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. This sixth-generation version ran from 2012 to 2019 as an executive saloon or an estate, and due to it being incredibly popular as a company car, there are loads of pre-owned examples to choose from.
The engine line-up included a range of petrols and a couple of hybrids, but the vast majority of used 3 Series you come across will be diesels. While there are no truly bad engines in the range, although the 114bhp 316d diesel and 136bhp 316i (later renamed 318i) petrol can feel a little weak.
Aside from those already mentioned, the rest of the petrol range consist of a 2.0-litre 181bhp 320i, a 242bhp 228i and 248bhp 330i, with the high-performance, 3.0-litre six-cylinder 302bhp 335i and 321bhp 340i versions completing the lineup. Diesel options, which have always been the better sellers, with the 2.0-litre 148bhp 318d and 181bhp 320d being particularly prevalent on the used market. A more powerful 2.0-litre diesel can be found in the 218bhp 325d, followed by two 3.0-litre, six-cylinder models in 254bhp 330d and 309bhp 335d forms.
Meanwhile, the plug-in hybrid 330e – a car with a pure-electric range of around 25 miles - was considered to be one of the best plug-in hybrids on the market at the time and, thanks to plenty of company car buyers going for it, there are lots available used.
There are four major trim levels on offer: ES, SE, Sport and M Sport. ES has 17in alloy wheels, climate control, a DAB radio, Bluetooth, cruise control and a 6.5in infotainment screen. Go for SE to get auto wipers and lights, rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control. Sport grade adds numerous sporty touches including lots of red trim inside; some gloss black exterior trim and sports seats. M Sport adds firmer suspension, larger 18in wheels, and a more aggressive bodykit outside.
There were also a couple of styling packs called Modern and Luxury. The former doesn't alter much over a regular SE car other than swap some piano black interior inserts for matt chrome alternatives, but the latter gives you upgraded leather on the seats and some wood panelling to the dash and door cards.
On the road, 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 and add 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, SE or Sport models 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 all-weather traction, 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.
2015 saw a mid-life facelift. This included an update to most of the engines in the range and also added some small exterior styling tweaks. Other updates included some minor recalibrations of the electric power steering and adjustable dampers and revisions to interior surfaces and standard sat-nav across the whole range.
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