Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The entry-level diesel (the 148bhp 318d) has enough pull from low revs but, if your budget can stretch to it, we recommend the 187bhp 320d instead. Its extra muscle means you don't have to work it so hard, and its ultimate pace brings a swift 0-62mph sprint of 6.8sec – quicker than an Audi A4 40TDI. If you desire a diesel with the ability to worry hot hatches, there’s the 330d. Its 261bhp six-cylinder engine offers rapid acceleration; 0-62mph is dealt with in just 5.5sec.
If petrol is your cup of fossil fuel, the options start with the 318i, but we'd tip you in the direction of the excellent 181bhp 320i. It's perky enough for most situations, including overtaking on country roads, and its rev-happy nature sits well with the 3 Series' sporty character. For extra zip there's the more powerful 254bhp 330i, but our favourite engine of all is the 330e. This plug-in hybrid has similarly brisk performance to the 330i but adds a real-world electric-only range of around 25-30 miles.
Suspension and ride comfort
There are various suspension options for the 3 Series, and even the softest of them (fitted to SE and Sport trim versions) is set up more for poise and control than wafty comfort; you always feel more of bumps as they pass beneath the car than you do in the best versions of the Audi A4.
M Sport models, with stiffer suspension, are even firmer. The impacts over sharp imperfections are more pronounced, so be warned: sportiness really does take a higher priority than comfort.
Optional adaptive suspension is available to alleviate this, but it's pricey. It comes as part of the M Sport Pro Package (this is standard on M340i and M340d) and allows you to stiffen or soften the ride at the touch of the button. Select Comfort mode and the 3 Series is calmer around town than it is with either of the non-adaptive setups, and it's very smooth on A-roads and motorways. It's still not a match for the supple A4 if ride comfort is your top priority, though.