we’ve tried so far. We’ll let you know in due course whether adding a clutch pedal into the mix causes any grief.
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, as standard.
If you go for the optional 360deg camera, the view of the car on the central screen is extremely clear, but the image does flip from one camera position to the next as you get closer to objects. It would be more helpful if the image stayed consistent when you're just centimetres away from hitting something.
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 high beams on more often by shaping their pattern of light to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic, helping you to see farther ahead.
Sat nav and infotainment
SE and Sport trims come with an 8.8in infotainment touchscreen, which is enlarged to 10.3in if you opt for M Sport trim. Features you get 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 changing the volume or answering a phone call, by making hand gestures in the air.
How easy is all this to use? Well, you'll get your head around the menu structure in no time and the system is very responsive – more so than the C-Class’s. The 3 Series has a pin-sharp touchscreen infotainment screen that's navigable by touching icons or by using the rotary iDrive controller between the front seats; the latter method proves less distracting to use than a touchscreen (like the A4 has) while you're driving.
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 feels 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.