BMW 3 Series (2012-present)

The BMW 3 Series is fun to drive, stylish and affordable to run

Strengths & Weaknesses


Great to drive
Wide range of engine and trims to choose from
Easy-to-use dashboard software


Optional extras are expensive
Firm suspension on M Sport models
Limited space in the rear for middle passengers

By combining performance and agility with a restrained design and plush interior, BMW has made its 3 Series one of the most popular cars in Britain.

It’s supposed to be the car for any occasion: practical enough for family journeys; sporty enough that you’d go out to drive just for fun; and with an image that won’t disgrace any business meeting.

And if this is what you’re looking for in a car, then the 3 Series is a better all-round choice than any other model on the market.

The Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 might be a little smoother over bumps, quieter on the motorway and have an interior that just beats the BMW in terms of style, but they can’t match the car’s nimble and stable cornering.

Jaguar’s XE comes close to the sporty feel of the BMW, but is let down by cramped rear seats and a cheaper-looking interior.

The price of this excellence starts at almost £27,000 for a brand new 3 Series, dropping to around £15,000 for entry-level models that are three years old. If you can compromise on the premium badge and the sporting performance, then the Volkswagen Passat, Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport, Skoda Superb and Mazda 6 have similar space and comfort but are several thousands of pounds cheaper.

They don’t have the feel-good interior of the BMW, though, with high-quality materials look and feel fresh after thousands of miles, including a screen with sat-nav that’s standard across the range. It’s one of the best systems on the market and is controlled by a rotary controller conveniently placed near the gearstick.

There’s plenty of room in the front for the driver to get comfortable, although the levers for the seat adjustment can be awkward to operate. Once set, though, the 3 Series has a great driving position with all the controls to hand.

In the rear of the car there’s enough room for a pair of average-sized adults, although taller passengers will find their heads brushing the roof lining. The hump running down the middle of the car is quite high and makes life uncomfortable for the centre rear passenger. Tall rear passengers would be more comfortable in an Audi A4.

The A4 also has a slightly larger boot, that's a squarer shape but at only 20 litres more than the 480-litre boot of the BMW, it's unlikely to sway many buyers.

As with all of its rivals, the BMW is a saloon, which means that the boot opening is small. More practical is the estate version, called the 3 Series Touring and the 3 Series GT, which is a hatchback version of the BMW. Its bootlid that opens up the back of the car, so you can load bulkier luggage and create a large area by folding down the rear seats.

Alternatively, BMW offers the X3 crossover - combining the sportiness of the 3 Series with the extra height of an off-roader - and there are the similarly-sized Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and Range Rover Velar.

From behind the wheel, the BMW 3 Series is enjoyable to drive at any speed. Its steering feels responsive and it changes direction more crisply than rivals, while remaining smooth and comfortable - even if it’s not quite at Audi levels.

M Sport models have slightly firmer suspension for a sportier feel. They’re a little less comfortable than SE and Sport models but not unbearably so.

You can also opt for a four-wheel drive 3 Series (BMW calls it xDrive) for around £1,500 more. It won't turn your 3 Series into an off-roader but will provide extra grip when accelerating on wet and icy roads.

There’s a huge choice of engines, all offering reasonable fuel economy and good acceleration. The high-performance M3 is considerably better than “good” but you’ll need deep pockets to buy and run it.

The BMW 3 Series was awarded the top five star safety rating after crash tests carried out by Euro NCAP in 2012, but the assessment has since been made tougher, so it’s not clear how it compares with newer cars, such as the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.

Search for all new and used BMW 3 Series deals

Last Updated 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - 14:00

Key facts 

Three years / unlimited miles
Boot size: 
480 litres
Tax (min to max): 
£10 to £800 in first year, £140 or £310 thereafter

Best BMW 3 Series for... 

BMW 330e SE
The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid model, which uses a petrol engine, combined with an electric motor for efficient driving Official CO2 emissions are just 44g/km, cutting company car tax and the first year of road tax.
BMW 320d SE
The 320d is the most popular engine in the range. The diesel engine offers plenty of performance but the potential to return 67.3mpg. SE trim is the entry-level model but still has sat-nav, parking sensors, cruise control and air-conditioning.
BMW 335d M Sport xDrive
The 335d is high-power 3-litre diesel engine and has four-wheel drive system to improve grip when accelerating. As a result, it can accelerate from 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds, just half a second slower than the high-performance M3 version.
BMW 340i M Sport
It's not a bad car but is expensive. First-year road tax is as much as £800 and being over £40,000, it attracts an additional £310 annual road tax premium for five years. Fuel economy is poor, compared with the quicker 335d.

