In-depth reviews

BMW 3-series review – does it still reward the keen driver?

The 3-series majors on refinement and cutting-edge technology but still offers a rewarding, if not overly sporting, drive

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

Almost half a century since the BMW 3-series first hit the road, the recipe that made it such as success back in 1975 still stands today. Entertaining dynamics, strong powertrains, great build quality and a premium image make it one of the class leaders, but it's up against tougher opposition than ever. Arch rivals in the form of the Mercedes C-Class and the Audi A4 keep raising the bar, but BMW has succeeded in refining the 3-series to match while retaining its trademark sporting slant.

Thanks to a stiffer body (by up to 50 per cent in some areas), new damper technology and enhanced soundproofing measures the additional refinement box has been ticked. A thoroughly revised interior packed full of tech from the 5-series ensures the 3-series no longer looks like second best inside when compared to its German rivals.

> Mercedes-Benz C-class review – BMW 3-series rival strikes back

The engine line up has been bolstered since its 2019 launch, with a range of 2-litre diesels and petrols, the latter in pure-combustion and plug-in hybrid forms, a 3-litre diesel and the 3-litre petrol M340i xDrive. Even the slowest model (the petrol-powered 320i) will crack 0-62mph in less than 7.5sec, with the M340i the quickest of the range with a quoted 4.4sec 0-62mph sprint.

The M340d’s engine is exceptional both in terms of output and refinement (it even sounds good), with the two 2-litre 320d also deliver the goods but without being particularly stimulating. Enhanced soundproofing over the older 3-series means both engines are more or less inaudible unless extended. A 0-62mph time for the 320d of 6.9sec is plenty quick enough, too. 

The three petrol models (320i, 330e and M340i xDrive, for now) should, in theory, be more likely to stir the soul. The 320i and 330e share the same 2-litre turbocharged ’four and while they’re quick enough (the hybrid 330e xDrive dips under the 6sec barrier for the 0-62mph sprint) they’re not hugely engaging units, with a somewhat flat and uninspiring soundtrack. The M340i is the only petrol six-cylinder and is predictably potent, offering near-M3 levels of performance in a useable, surprisingly economical package. 

While perhaps the 3-series’ engine line up isn’t as inspiring as it used to be the good news is that its chassis can still entertain, exhibiting the sort of confidence-inspiring balance that’s missing for many rivals. It’s a little dependent on specification though – Sport and M Sport models are entertaining if a little ragged at the limit while 'M' versions are considerably stiffer and corner more enthusiastically. The best compromise is to be found by opting for the M Sport Plus package which adds adaptive dampers. 

BMW 3-series: in detail

  • Performance and 0-60mph timeAll 3-series engines deliver strong performance but the M340i xDrive is seriously quick.
  • Engine and gearboxFour-cylinder petrol is a little dull, but 3-litre six-cylinder models are excellent. All-wheel drive is an option with all but the 320i and 320d, with a manual no longer available.
  • Ride and handlingStandard suspension delivers an excellent ride but less chassis poise, while the more focused M Sport chassis can prove too stiff.
  • MPG and running costsEven under WLTP regulations the 3-series can be surprisingly frugal and 330e PHEV has an impressive all electric range.
  • Interior and techTypically excellent BMW interior now backed with the very latest infotainment technology to match, or beat, the best rivals can offer.
  • DesignSafe rather than experimental styling ensures the 3-series won’t be mistaken for anything else. 

Prices, specs and rivals

The BMW 3-series lineup now begins at Sport and in this guise you’ll need £40,205 for a 320i, £43,190 for a 320d and £46,985 for the plug-in hybrid 330e in rear-drive form – the 330e all-wheel drive will set you back an additional £1550. If you’re after more performance from your 3-series the range-topping M340i xDrive costs from £59,780, with the 3-litre  M340d diesel now priced from £59,385 before options. 

For most buyers the choice of junior exec will be between the 3-series and its two closest rivals, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-class. In their latest incarnations both are worthy rivals that offer similar pricing and performance but the 3-series has caught up where it was lacking before, mainly in terms of refinement and interior design and technology. While the 3-series’ driving experience may have been slightly diluted it’s still a better steer than these rivals.

But while the 3-series might have retained its crown as the best German compact exec to drive it’s worth considering what the Italians have to offer, specifically the Alfa Romeo Giulia. The Giulia Veloce sits between the 320i and M340i, and while it doesn’t offer the full Quadrifoglio experience it is a pretty brisk performer and with sharp, direct steering and a sweet chassis it does offer an excellent drive.

More on 3 Series

BMW M3 (F80) – the car world's greatest misses
BMW M3 F80
Features

BMW M3 (F80) – the car world's greatest misses

It may have looked the part from the off, but the first turbocharged M3 took a while to find its feet
25 Jan 2024
The BMW M3 is going electric in its next generation
BMW M3 teaser
News

The BMW M3 is going electric in its next generation

The next M3 supersaloon is receiving a pure-electric powertrain, but it’s not all bad news…
30 Nov 2023
BMW M340i xDrive v Peugeot 508 PSE v VW Arteon R Shooting Brake
Fast estates group test – static
Group tests

BMW M340i xDrive v Peugeot 508 PSE v VW Arteon R Shooting Brake

Prefer a sleek estate to a jacked-up SUV but can’t stretch to an M3 Touring? This trio of alternatives could provide an answer
17 Jun 2023
BMW M340i xDrive Touring 2023 review
BMW M340i xDrive Touring - cornering
Review

