What's the used BMW 3 Series saloon like?
It might seem like BMW has every niche covered in the motoring world these days, but if there's just one car that's come to define the German firm's products it must be the 3 Series.
When it was originally launched, way back in 1975, it was a rather humble two-door saloon, but it's achieved near iconic status as a four-door executive car, though those that want to can also seek it out as an estate, a convertible and a coupe.
This sixth-generation version ran from 2012 to 2019, and it's classy and spacious, offering enough leg room and head room in the back for a couple of adults to travel in comfort. Better still, this is a car that is genuinely fun to drive, very well built and quietly stylish.
The engine line-up included a range of petrols and a couple of hybrids (the earlier ActiveHybrid and a later 330e plug-in version), but the vast majority of used 3 Series you come across will be diesels. While there are no truly bad engines in the range, the 316d diesel and lower-powered 316i petrol do feel a little weak. Meanwhile, the mid-range 2.0-litre petrol and diesels offer a solid level of performance, while higher-spec 330 and 335 variants are genuinely rapid. If they’re still not quick enough for you, there’s always the fire-breathing M3 at the top of the range.
A facelift in 2015 resulted in slightly revised styling and a range of new modular engines including a three-cylinder petrol 318i and a new 2.0-litre diesel for the 320d. The following year saw the introduction of a plug-in hybrid, the 330e – a car with a pure-electric range of around 25 miles. It’s one of the best plug-in hybrids on the market and, thanks to plenty of company car buyers going for it, there are lots available used.
There are six major trim levels on offer: SE, Efficient Dynamics Plus, Sport, M Sport, M340i and M Sport Shadow Edition. As standard, SE trim gets 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone air-con, a DAB radio, Bluetooth, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and sat-nav. Sport grade adds numerous sporty touches, including lots of red trim, gloss black exterior trim and sports seats. M Sport adds a sportier suspension, a more aggressive bodykit and M Sport seats, alongside added luxuries such as a Dakota leather upholstery, LED head and foglights, a rear armrest with built-in cupholders as standard. The M340i gains a twin chrome exhaust system, an eight-speed automatic transmission complete with predictive gearshifts based on sat-nav data, and a metallic paint job. The M Sport Shadow Edition trim adds 19in grey alloy wheels, tinted brakes and headlights, dark chrome exhaust pipes, high-beam assistance, a Harman Kardon stereo system and an M Sport braking system.
The Efficient Dynamic trims get more luxuries than SE spec with a focus on improving economy. The Plus and Sport models gain heated front seats, leather trim and low rolling-resistance tyres. The 330e iPerformance gets all the equipment found on 320i models plus all the charging cables, BMW's eDrive Services, front and rear parking sensors, and numerous specfic hybrid touches such as blue interior lighting and badging.
At the top of the range, the sporty M3 is split into two trims: the standard M3 affair and Competition Pack attire. The standard car gets 19in alloys, an active differential, adaptive suspension, a carbonfibre reinforced roof, a rear spoiler, LED head and rear lights, parking sensors, auto headlights and wipers, and a wireless charging cradle. The Competition pack gets 20in alloys, sportier springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, a sports exhaust, an improved audio system and an 18bhp power increase too.
On the road, each and every 3 Series model performs with an all-round competence that will always place it at or very near the top of their particular class. Most engines combine power and economy in almost unmatched excellence, as well adding a dollop of refinement to the mix.
But it's the 3 Series' ability to offer an amazingly pliant ride (in most versions) with its wonderfully agile handling that most attract the car to the keener driver. That ride can be reasonably firm ride at low speeds, and it becomes outright harsh in M Sport versions without the optional adaptive suspension, but stick with an ES or SE model on smaller wheels and you won’t go far wrong. In fact, all versions handle beautifully and the steering is still superior to that of any rival. If you want to combine this with a dollop of extra stability you can always choose a four-wheel-drive version (badged xDrive).
Inside is an interior that makes much use of high-quality materials, and fits form to function neatly while offering ergonomic efficiency in its major and minor controls. If you want a car with a manual gearbox rather than the excellent automatic transmission, make sure you like the driving position, because while there’s plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel, the pedals are noticeably offset.
Space up front is on a par with its rivals, although rear seat leg room can be tight for a lanky passenger sitting behind a taller driver. The 3 Series is on a par with the contemporary rivals the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 in terms of boot space, although even by saloon standards the opening is on the narrow side. Split-folding rear seats were also optional, so if you need this feature, make sure it’s fitted to the car you’re planning to buy.
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