BMW 3 Series Review: Is The 3 Series Still The Best Compact Executive Saloon?

Date Posted 14th July 2021
Read Time 13 min read
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For more than 40 years, the BMW 3 Series has been the compact executive saloon all others have been judged against.

It’s been the driving purists’ car. One which gave you connection to the road like no other. 

So, now in its seventh generation does it still have what it takes to continue that legacy and top the pile against the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4? 

Well, let’s find out. 

General overview

The BMW 3 Series has long been the company’s flagship model. It’s sold in huge numbers around the world – with over 15 million recorded sales – and it’s often a good indicator as to how the rest of the BMW range stacks up. 

In this version – the seventh iteration of the 3 Series – BMW’s engineers wanted to take it back to its roots; back to when it was a driving purists’ car. And they’ve done just that. 

Every component of the 3 Series is excellent. There’s nothing that leaves you disappointed. From its sharp looks to its much-improved modern cabin, finely balanced chassis and outstanding drive; it’s the complete compact executive saloon. 

As we said in the intro, the BMW 3 Series is what all cars in its class are judged against. And right now, there’s nothing else that comes close.


So, if you’re looking for a finely-tuned, executive feeling, practical, economical driver’s car, you’ve found it in the BMW 3 Series. 

Read our complete review below to find out why. 

Design and styling

A big change between the BMW 3 Series and the one that came before is its styling. 

It’s still unmistakably a BMW 3 Series, but there’s more aggression in the detail; the grille is more pronounced and the LED headlights are intricately crafted to mirror the car’s muscular stance. 

The bodywork is also sharper and more defined, particularly in the M Sport spec, giving it a unique look and helping distinguish it from the 5 Series. 

As well, the seventh-generation 3 Series is taller, wider and longer than its predecessor, giving it a more imposing silhouette on the road. 

BMW claims this generation of 3 Series comes with “precision and poetry design language”. And although we’re not entirely sure what that means, it’s fine, because from every angle it’s a great-looking car. 

Vs competitors

Design is usually down to personal taste. However, for us, against the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, the 3 Series looks a more premium saloon – which is what you want when you drive a premium car. 

It’s more interesting to look at, particularly compared to the somewhat boring styling of the A4. And in the M Sport spec, its aggressive stance turns heads more than a C-Class. 

Although, saying that, there’s a new C-Class coming soon which could well make that discussion a trickier one. 

MPG, running costs and environment

No matter which engine you choose, the BMW 3 Series offers surprisingly good fuel economy. 

Diesel

318d: 55.4-58.9mpg

320d: 54.3-56.5mpg

330d: 46.3-47.9mpg

In the diesel – which most will choose – things start off with the 318d, which returns between 55.4mpg and 58.9mpg in manual gearbox form. If you’d rather the automatic, BMW claims 52.3-55.4mpg.

If you need more power, the 320d provides somewhere between 54.3 and 56.5mpg for the manual, and 53.3-55.4mpg for the auto. If you want BMW’s all-wheel-drive xDrive system, however, fuel efficiency drops a touch again to 49.6-52.3mpg.

Next up is the 330d, which records between 46.3mpg and 47.9mpg. And at the top of the range sits the M340d, which will give you something around 45.6 and 46.3mpg.

All of also means CO2 emissions are relatively low, with the 318d producing 109-113g/km of CO2 depending on transmission, and the 320d and 330d releasing 110-118g/km and 133g/km respectively, which makes all three engines great for company car drivers. 

The M340d is, of course, more harmful to the environment, pumping out between 159 and 163g/km of CO2, depending on what you add to the options list. 

Petrol

320i: 41.5-43.5mpg

330i: 40.4-41.5mpg

M340i: 38.2-40.4mpg

In pure petrol form, there are three engines to choose from – the 320i, which returns 41.5-43.5mpg, the 330i, which offers 40.4-41.5mpg and the more powerful M340i, offering 38.2-40.4mpg.

Again, emissions are still low despite the change in fuel, with the 320i producing 126g/km of CO2, the 330i giving off 134g/km and the M340i up to 168g/km.

Plug-in hybrid

330e: 138mpg

CO2: 39g/km

Range: 41 miles

Charge time: 3hrs 25min – 5hrs 35min

But by far and away the most economical 3 Series engine available is the plug-in hybrid – the 330e. 

