The BMW 3 Series offers the perfect blend of performance, driving dynamics, low running costs, technology and improved refinement

In replacing its best-selling executive saloon, BMW has managed to retain the previous model’s driver appeal while making improvements in interior space, cabin quality and cutting-edge technology. The updated styling is a conservative evolution of what’s gone before it, but with a stronger, lighter body refinement has risen too. The 3 Series offers a class-leading blend of performance and economy and while prices have risen a little since the previous generation, standard equipment is significantly higher. The latest 3 Series goes straight to the top of the compact executive class.

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BMW 320d Sport

The BMW 3 Series is a phenomenally successful model, with its six previous incarnations having sold over 15 million examples. The arrival of the seventh-generation G20 model in 2019 was the latest step in this important lineage.

When BMW first launched the 3 Series 43 years ago, it had the junior executive market more or less to itself. But over the years key rivals such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class have played catch up. Plus there’s the Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Alfa Romeo Giulia to consider, along with upmarket family cars like the Skoda Superb, VW Passat and Peugeot 508

BMW 3 Series vs Mercedes C-Class vs Jaguar XE

The 3 Series has always been great to drive, offering engaging handling and sure-footed road holding. When combined with its premium badge and frugal engines, BMW has often been at the top of the class.

The new model retains its driver appeal, punchy performance and impressive frugality, but has added increased refinement, more interior space and an impressive array of technology to its arsenal.

BMW offers a wide range of engines in the 3 Series. Petrol and diesel models make up the bulk, with a plug-in petrol hybrid also offered. The 320i kicks off the range with its 182bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine and optional xDrive four-wheel drive; a tuned version of the same unit produces 258bhp in the 330i, while a 374bhp straight-six powers the M340i xDrive.

Diesels are the 318d, 320d and 330d xDrive; the 318d and 320d are four-cylinder units with 148bhp and 187bhp respectively, while the 330d uses a 369bhp 3.0-litre straight-six.

The plug-in hybrid 330e uses the same 182bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine as the 320i, combined with an electric motor that adds 67bhp. It offers a good combination of performance and economy along with a claimed all-electric range of 41 miles.
All engines are available in the 3 Series saloon, but the Touring estate model gets a more limited range for now – 320i, M340i, 318d and 330e models aren’t offered, not yet anyway.

Three trim levels are available – SE, Sport and M Sport. All cars are well specified with sat nav, adaptive LED headlights, three-zone air conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and heated seats. BMW’s new Intelligent Personal Assistant is also included, and this allows you to operate many of the car’s functions via voice control. 

Sport models add more aggressive front and rear bumpers and exterior trims, along with sports seats and leather upholstery. The range-topping M Sport has always been a popular choice in the UK, and if you can stretch to this model it offers a host of additional equipment including an M Sport bodykit, more advanced sat nav with a larger central display and increased functionality, as well as BMW’s new Live Cockpit Professional which has a 12.3-inch digital instrument display that apes Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.

Prices for the new 320d start from around £33,750 for the SE model and around £35,000 for the Sport. While this represents a price increase over the previous 3 Series, there’s considerably more standard equipment and, crucially, in Sport trim the 320d is priced within a whisker of both the equivalent A4 40 TDI Sport and C220 d Sport models. 

The 3 Series offers class-leading performance along with an improved ride and excellent driving dynamics
Excellent economy and low CO2 emissions make the 3 Series a good choice for business and private users
Improvements in interior quality and technology are very welcome, but the styling is a little underwhelming
Leg and head room are better than before and the 3 Series now matches or beats its rivals for interior space
Proven mechanical components bode well for reliability while its safety systems are among the best in class

There are a range of options, but to avoid this being a confusing list of individual items, BMW has opted to group these together in attractively priced packages. There are six to choose from, embracing visibility, technology, comfort and driver safety among others. 

However, it’s the strides BMW has made in refinement, comfort and passenger accommodation that impress most. A new damper system brings a supple ride whether the car is unladen or fully-loaded, and improvements in noise suppression along with acoustic glazing mean it’s quiet and relaxed on the motorway. Extra leg and head room in the back is welcome too, although the boot stays the same size as before. 

But above all else, it’s the 3 Series’ driver appeal that separates it from the chasing pack. There’s lots of grip along with the poise and balance you expect of a 3 Series. And while the steering is a little lacking in feel, the steering rack is responsive, allowing the car to be placed accurately on the road. That BMW has managed to retain the driver appeal of the 3 Series yet made strides in ride, refinement, interior quality and its technology is a very impressive achievement.

Last updated: 
15 Nov, 2019