BMW 3 Series (2012-2019) Review
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
Used BMW 3 Series prices from £8,995 Finance from £253.53 per month
By combining performance and agility with a restrained design and plush interior, BMW made the 3 Series one of the most popular cars in Britain. As a mid-sized saloon, this model works as a practical family car and a sports orientated fun-mobile, while also upholding its image as a sensible business cruiser.
The Mercedes C-Class or Audi A4 might be a little smoother over bumps, quieter on the motorway and have interiors that just beat the BMW in terms of style, but they can’t match the 3 Series' nimble yet stable cornering. The Jaguar XE comes close to the sporty feel of the BMW, but it's let down by cramped rear seats and a cheaper-looking interior.
Used prices on BuyaCar start from just £8,995, which is not a huge amount more than a similarly aged Volkswagen Passat, Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport, Skoda Superb or Mazda 6, but you're getting much more performance and quality from the 3 Series, as well as a certain posh badge on the front.
Inside, you get a host of in-car tech, while post-2016 models come with BMW's iDrive media system 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 back 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, its square shape stretches to 500 litres compared to the 480-litre boot of the BMW, but its saloon design makes packing difficult. The 3 Series Touring and 3 Series GT are more practical. The GT especially, which is a hatchback version of the 3 Series, has a much more usable luggage space.
Steering in the BMW 3 Series 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), with prices on BuyaCar starting from £8,995. 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, with the M3 the best of the bunch.
|Warranty||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...
Best for Economy – 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.
Best for Families – 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.
Best for Performance – 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.
One to Avoid – 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.
- 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 interface and enhanced connectivity.
- July 2018 BMW's eight-speed automatic gearbox becomes a standard feature of the 3 Series.
- March 2019 All-new BMW 3 Series replaces this model
Understanding BMW 3 Series names
Model name & engine 320d
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 M Sport
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 company 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 17-inch alloy wheels, a sat-nav, air-conditioning, 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 16-inch 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 17-inch 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, 18-inch 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.
BMW 3 Series Reliability and warranty
The BMW 3 Series placed 39 out of 75 at the Auto Express Driver Power 2018 reliability rankings. Sister models, the 1 and 4 Series faired well too. Throughout the years of these rankings, BMW has done well, and built a reputation for building reliable cars.
BMW’s new car warranty is three years, which may seem stingy when compared to others. However, it is unlimited mileage. So it suits business users who regularly change cars.
Used BMW 3 Series
BMW’s strong image helps the 3 Series hold its value. This means that typically after one, or two, or however many years, it will hold more of its value than rivals from Vauxhall or Skoda. For instance, a 3 Series might typically lose around 35% of its value (depending on spec) after three years. However, a Vauxhall Insignia (once again depending on spec) is likely to lose up to 47% of its value after three years.
When buying a used 3 Series with cash, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. However, it is good if you want to buy with finance, as strong values help keep PCP payments down.
Keep an eye out for cars with plenty of options fitted to them, as most options lose value faster to the vehicle they’re fitted to.
Because the 3-Series is one of the best-selling cars in the UK, there are plenty available on the used market. A great deal of 3 Series' were bought as company cars with diesel engines, which explains why you might find that the majority of used cars are diesel powered.
There are currently 98 diesel BMW 3 Series' for sale on BuyaCar. The cheapest start from £8,995.
If you're on a budget, we recommend Efficient Dynamics models, sometimes referred to as just ED. They're the ‘greener’ alternative to the 320d SE and come with a 1.6-litre petrol engine that should be capable of around 60mpg in real-life driving conditions. Road tax for the majority of 3 Series Efficient Dynamic models will only set you back £20 a year too. of these models are for sale.
|1 year old||2 years old||3 years old|
Best for performance BMW 335d M Sport
Best for families BMW 320d SE
Best for economy BMW 330e
With upmarket build quality, a premium badge and a big dose of driving fun, the practical 3 Series Touring is an impressive family estate
Fun to drive, and with an upmarket feel, there are few more impressive posh saloons than the BMW 3 Series