BMW claims fuel economy to be as high as 138mpg – although that does depend on how much you use the all-electric power. Emissions are low, too, producing just 39g/km of CO2. 

In the 330e, you get 41 miles of electric-only range, which you can programme to be used on a specific part of your journey if you wish. And even if you don’t pre-plan, the onboard computer will calculate when it’s most effective to use your battery power through the sat-nav. 

Remember, though, it’s a plug-in hybrid. So to get the most out of the greener, more economical engine, you need to stay on top of its charge. 

Using a BMW i Wallbox, a full charge takes just under three-and-a-half hours. Using a regular three-pin plug, that’s extended by more than two hours. 

Vs competitors

Against both the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series’ engines, for the most part, are more efficient and also better for the environment. 

They’ll give you more miles from every fuel stop and will also be kinder if you’re a company car driver, although the C-Class is also available with a hybrid power option. 

We can also expect a new engine range from both Mercedes and Audi in the not too distant future. And when that happens, the disparity may then not be as large. 

Engine, drive and performance

A big part of BMW’s success has always been their feel behind the wheel. And it’s good news on that front in the 3 Series, where if anything, you feel more connected to the road than ever before. 

The steering is sharper than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and at high speeds, the 3 Series doesn’t roll as much in the corners. It’s planted and precise, and the feedback you receive in the driver’s seat is unmatched by any other compact executive saloon. 

That’s partly down to the excellent adaptive suspension which balances the car depending on how much weight is on board, as well as the superb range of diesel, petrol and hybrid engines available. 

Petrol

320i: 184hp 

330i: 258bhp

M340i: 374bhp 

In the entry-level 320i, you get 184hp from a 2.0-litre turbocharged powertrain. It’s capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in 7.1 seconds and will go on to reach a top speed of 149mph.

If you’re after more performance, the 330i comes with 258bhp, taking you from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds. 

And if you want real speed but can’t stretch to an M3, there’s the M340i, which is packed with a 374bhp petrol engine and will break 62mph from a standing start in just 4.4 seconds. 

Diesel

318d: 150bhp 

320d: 190bhp 

330d: 265bhp

M340d: 340bhp

In the diesel, as you might expect, things aren’t as quick. But they’re certainly not slow, either. 

The standard 318d you get 150bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8.4 or 8.3 seconds, depending on whether you choose manual or automatic, with the auto coming out faster. 

In the next engine up, the 320d; the most popular diesel in the 3 Series range, there’s 190bhp and a 0-62mph time between 6.9 seconds and 7.1 – again, depending on if you choose automatic or manual. 

In the 330d, meanwhile, power is increased again to an impressive 265bhp. That means is your 0-62mph time is reduced to around 5.3 seconds.

But if you’re looking to break the five-second mark in a diesel, only the M340d can give you that, reaching 62mph in just 4.6 seconds. 

Plug-in hybrid

330e: 252bhp

330e XtraBoost: 292bhp

Using the same impressive 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine you find in the 320i, the 330e combines the 184bhp fossil-fuelled powertrain with a set of batteries stored underneath the rear seats to produce an impressive 252bhp. 

But, that’s not all. In the 330e, the BMW uses a kinetic energy recovery-like system – similar to what you find in a Formula 1 car – to harvest energy under braking and give you an extra 40bhp for 10 seconds through something BMW calls XtraBoost. 

Which engine is best? 

Which engine you choose will likely depend on where you drive your 3 Series most frequently. 

The 330e will undoubtedly be popular, as it’s not only extremely economical but ferociously fast using XtraBoost. 

However, for the best combination of efficiency and performance, we’d recommend the 330d, although the 320d will likely be the choice for many. 

Interior

An element that has let BMW down for some time now is the interior. However, on the 3 Series, that’s no longer a concern. 

Well-crafted leather, tuned detailing and a minimalist dash welcome you into an expensive and special-feeling cabin, from which the 3 Series feels as elegant as it should.

The whole cockpit is centred around two crystal-clear screens. One which houses the driver’s instrument cluster, and the other the central infotainment display, which, of course, features BMW’s excellent iDrive system, sat-nav and Apple CarPlay as standard – although, there’s still no Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is only free for the first year. 

