The 3 Series is Munich’s all-conquering executive saloon to rival the Mercedes C-Class
Compelling, fabled all-rounder represents best-in-class talent from nearly every angle
Go-to cars. You pick ’em. You squeeze ’em. You put ’em in your bag. No fuss. Just buy one and you’ll be driving as good as it gets in its class for the money.
To make that choice even more justifiable, this 2019-onwards 3 Series is offered with engines to suit all. There are four diesels, four petrols and a plug-in hybrid to choose from. The base 148bhp 318d diesel is fine, but the 187bhp 320d is a better bet that’s almost as economical. Neither has quite the pulling power of the 261bhp, six-cylinder 330d or the might of the M340d, which, with 335bhp, is the most powerful oil-burning 3 Series.
The entry-level petrol is the 154bhp 318i, followed by a 181bhp 320i, 254bhp 330i and the delightfully quick 369bhp 3.0-litre six-pot M340i. Meanwhile, the 288bhp 330e uses the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine as the lower-order petrols but has an additional battery and electric motor to allow for short stints of zero-emissions driving.
Entry-level SE Pro trim gets automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, three-zone climate and 17in alloys.
Mid-range Sport Pro adds 18in alloys, leather trim and heated front sports seats; M Sport models have M Sport suspension and brakes and an upgraded Professional Connected Package for the infotainment, while range-topping M Sport Pro adds black exterior highlights and trimspecific metallic paint, as well as an M Sport Pro Pack with adjustable adaptive suspension.
The real clincher for the 3 Series has always been the way it drives. It has a masterly balance through corners, and that is matched by quick, responsive steering that always lets you know how much grip is available. Wind and road noise are very low, and as long as you avoid the overly firm standard M Sport suspension, the ride is very well controlled.
Inside, the 3 Series is a class act, with mostly plush materials and a robust feel. The dashboard controls are simple and easy to use, while all versions come with a clear, informative digital instrument panel and a pin-sharp 10.3in infotainment touchscreen.
Space inside is also a step up on that of rivals. There’s little difference between the Audi A4, 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class for room in the front, but in the back the BMW has a bit more leg and shoulder space. The rear bench is reclined more for better comfort, too, and the boot is a decent size, with 40/20/40-split folding seats if you need to load longer items.
Prices start at around £20,000 for a 2019 car in the entry-level SE version. You’ll need between £22,000 and £30,000 for the majority of 2019 and 2020 cars, depending on trim and engine spec, and around £30,000 to £35,000 for the majority of 2021 and 2022 cars.
Our top spec
M Sport Pro Pack: We’d look for a car in M Sport trim but with the M Sport Pro Pack added, for the best-riding 3 Series. It adds comfort to its long list of dynamic abilities.
Need to know
The 318i and 320i average 43.5mpg, with 40.4 for the 330i and 34.9 for the M340i. The 330e has a claimed electric range of 25- 30 miles and 201.8mpg combined. Both the 318d and 320d claim 58.9mpg, while the xDrive 320d averages 53.3. The 330d M340d do 46.3 and 45.6mpg respectively.
The 3 Series scored five stars for safety with Euro NCAP. Rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitoring were part of a Driving Assistant Professional Package.
Recalls: Some 3 Series models made between 11 March and 9 July 2019 were recalled for a crankcase bearing bushing that might not have been fitted engine correctly. This was no minor issue, and affected cars will actually need a new engine, so speak to a BMW dealer for further information.
Some 3 Series built between 5 and 31 July 2019 could have a problem with the central rear headrest. Debris from a welding process might not have been cleaned out of the battery packs of some 3 Series models manufactured between 3 March and 22 September 2020, and it could potentially cause a short circuit.
Reliability: In the latest What Car? Reliability Survey, the petrol-engined 3 Series was rated seventh out of 26 cars in the executive class. The diesel-engined cars finished last, however. BMW as a brand was placed 16th out of 32 car makers.
330e: The plug-in hybrid 330e offers all that any 3 Series does with the potential for big savings on fuel bills –if you charge it regularly and most of your journeys are short. Blissfully refined, too.
M340i xDrive: Other than the M3, the most potent. The M340i petrol has 369bhp and chops the 0-62mph sprint down to a blistering 4.4sec. Four-wheel drive xDrive is standard, to keep things in order.