BMW 3 Series History 

  • February 2012 BMW 3 Series goes on sale in the UK 
  • June 2012 M Sport trim, xDrive four-wheel drive and ActiveHybrid models added to the range
  • September 2012 320i EfficientDynamics model added to the range. This is an economy-focused 1.6-litre petrol model, that is no longer on sale in the current range
  • January 2013 xDrive four-wheel drive available in more models across the range
  • July 2013 EfficientDynamics Business trim added to the range to appeal to company car drivers
  • May 2015 Tweaks to the whole 3 Series range announced, including altered styling front and rear, plus new trim inside. Engine range revised to include the 1.5-litre engine from the Mini Cooper (BMW 318i), the 340i, 320d ED and 335d.
  • February 2016 Petrol-electric hybrid 330e is launched with an official fuel economy figure of 148.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 44g/km
  • May 2016 All versions now have BMW’s latest iDrive infotainment interface and enhanced connectivity.

Understanding BMW 3 Series car names 

  • 3 Series
  • Model name & engine
  • Trim level
    M Sport
  • Model name & engine
    Model names ending in ‘d’ are diesel powered. Those ending in ‘i’ have petrol engines, and those with an ‘e’ are plug-in hybrid models powered by a battery and conventional engine. Generally speaking, the higher the badge number, the more powerful is the car’s engine. For example, even though their engines are the same size (2.0 litre) the 335d is more powerful than the 320d.
  • Trim level
    You can work out how much standard equipment is included on the car from its trim level. The cheapest is SE followed by Sport and M Sport. The 320d is also available in economy-focused ED Plus and ED Sport trims

BMW 3 Series Engines 

Petrol: 318i, 320i, 330i, 340i
Diesel: 316d, 318d, 320d, 320d ED, 330d, 335d; Hybrid: 330e

The BMW 3 Series engine range can be confusing to start with because the engine size and power may bear no relation to the model's badge.

For example, the 318i is powered by a 1.5-litre engine with 134bhp and is one of the slower models in the 3 Series range, but is worth considering if you don’t cover many miles each year.

Elsewhere on the petrol front there are two, 2.0-litre petrols badged 320i and 330i, while the 340i has a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine.

For their economy and performance, the diesels are the engines to choose. The 316d is the cheapest and slowest; the more powerful 320d is just as economical but quicker.

If you want more power, the 330d and 335d engines are extremely quick. In fact, so quick is the 335d that it comes with BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system fitted as standard.

The petrol-electric hybrid 330e was introduced to the range in early 2016. It combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to produce 248bhp. You can charge up the batteries and drive on electric power alone for around ten miles. Its official 148.7mpg figure is impressive, but its real-world economy will depend on how you drive it - short journeys using mostly electric power will be far more economical than long-distance ones which mostly use petrol power. The car's CO2 emissions figure of 44g/km puts it in a low bracket for comoany car tax.

BMW 3 Series Trims 

SE, Sport, ED Plus (diesel), ED Sport (diesel), M Sport

All BMW 3 Series models come with a generous level of equipment. SE models have 17in alloys, a sat-nav, air-con, Bluetooth, a DAB digital radio, USB connectivity and automatic headlights and wipers.

ED (it stands for Efficient Dynamics) Plus is the ‘greener’ alternative to the 320d SE. It has smaller 16in alloys fitted with low-rolling resistance tyres, and an active grille. However, it also has leather seats, heated in the front, so feels quite luxurious.

Naturally, Sport, the next trim in the range, adds sporty details such as fancier 17in alloys, figure-hugging seats and sporty instruments. However, it also has Drive Performance Control, a suite of four driving modes ranging from economy to sport-plus.

ED Sport (diesel models only) have leather trim and heated front seats. M Sport takes its inspiration from BMW’s M Series cars and builds on Sport trim with larger, 18in alloys, leather trim, a bodykit and sporty suspension. 

The M3, not covered here, is a more radical version of the 3 Series M Sport. It has the most powerful engine, an aggressive bodykit with bespoke bumpers, wheels and door mirrors, and quad-exhausts at the rear.

Used BMW 3 Series 


List price

BuyaCar new

1 year old

2 years old

3 years old

Best for performance













Best for families







BMW 320d SE






Best for economy







BMW 330e SE






*Prices for ActiveHybrid 3 - much higher cost new than the 330e @ £41,385