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Used test: BMW 3 Series vs Jaguar XE

The BMW 3 Series is tough to beat, especially used, but should you be swayed by the suave Jaguar XE? It's available for the same money...

Used test: BMW 3 Series vs Jaguar XE

The contenders

BMW 3 Series 320i M Sport

List price when new £35,465
Price today £19,000*
Available from 2019-present

An executive car favourite of ours and many buyers, the 3 Series is great to drive and plush inside.

Jaguar XE P250 R-Dynamic S

List price when new £35,505
Price today £19,000*
Available from 2015-present

The XE has the more powerful engine, plus it looks suitably classy, but is it as well rounded as its rival?

*Price today is based on a 2019 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Many executive cars are designed to be cushy motorway cruisers, pure and simple. Driver appeal can be pushed far down the priorities list. The BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE, on the other hand, are different stories. 

These two saloons have a strong focus on sharp, rewarding handling, more so than most of their peers. The similarities don't end there either, because they're both premium options that are similarly priced. 

BMW 3 Series driving

You can see that not only in their new prices but also in their used ones. For example, at four years old, the models we have on test here come in at around £19,000 each – very reasonable, especially considering the versions featured here aren't at all basic. 

But enough with the similarities, what are the differences between the 3 Series and XE, and which car comes out on top?


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The 3 Series (in 320i form) has 187bhp, while the XE (in P250 form) has 247bhp – both cars use 2.0-litre petrol engines and are rear-wheel drive. The XE's unit feels beefier and the model likely would have beaten the 3 Series from 0-60mph if the weather had kept dry during testing. Unfortunately, it didn't and, in the damp, all the XE could do was match the 3 Series and its 7.3sec effort. 

You'd be hard-pressed to call the 3 Series lacklustre by class standards. Its engine is punchy, plus the eight-speed automatic gearbox is more responsive than the XE's one. The real-world performance margin between them feels smaller than 66bhp. 

Jaguar XE driving

Find a set of corners and these cars excel, with plenty of agility, balance and grip. Body control is excellent and you can have some good fun driving them. Naming the better-handling car is a close one, but the 3 Series comes out on top because it's a bit more composed. 

A lot of that comes down to its more refined ride. Yes, both of these cars are firmly set up – albeit far from uncomfortable – but the 3 Series gets less upset by imperfections on the road. Its adaptive suspension (part of the M Sport Plus Package, an optional extra from new that we recommend seeking out) is a big help, mind you.  

The XE is hard to trip up, but it's more likely to become unsettled on a rough stretch of road and jostle you around in your seat, with more suspension noise as well. 

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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