Used BMW 3 Series 1998 - 2005 review

Category: Executive car

The BMW 3 Series is superb in almost every way, but it's more costly to buy than rivals of similar age.

BMW 3 Series (98 - 07)
  • BMW 3 Series (98 - 07)
  • BMW 3 Series (98 - 07)
Used BMW 3 Series 1998 - 2005 review
Star rating

What's the used BMW 3 Series saloon like?

The most crucial part of the BMW 3 Series' appeal is the class-leading way it drives.

It's true that, compared to the car it replaced, this model was designed to be a little less sporting, so that it could compete with the comfort and refinement of the likes of the Mercedes C-Class, but it still remains the best car in its class to drive.


The BMW 3 Series is superb in almost every way, but it's more costly to buy than rivals of similar age.

  • The 3 Series is a benchmark for driving pleasure, with space and quality on top
  • It's quite expensive to buy second-hand but that's about all there is to complain about

It has a fantastic blend of ride, handling and well weighted controls that none of its rivals can touch. Whatever you want in a car – whether it's an exciting drive or something more refined and relaxing – the 3 Series provides it.

What it also provides is decent space. Whereas previous versions had been rather cramped, this model can get a couple of adults in the back or make a stab at family duties.

Build quality is as good as you could expect of a German prestige saloon and equipment levels are good across the range.

Ownership cost

What used BMW 3 Series saloon will I get for my budget?

How much does it cost to run a BMW 3 Series saloon?

The only trouble with the BMW 3 Series is that it's so desirable, which keeps resale values high and makes it a more expensive used buy.

However, once you have one, running costs aren't too bad. Four-cylinder petrol cars can return well over 30mpg on a run, and even the six-cylinder models aren't too far behind, as long as you drive gently.

For the optimum fuel economy, the diesels are best. In the 320d, you'll see mpg as high as the upper 40s, and even the 330d returns over 40mpg, which is remarkable in a car that hits 60mph in just over seven seconds.

Insurance won't be cheap, with no models below group 11, but that's no worse than rivals from Audi and Mercedes. Perhaps most surprisingly, maintenance costs aren't steep, either. Figures from Warranty Direct show that average bills are on a par with those for VWs.

Our recommendations

Which used BMW 3 Series saloon should I buy?

There isn't a bad 3 Series - or even a disappointing one. The best two models are the petrol 318i and the diesel 320d, with the 318i preferable thanks to its lower purchase price. However, if you cover a lot of miles, then the better economy of the diesel car may be more attractive.

The 1.9-litre engine in the 316i is a little weak for a car of this size, and the 320d is worth the extra over the 318d. Gearboxes aren't a worry: manuals are slick, autos are smooth.

Trim-wise, on most early models, it's a question of standard or SE, but Sport and ES gradually joined the range over the years. On early cars, if there is a choice at all, the SE's extra equipment makes it the one to go for, but on later cars, ES is the top choice, with much of the SE's attractions at a lower cost.

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