In there, there’s also a parking camera, ambient lighting controls to help you set the mood – of which there are 11 colours to choose from – and BMW’s voice-activated virtual assistant. 

In the standard SE Pro, there’s acoustic glazing to keep road noise to a minimum, a leather-bound sports-style multifunction steering wheel and three-zone air conditioning. 

And as you climb the range, the interior spec gets better, including the introduction of heated sports seats, M styling cues and plusher materials. 

Vs competitors

Up against the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series is streets ahead. And so it should be, it’s a much newer car. 

However, Mercedes has made a big thing of interiors recently – shown in the quality of the new-shape A-Class. And when the new C-Class drops, which is expected to be sometime in 2021, BMW may find themselves once again on the backfoot. 

Practicality and boot space

Another important element for the 3 Series is its practicality. Thankfully, this is yet another test it passes with flying colours. 

No matter whether you’re in the front or back, there’s an abundance of space. And thanks to the 3 Series being a little taller than its predecessor, there’s more light, too – giving the cabin an open and airy feel. 

Because of this, there’s comfortably enough room in the back for three adults, even with the central tunnel running through the floor. And you even have enough space for three car seats.

On the boot front, the 3 Series comes with the same 480 litres of room as the previous model – which is also what you get in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. 

Reliability and safety

As you’d expect, given its popularity over the last four decades, the BMW 3 Series comes with a strong reliability record. 

And in most owner surveys, BMW as a brand often outscores Mercedes-Benz and Audi on dependability. 

The 3 Series also has a strong safety score – scoring a maximum five stars frm Euro NCAP when tested in 2019. And with an adult occupancy safety rating of 97% and a child safety rating of 87%, it’s also a strong contender as a safe and secure family vehicle. 

A considerable factor in that is the sheer amount of standard safety equipment built into the 3 Series. 

All cars feature park assist and a rear camera, as well as parking sensors, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and something BMW calls Active Guard Plus, which gives you speed-limit information, lane-departure warning and pedestrian warning with city braking. 

And as with all other elements of the car, the higher you go on the spec list, the more safety equipment is present, including upgraded brakes, adaptive suspension and variable seating. 

Model variants

SE Pro

  • BMW Live Cockpit Professional
  • 17″ light alloy V-spoke style 778 wheels
  • Parking assistant with reversing camera

Sport Pro

  • 18″ light-alloy V-spoke style 780 wheels, Bicolour Orbit Grey with run-flat tyres
  • Heated front sports seats
  • Sport automatic transmission and larger fuel tank

M Sport

  • M aerodynamics body styling
  • 18″ M light-alloy double-spoke style 790 M wheels, Bicolour Orbit Grey
  • M Sport suspension

M Sport Pro

  • 19″ M light-alloy double-spoke style 791 M wheels, Jet Black with mixed and run-flat tyres
  • M Sport braking system
  • Adaptive M suspension

M340i/d

  • 19″ M light-alloy double-spoke style 792 M wheels, Bicolour Cerium Grey with mixed and run-flat tyres
  • M Sport differential
  • M340i/d engine

Cost and deals

For a lot of people, the BMW 3 Series will be seen as the perfect company car. And not just because it looks and drives great, is very practical and has an impressively frugal engine range, but because of cost, too. 

Insurance

Depending on which 3 Series you choose will determine which insurance group you fall into. If you’re looking at diesel power, you’ll fit somewhere between group 26 – as the 318d falls into – to group 42 – where the M340d resides. 

The most popular diesel meanwhile – the 320d – is around insurance group 30-32, depending on which spec you choose. 

In the petrol, you’ll face lower insurance premiums, with the range spanning group 24 to 39. While in the plug-in hybrid, you can expect to be between group 33 and 35. 

Benefit-in-kind

If you’re looking for the best benefit-in-kind rates, you’ll want a plug-in hybrid, which for 2021/22 are 11%. 

In the diesel, that ranges from 29% to 35%. While in petrol, it’s 33% to 37%. 

Deals

Here at Hippo Leasing, we have a huge range of great BMW 3 Series deals available. Just click the button below, find your perfect 3 Series and click Apply Now to get your finance approved in minutes. 

Alternatively, if you’d rather get your finance sorted first, click the Apply Now button below, fill out a quick form, and a member of our expert team will be in touch shortly with your personalised approval.