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Used test: BMW 3 Series vs Volkswagen Golf verdict

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?...

Used test: BMW 3 Series vs Volkswagen Golf

Our verdict

The VW Golf is the comfier car and the cheaper option when it comes to buying and day-to-day running costs. Really, its main weak spots are its unintuitive infotainment system and poor reliability. Overall, it's a comprehensively good car – as Golfs tend to be. 

The BMW 3 Series takes things to another level in a few key areas, though. It's much more luxurious inside, the infotainment system is chalk and cheese with how good it is next to the Golf's, plus you get more interior and boot space. These aspects go a long way in justifying the added fuel, insurance and servicing costs the 3 Series comes with – although keep in mind that the 3 Series should lose less in deprecation going forward.

So, the 3 Series takes the win. It's so good, in fact, that it's also our reigning What Car? Used Car of the Year

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1st – BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series front cornering

For Quicker; sharper, more entertaining handling; classier inside; more practical
Against Drinks more fuel; firmer ride; a year older

What Car? says 5 stars out of 5 

Used 2019-present BMW 3 Series buying guide >>

Used BMW 3 Series cars for sale >>

2nd – Volkswagen Golf

2020 Volkswagen Golf front action

For Cheaper to buy and run (bar deprecation); plusher ride; safe, secure handling
Against Reliability is a concern; confusing infotainment; interior quality mixed

What Car? says 4 stars out of 5 

Used 2020-present Volkswagen Golf buying guide >>

Used Volkswagen Golf cars for sale >>

Specifications: BMW 3 Series 320i M Sport

Engine size 4cyl, 1998cc, turbo, petrol
Power 181bhp 
Torque 221lb ft 
Gearbox 8-speed auto
0-60mph 7.3sec
Top speed 146mph
Official fuel economy 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions (NEDC) 127g/km

Specifications: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 130 Style 

Engine size 4cyl, 1498cc, turbo, petrol
Power 128bhp 
Torque 148lb ft 
Gearbox 6-speed manual
0-60mph 8.8sec
Top speed 133mph
Official fuel economy 51.6mpg
CO2 emissions (WLTP) 124g/km