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Used test: BMW 3 Series vs Volkswagen Golf costs

For decades, these two iconic cars have both been at the top of their game. But which is the better used buy, the executive BMW 3 Series or family-focused VW Golf?...

BMW 3 Series side driving

Buying and owning

Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

The BMW 3 Series went from £35,465 as a new car to roughly £17,500 after five years as a used one. The Volkswagen Golf, on the other hand, was a £25,495 new car and is now a roughly £16,500 used one, albeit after four years rather than five. 

Our data suggests the 3 Series future depreciation will be mild, with the model set to lose £1800 over the next three years. During the same time period, our data puts Golf deprecation at £4900. 

2020 Volkswagen Golf side action

The Golf should be cheaper to insure, though: its insurance group of 18 putting the cost at around £562. The 3 Series, in group 30, should set you back around £816. 

On fuel, the Golf takes it again, averaging an impressive 49.0mpg on our test route. The 3 Series averaged a 34.5mpg – that's decent at best for the executive car class. 

For two services of the 3 Series, we were quoted £935.64 via BMW. For two of the Golf, VW quoted us £393.59. 

The 3 Series and Golf are pretty well equipped, sporting cruise control (adaptive as standard from new in the Golf and optionally adaptive (as part of a £1250 package) from new in the 3 Series), keyless start, as well as front and rear parking sensors. The 3 Series got a rear-view camera at no extra cost to the original owner, while the Golf owner had to pay £300 for it. 

2020 Volkswagen Golf touchscreen

In our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, the 3 Series (in petrol and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) forms) came third out of 24 cars in the executive car class, thanks to its remarkable reliability score of 96.4%. The Golf, out of 29 cars in the family car class, placed 28th, its reliability score of just 76.3% bringing cause for concern. 

Nearly two-thirds of the Golfs we were told went wrong had issues relating to the infotainment or other electrical systems. Repairs were slow, taking more than a week in 40% of instances. VW covered the cost of 89% of repairs, leaving a very small percentage of owners having to pay up to £1500 to get things put right.

As car brands, BMW ranked 12th out of 32 manufacturers, while Volkswagen was far behind in 22nd place. 

Both models received the maximum five-star safety rating after being crash tested by Euro NCAP

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