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In-depth reviews

BMW 3-series – ride and handling

Standard suspension delivers an excellent ride but less chassis poise, while the more focused M Sport chassis can prove too stiff

Evo rating
Price
from £40,205
  • Chassis balance, punchy powertrains, interior quality and tech
  • Lifeless steering, harsh M Sport suspension

The 3-series has been the default choice for those searching for an involving drive from their compact exec for decades, and with this latest incarnation BMW has managed to retain this position. It’s perhaps not quite as clear cut as it used to be, but despite making strides in comfort and refinement the 3-series is still an engaging car to drive, especially when compared with the majority of the competition. 

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However, there are many different permutations to consider and which model you choose and how you spec it will have a direct bearing on the way it drives. Entry-level Sport models have the basic chassis set up which features BMW’s lift-related damper technology which is aimed at controlling body movement under acceleration and braking. M Sport models feature the same damper technology but with stiffer settings while the Adaptive dampers (that are only available as part of the optional M Sport Plus Package) are switchable, offering a supple ride in Comfort mode and a significantly firmer one in Sport.

> 2024 BMW 4-series gets new tech and the M4 CSL’s trick rear lights

On the standard Sport suspension, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the ride quality offered is the best of the bunch, especially on smaller wheels with normal tyres. Driven hard and its limitations do eventually come to the fore, there’s a fair amount of bodyroll and ultimately the chassis does lose its composure, coming a little unstuck on dips and crests.

The M Sport feels much tauter than the Sport and exhibits superior body control, cornering with an impressively flat demeanour. Grip is exceptional, both on turn-in and corner exit, but the steering frustrates with its inability to transmit any feel through the thick M Sport steering wheel. It’s precise and well weighted but feels very remote. Ride quality on smooth surfaces is passable but on broken up Tarmac it becomes rather unsettled and a little jiggly, especially at lower speeds.

The best compromise comes at a cost, and that’s with the M Sport Plus package. The adaptive dampers are slightly softer than the Sport set up in Comfort mode and a modicum firmer than the M Sport in Sport mode. The ride is good, if not quite as exceptional as in the Sport model thanks to the addition of 19-inch wheels, but a car with the M Sport Plus package does offer the best compromise between a supple ride and handling prowess.

As you would expect, the range-topping M340i xDrive is the most capable of the bunch, with incredible point-to-point pace. Refinement is impressive overall, but tackle some of Britain's trickier roads and ride can become harsh and fidgety – steering is also severely lacking in feel which knocks its outright driver appeal. This aside, the M340i is an impressive sports saloon for day-to-day use, and doesn't have much in the way of competition in 2024...

Ultimately the 3-series is slightly less playful than before with less feedback through the chassis, seats and steering. The xDrive models are incredibly surefooted but even less inclined to indulge in even a whiff of oversteer unless you’re decidedly committed. 

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