BMW 3 Series: Car Review

Posted on August 22nd, 2012 by James Luckhurst

It’s the best in its class, bar none.

BMW 3 Series: Car Review

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What’s it like?
The BMW 3 Series is great to drive, with a choice of powerful but economical engines and superb ride and handling. It is also impressively refined. In our book, it’s the best compact executive saloon on sale.

Would it help me stay safe?
The 3 Series has earned a five-star overall rating from Euro NCAP, and comes with a raft of electronic safety aids and all the airbags you would expect.

Who should buy it and how much does it cost?
Anyone looking for a compact executive saloon should give the BMW 3 Series a test drive. The 320d is our favourite model of those we have driven so far and costs from £28,020.

Our review: Good Motoring, Summer 2012

BMW 3 Series: Car Review

The new 3 Series is the even better to drive than the old one. On empty, winding mountain roads it’s beautifully balanced, with crisp, inch-perfect steering and sports car levels of grip. Push the Drive Performance Control button to select Sport mode, and the steering weights up nicely and throttle response becomes sharper. The test cars we drove were fitted with the adaptive M Sport chassis (a £750 option). Go for this upgrade and Drive Performance Control also varies the suspension set-up. In Sport guise the 3 Series is especially rewarding, with iron-fisted control of body movements over bumps and flat, purposeful cornering.

Not many of us are lucky enough to commute to work up and down a mountain, so it’s good to know the 3 Series is also at home in more mundane driving. Select Comfort mode and the suspension eases its grip a little, smoothing over bumps which would be felt with a thump in the old car. At low speeds in particular the new 3 is more forgiving of lumpy Tarmac and wonky manhole covers.

Leave town behind and head onto the motorway and the car’s refinement is impressive. Road and engine noise are especially subdued, although there is some wind noise at the legal limit. The cabin is so quiet at speed that it takes a careful eye on the speedo to avoid driving faster than you mean to.

That’s especially true of the 328i petrol, which really is very quick indeed. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds for the auto, and that feels about right from the driver’s seat. More buyers are likely to choose diesel power, and we also had the chance to drive the 320d. It can sound a little strained at the top of the rev range, but there’s rarely any need to go there since the engine pulls strongly from just 1500rpm. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds for the manual.

BMW 3 Series: Car Review

There’s plenty of space in the 3 Series for the driver and front seat passenger. With a wide range of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel, we found it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The pedals are slightly offset, but after a day’s driving we had no aches or pains.

Compared with the previous model, there has been a noticeable improvement in legroom for rear-seat passengers. However, it’s still nothing like as roomy as some mainstream family cars such as the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb.

Boot space is also more competitive than before, rising to 480 litres. That’s five litres more than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class’s, and exactly matches the Audi A4’s.

BMW 3 Series: Car Review

Every 3 Series comes with driver, passenger, side and head airbags (front and rear). All cars are also fitted with BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control+, which includes a range of electronic safety aids to help the driver stay in control.

Further high-tech safety systems such as a Lane Departure Warning system are available. This registers lane markings at speeds of over 40mph and up to 50 metres ahead. If the 3 Series moves out of the lane without the use of indicators, the steering wheel vibrates as a warning. The head-up display is another worthwhile safety feature, as it projects the car’s speed into the driver’s line of sight.

The windscreen pillars aren’t excessively thick, so we had no visibility problems at T-junctions or roundabouts.

Safety experts at Euro NCAP have given the car a five-star rating for overall safety, with strong scores in the adult occupant, child occupant, pedestrian and safety assist categories.

BMW 3 Series: Car Review

The 3 Series saloon is sold in ES/SE, Modern, Luxury, Sport and M Sport specifications. Entry-level ES cars have Bluetooth telephone preparation, climate control and cruise control. SE adds parking sensors, two-zone climate control, a rain sensor and automatic light activation.

Sport versions have different alloys and a dark interior finish. Modern models have chrome detailing and a lighter interior finish. Luxury models come with leather upholstery, while the M Sport has lowered and stiffened suspension for a more aggressive drive.

BMW 3 Series: Car Review

On the face of it, the 3 Series isn’t cheap to buy. Even the basic 316d ES costs £24,880. But strong resale values largely offset the high purchase price and running costs should be exceptionally low for a car with such high performance.

The 328i petrol promises of 44.8mpg for the automatic, and 44.1mpg for the manual. The 320d auto achieves an official combined figure of 62.8mpg, or 61.4mpg for the manual

Go for the EfficientDynamics version, and that improves to 68.9mpg with either the manual or automatic gearbox.

For company car drivers, low emissions are crucial to keep Benefit-in-Kind bills down. The EfficientDynamics model puts out just 109g/km of carbon dioxide, putting it in the 15% tax bracket (2012/13).

Great to drive, refined and frugal: the best compact exec on sale.

Price: £28,020
Performance: 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds
Economy: 61.4mpg
Insurance: 29 (1-50)
Tax: Band D (£95)
Verdict : 5/5
(Figures for 320d SE)