Review: BMW 3 Series

A composed and extraordinarily accomplished car

03 Jun 15 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Perfect steering and handling

  • Prestigious image

  • Economical engines

Cons

  • Interior space is limited

  • Hefty price tag

  • Exterior is not very stylish

Our expert rating

The BMW 3 Series is a compact premium executive car, built in Germany. It has an array of engines and has been produced in many different generations and body styles. Currently, it’s BMW's most popular car and has won many awards since it was introduced in 1975.

Performance

The 3 Series is a composed and extraordinarily accomplished car, be that on winding rural roads, urban streets, or motorways. The 318d saloon is decent, but the 320d “Efficient Dynamics” diesel, which was launched in August 2009, offers the best blend of power and economy.

However, if you don't like diesel or you don’t drive many miles, then the sophisticated 2.0 litre 318i and 320i petrol models are excellent used buys.

Side of BMW 3 Series

Ride and handling

In either saloon or estate guise, the BMW 3 Series is a hushed commuter, with very little road or suspension clatter. The only real con is wind noise but this is only evident at motorway speed. The car grips well, it's poised at all times, and it steers perfectly.

The 3 Series has a firm suspension set-up, but it’s never unpleasant. However, ask the vendor if their used BMW 3 Series has been fitted with an optional sports set-up. This set-up produces even better handling around bends, but the trade-off is a much less forgiving and more uncomfortable ride.

Interior space

It’s not the biggest car for an expanding family, but for an established household, the five-seat arrangement of the BMW 3 Series will work well. You can easily adjustment the front seats and steering wheel, so whether tall or short, thin or large, getting comfortable behind the wheel is easy.

All but the very tallest passengers will find the back seats comfy. The boot on the saloon is a charitable size - but it is a bit of an odd shape and can’t contend with more practical hatchbacks.

Interior of BMW 3 Series

What to know before you buy

There is not much to grumble about as many used 3 Series models will have been fleet or company cars. This means they will have been correctly serviced and will have a full service history.

Nonetheless, there are some common BMW faults such as jammed door handles and loose fitting interior trim. Also check if the car actually locks and unlocks properly as there can be central-locking issues on some models.

In addition, the bulk of BMW 3 Series cars came with run-flat tyres as standard. These are specially designed tyres that enable you to continue driving when you have a puncture. You’re warned about a perforation in the rubber via a Tyre Pressure Monitoring device installed on the vehicle.

Unfortunately, due to the expense of replacing these run-flats, some used examples may have had ordinary tyres fitted instead.

This means that unless tyres with exactly the same rolling circumference are fitted, the warning sensor system can play up.  If the wheels have run-flats on you will see a circular marker on the side wall of each tyre containing the letters RSC, which stands for “Run System Component”.

Rear of BMW 3 Series

Alternative cars

The BMW 3 Series’ closest opponent is the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It is less entertaining to drive, but it’s just as brilliantly built and has an equally, if not more, acclaimed image. Audi’s A4, Honda’s Accord and VW’s Passat are also worth considering.

They all have good engines and better interior space, as do more middle-of-the-road competitors such as the Ford Mondeo or Skoda Superb. None have BMW’s prestigious image though.

Alternative car to BMW 3 Series - Mercedes-Benz C-class

Overall verdict

The BMW 3 Series is one of the best secondhand cars you can buy because it is beautifully built and engineered. It is also fantastic to drive, whichever engine you go for. To be frank, there are no bad choices.

Just be prepared to pay more, due in part, to the desirable image BMW has. 

Expert rating

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Reliability

Space & comfort

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