BMW M340i xDrive Touring 2023 review

The M3 Touring might be stealing the limelight, but the M340i is proof that talent seeps through to the M-lite version
27 Mar 2023
BMW M3 Competition (G80) review
BMW M3 Comp (test) – compressions 2
In-depth reviews

BMW M3 Competition (G80) review

It’s bigger, heavier and auto-only. But don't let that put you off, the M3 Competition is spectacular
10 Feb 2023
New 2023 BMW M3 CS revealed – CSL power for ultimate M3
M3 CS
News

New 2023 BMW M3 CS revealed – CSL power for ultimate M3

BMW’s M3 CS is set to join two greats in the M2 CS and M5 CS with 542bhp and four-wheel drive.
24 Jan 2023
BMW E30 M3 by Redux 2022 review
BMW E30 M3 by Redux
Reviews

BMW E30 M3 by Redux 2022 review

What if BMW had developed a CSL version of the E30 M3 Evo – lighter, more powerful, even more effective? That’s the question that Redux set out to ans…
7 Dec 2022
New BMW M3 Competition-based Manhart MH3 GTR packs 641bhp
Manhart MH3 GTR
News

New BMW M3 Competition-based Manhart MH3 GTR packs 641bhp

German tuner Manhart Performance has released its second take on the G80 BMW M3, the MH3 GTR
9 Aug 2022
Updated 2022 BMW 3-series debuts – new interior for BMW’s big seller
2022 BMW 3-series facelift
BMW 3 Series

Updated 2022 BMW 3-series debuts – new interior for BMW’s big seller

BMW’s 3-series has undergone a subtle update outside, but there are bigger changes under the skin
17 May 2022
BMW M3 Competition xDrive 2021 review – best with all-wheel drive?
BMW M3 Competition xDrive review
BMW M3 saloon

BMW M3 Competition xDrive 2021 review – best with all-wheel drive?

The launch of an all-wheel drive BMW M3 might seem like sacrilege, but it might just be the one you should opt for
22 Nov 2021
BMW M3 and M4 lifted to 612bhp by Manhart Performance 
Manhart BMW M3 and M4
BMW M3 saloon

BMW M3 and M4 lifted to 612bhp by Manhart Performance 

German tuner Manhart Performance has extracted more power from BMW’s new M3 and M4
9 Jun 2021
BMW M3 Competition and M4 Competition xDrive models detailed
BMW M3/4 Competition xDrive tracking
BMW M3 saloon

BMW M3 Competition and M4 Competition xDrive models detailed

All-wheel-drive M3/M4 Competitions to arrive in late summer
18 Apr 2021
All-new BMW M3 Competition revealed – UK specs and prices confirmed
BMW M3 saloon
BMW M3 saloon

All-new BMW M3 Competition revealed – UK specs and prices confirmed

This is the all-new BMW M3 Competition saloon which will join the M4 Competition coupe in BMW M’s new M3/4 family
12 Jan 2021
Cheap BMW M3? E46, E92 and F80 go head-to-head
BMW M3 saloon

Cheap BMW M3? E46, E92 and F80 go head-to-head

You might require a second mortgage to buy an E30 BMW M3, but fear not, as there are equally appealing M Power options that won’t test your credit sco…
14 Nov 2020
BMW M340i xDrive saloon 2020 review
BMW 3 Series saloon

BMW M340i xDrive saloon 2020 review

All the ingredients are present to make this a cracking sub-M Sport saloon, but the M340i puts outright pace and tech above real driver thrills and en…
12 May 2020
Alpina D3 S turns black pump 3-series to 11
BMW 3 Series

Alpina D3 S turns black pump 3-series to 11

The new BMW M340d has received the Alpina treatment, increasing power, improving handling and adding more luxury
5 May 2020
This Dähler BMW M340i xDrive is an M3 Touring alternative 
News

This Dähler BMW M340i xDrive is an M3 Touring alternative 

Swiss tuner Dähler has turned this 3-series Touring up to M3-beating power levels 
27 Apr 2020
BMW M340i xDrive pumped to M3-beating 503bhp by G-Power
News

BMW M340i xDrive pumped to M3-beating 503bhp by G-Power

To tide us over until the G20 M3 arrives, German-based G-Power has lifted output of the M340i xDrive
21 Apr 2020
New BMW M340d xDrive Saloon and Touring revealed
BMW 3 Series

New BMW M340d xDrive Saloon and Touring revealed

BMW has released its range-topping black pump 3-series models, with a predictably impressive torque figure
20 Feb 2020
455bhp Alpina B3 Touring priced from £67,950
BMW 3 Series

455bhp Alpina B3 Touring priced from £67,950

Following its reveal at 2019's Frankfurt motor show, Alpina has unveiled pricing for its take on the BMW 340i Touring
4 Feb 2020
AC Schnitzer readies 3-series performance upgrades
BMW 3 Series

AC Schnitzer readies 3-series performance upgrades

German tuning company offers modified looks and more performance for BMW’s 3-series
11 Sep 2019
The new 3-series range has been expanded -
BMW 3-series Touring 2019 - side
BMW 3 Series Touring

The new 3-series range has been expanded -

The new 3-series range has been expanded - to be topped by the new 369bhp M340i
12 Jun 2019
BMW 320d M Sport review
 BMW 320d M Sport
BMW 3 Series saloon

BMW 320d M Sport review

New BMW 3-series has more of everything, but gives away a little of its satisfying precision in the process
18 Mar 2019