BMW 3 Series

The Essentials

  • Price from £23,185
  • What Car? says: 5 star rating
  • Fuel economy: up to 68.9mpg
  • What is it? The BMW 3 Series saloon is great to drive and super-economical, too


  • It's great to drive (and even better if you opt for the adjustable suspension)
  • Terrific fuel economy, including almost 70mpg on some models
  • Beautifully built, spacious cabin


  • You'll need the optional adjustable suspension for the best 3 Series experience
  • The offset pedals can lead to backache
  • Saloon boot opening limits the car's practicality
  • Drive

    Will put every other car into context - where the 3 Series is the benchmark

  • Inside

    Good range of seat and steering wheel adjustment for driver, but the central control system takes a little getting used to

  • Safety

    Plenty of high-tech equipment to keep you safe

  • Reliability

    No cause for concern with BMW's decent record

  • Space

    Plenty for four adults and their luggage, though saloon boot opening limits its versatility

  • Standard and extras

    Every trim level is well equipped for the money

  • What's it like to drive?

    In a BMW 3 Series you'll get a taste of the pure driving pleasure that escapes most sensible saloon cars. The diesel engines are the ones to go for - they pick up speed quickly and easily, whatever gear you're in; even the lower-powered 320d Efficient Dynamics, with its superb economy, offers plenty of oomph. The petrols are quick but they sometimes feel a bit stressed. It's definitely worth paying extra for the smooth ride and agile handling that comes with BMW's adaptive suspension; without it the 3 Series feels unsettled at low speeds and there's too much body movement from the car on corners and when you accelerate or brake suddenly. Our only real criticism is refinement; although you're generally well isolated from road noise, there's more wind noise than in other compact executive cars and the smaller engines aren't as quiet as they could be.

  • What's it like inside?

    The BMW 3 Series feels smart and well organised inside. There's lots of adjustment to help the driver get comfortable (although the levers to do this are awkward to use) and the centre of the dashboard is usefully angled towards the driver. Manual models have severely offset pedals (they don't line up with the steering wheel properly) but automatic versions don't suffer this problem as badly. The front seats have loads of room and there's enough space in the back for a couple of six-footers to sit in comfort. The boot is a decent size, too, although it's saloon opening limits its versatility and you have to pay extra for split-folding rear seats that allow you to expand the load bay if you need to. Interior quality is generally outstanding, with a dense, soft-touch dashboard and meaty controls for the iDrive infotainment system. Only the flimsy buttons for the stereo let the side down. Even the entry-level 3 Series gets climate control, alloys and Bluetooth as standard; step up to SE - the best value for money of the lot - and you get dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers. Sport models get beefed up seats and steering wheel, Modern has part-leather upholstery, while Luxury and M Sport get full leather and larger alloys, amongst other features.

  • How reliable is it?

    BMW's reliability record is reasonable rather than outstanding, but there shouldn't be any major worries with this car. Safety provision is excellent, with six airbags (including curtain 'bags that cover the rear windows), stability control, and a wide range of other active electronic safety devices to help prevent an accident in the first place. The 3 Series was awarded the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, including a 95% score for adult safety and 84% for child safety. That makes it a safer option than an Audi A4 or a Mercedes C-Class.

  • Should I buy one?

    With adaptative suspension, the BMW 3 Series saloon is fabulous to drive, returns excellent economy coupled with low CO2 emissions, and has very competitive re-sale values which means you'll get back a good proportion of what you paid for it when you come to sell on. Bear in mind, however, that you have to pay extra for the adaptive suspension, and that the car's saloon boot opening limits its practicality, even if you do pay for the split-folding rear seats to boost its capacity. The 3 Series Touring, meanwhile, offers many of the same attributes with a much more versatile boot.