Used BMW 3 Series ('05-'12) buying guide

  • E90 BMW 3 Series saloon
  • From less than 4000
  • Find out which one to buy and what to look out for
Words ByMatthew Burrow

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The BMW 3 Series is one of our favourite used buys; it offers a great blend of refinement, practicality and comfort. There are plenty of second-hand examples available, so here's our guide to buying used.

BMW's 3 Series is one of the best compact executive cars to drive and offers a spacious, premium cabin. In 2008, the 3 Series received a face-lift, which brought more efficient engines and exterior styling tweaks.

The 3 Series rides well providing you avoid the optional sports suspension with suspension that's firm, but not uncomfortable.

Refinement is one of the car's strong points. Road and suspension noise is kept to a minimum, while wind can only be heard at high speeds.

The driver is well looked after in the 3 Series. The steering wheel and front seats have lots of adjustment, so drivers of all shapes and sizes should be able to get find a decent position. The rear seats are comfortable and legroom is good, although anyone over six-foot tall might feel a bit cramped. The 460-litre boot makes the 3 Series a practical choice as well.

A variety of engines are available. Diesel buyers can choose from 316d, 318d, 320d, 325d, 330d and 335d units. The 318d is a 2.0-litre that produces either 120bhp or 141bhp, while the 320d was available in 163bhp, 175bhp and 181bhp versions depending on when it was made. A 161bhp 320d Efficient Dynamics version was introduced in 2009 and does average economy of 68.9mpg.

If you prefer petrol-powered cars, the 3 Series is available as a 127bhp 318i and a 168bhp 320i. There are also 325i, 330i and 335i versions.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, while a six-speed automatic 'box was available as an option.

Our pick is the 320d for its mix of performance, low emissions and price. There are also plenty of good examples on the used market.

All versions get a CD player, air-conditioning and all-round electric windows.

ES specification adds alloy wheels and front foglights.

SE trim gets traction control, reversing sensors and a multi-function steering wheel. In 2009, BMW launched the SE Business Edition trim, which adds leather upholstery, Bluetooth and sat-nav.

M Sport editions have a bodykit and firmer sports suspension.

Our pick of the range is SE because it comes with everything you need and is widely available on the used market.

You can buy an E90 BMW 3 Series for less than 4000. We found a '05-plate 320i ES with 110,000 miles on the clock for 3785.

Our favourite 320d SE starts at around 4000, but expect to pay around 12,000 for a low-mileage version that's less than three years old. We found a '59-plate 320d SE that had covered 60,000 miles for 11,500.

There are a few things to look out for when buying a used BMW 3 Series.

There have been reports of interior trim working its way loose over time so we would recommend checking for rattles on a test drive.

BMW offered run-flat tyres as standard on the 3 Series and because these are expensive to replace, some owners have fitted traditional tyres instead.

The 3 Series has been popular as a fleet buy, so the majority of examples on the used car market will have been properly maintained. Make sure that the car you are looking at has a full service history.

Read the full BMW 3 Series saloon ('05-'12) used review >>

What Car? Approved Used BMW 3 Series examples >>

By Matthew Burrow