BMW’s 3 Series has long been considered the benchmark by which other compact executive cars are judged, and with very good reason.
The German saloon is every inch the perfect package - stylish, well-made and terrific to drive, while at the same time offering a multitude of different trim levels, options and engine choices.
With a choice of rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive xDrive packages and saloon or ‘Touring’ estate body styles, as well as a five-door coupe ‘GT’ model, the 3 Series range offers a huge amount of choice, made even greater by a mixture of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains.
In addition, build quality is impeccable, the badge highly desirable and it’s surprisingly good value for money - no wonder it holds its value so well. As a second-hand car, the 3 Series is one of the most desirable that money can buy.
The 3 Series has always been an extremely handsome car, with poised and purposeful looks, neat and business-like styling and a distinctive road presence.
At the front, the trademark BMW ‘Kidney’ grille dominates the car’s face, with smart twin headlamps either side and subtle chrome detailing. The bonnet sweeps up, giving a poised appearance.
At the rear, saloon models feature a distinctive curved D-pillar, which has been a BMW signature for the entire life of the brand, while Touring and GT models retain the curve in the shape of the rear window glass, but with a tailgate in lieu of the saloon model’s traditional four-door boot.
Even entry level cars look handsome, but the sportier versions look terrific, with large alloys and fat tyres complementing the already sporting stance.
BMW’s sporting pretensions continue inside, with all models featuring a smart three-spoke sports steering wheel and a low-slung driving position, with a cockpit that shrouds around the driver to give a sporty feeling.
It all feels very well put together, if a little plain in the non-sporting trim levels. A few splashes of M-Sport colour really give the cabin a lift, and many ‘ordinary’ 3 Series will have their fair share of M-Sport extras as a result.
All models come fitted with a neatly integrated screen, which sits in the car’s dash rather than in a separate pod like many other manufacturers’ systems. The screen is controlled by BMW’s iDrive controller, or by finger buttons.
The driving position is excellent, though you do sit low in the cabin so it’s not ideal for older or less mobile drivers, who may prefer one of BMW’s taller offerings. However, the feeling of being close to the road really aids the car’s dynamic performance, as well as making it feel like a properly sporting machine from the driver’s seat.
Those with M-Sport seats have a real figure-hugging sensation to them and are extremely comfortable, though standard leather is also quite snug. Cars with fabric seats have a firmer feel to them but the seats are hard-wearing and smart to look at.
Of all 3 Series variants, it’s the saloon that actually has the biggest boot in terms of volume, though the GT and Touring versions are obviously a better option in terms of loading practicality.
Driving and practicality
There are a vast number of engine choices in the 3 Series, kicking off with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder 318i petrol, which is a mightily fine car despite being the entry level. Then comes the more powerful 320i, while more powerful petrol engines include the six-cylinder 330i and the V8 340i, both of which offer immense performance.
Diesel-wise, the smallest engine is the 2.0-litre 316d, followed by the 318d and 320d, both of which use derivatives of the same engine with different power outputs. The six-cylinder 330d and 335d models are the performance-oriented diesels, which have incredibly punchy power delivery.
Finally, there’s BMW’s hybrid options, in the form of the 330e plug-in hybrid.
All are terrific cars to drive, with class-leading chassis dynamics, while even the lower-powered four-cylinder models are engineered in such a way that they don’t feel particularly slow.
Most come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, though BMW also has a range of electronic automatic transmissions, which vary according to engine type.
There’s a reason that the 3 Series is considered the king of the fast lane, and that’s because it’s a great car to drive, with impeccable road manners, good performance and a superb image, matched by high quality fit and finish and handsome, not overdone styling.
It’s the perfect car, then, for the upwardly mobile young executive, with the ability to exude confidence and success, while at the same time doubling up as a useful family car.Search BMW 3 Series