The BMW 3 Series is well built, efficient and fun to drive, justifying its place near the front of the compact executive saloon class

The BMW 3 Series has been a compact executive class leader for more than 40 years, and the latest model was a winner yet again when it arrived in 2012. The competition has raised its game in recent times, with the arrival of the latest Mercedes C-Class, Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia, yet the facelifted 3 Series does enough to keep it at the front of the field.

While the 3 Series' crown as the best handling compact executive saloon remains intact, the Jaguar XE comes close to matching it, and offers marginally lower running costs. However, the margins between the two are very slim, and you won't be opting for second best with the 3 Series.

The diesel models are powerful and refined, while the petrols deliver great performance, although while the 330e hybrid delivers low running costs, it's not the most efficient plug-in, while the handling has a softer edge.

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BMW 320d EfficientDynamics Sport

The BMW 3 Series is high up on the list of any motorist who has the budget for a premium saloon – particularly company car buyers. Prices start under £28,000 and surpass the £44,000 mark for a top of the range M Sport 330e hybrid model. There is, of course, also the full-fat M3, for which prices sit around the £60k mark.

Even though most drivers settle for the more mundane 3 Series variants, the German saloon has more than enough going for it to justify the immense popularity it has enjoyed over its 40+ year lifespan. Which is just as well, as the list of quality competition it faces keeps on growing.

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On top of the usual suspects from Germany, the BMW 3 Series also takes on the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50 and Jaguar XE, not to mention the more upmarket versions of mainstream cars such as the Mazda 6, Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat.

While the BMW has got bigger, faster and more refined, it still retains its original format of in-line engines and rear-wheel drive. The model used to be available as a saloon, Touring estate, coupe and convertible and it still is, sort of. Nowadays the related coupe and convertible versions get 4 Series badges, along with the four-door fastback Gran Coupe.

BMW 3 Series specs are pretty comprehensive, even for the entry level SE model which has 17-inch alloy wheels, LED rear lights, DAB radio and sat-nav as standard. The ED Plus and ED Sport models – ED stands for Efficient Dynamics – are aimed at business users and have additional aerodynamic and economy tweaks plus leather upholstery, while the Sport trim level has black gloss air intakes in the grille (which has been made more aggressive with extra-wide slats) dark chrome exhaust tips, sports seats and a Sport+ driving mode.

The M Sport model gets bigger 18- or 19-inch wheels, go-faster bodystyling tweaks and an M Sport multifunction steering wheel. Finally there is the Luxury model, which comes with Fineline Anthracite wood trim, and a whole host of chrome accents on both the inside and outside of the car.

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The BMW 3 Series gets a range of fast but frugal engines and is one of the best compact executive cars to drive
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Considering the powerful range of engines, the 3 Series returns admirable fuel economy and emissions
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Inside, the BMW 3 Series can't compete with the super-desirable Audi A4, but it's not a bad place to be
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Space in the back of the BMW 3 Series is a bit tight, but no worse than in key rivals
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The BMW 3 Series finished mid-table in our Driver Power survey, but safety is top-notch

The 330e plug-in hybrid gets subtle pale blue detailing, although it could easily pass as a conventional model as it's offered in a similar range of trim levels, including SE and M Sport.. As you would expect, BMW offers a long list of options and packs so that you can personalise your car.

There are a wide range of engines available, although not every engine is offered in every body style. Petrol cars get an 'i' suffix, the diesels end with a 'd', and the plug-in hybrid uses an 'e'. However, the badge on the car's bootlid doesn't necessarily equate to the engine under the bonnet. The 318i petrol uses a 1.5-litre three-cylinder, the 320i and 330i use a 2.0-litre four, and the 340i has a 3.0-litre straight-six. All of these engines are turbocharged.

As for the diesels, the 316d, 318d, 320d and 325d have a 2.0-litre four cylinder with different power outputs, and the 330d and 335d use a 3.0-litre straight-six. In addition, the 330e plug-in hybrid has the 2.0-litre petrol from the 320i, plus an 87bhp electric motor. There are manual and eight-speed auto gearbox options across the range, while BMW's xDrive four-wheel drive system is also offered on selected models.

Last updated: 
9 May, 2018