Despite its age it remains a compelling all-rounder
- Engaging handling regardless of engine
- Comfort isn’t spared for agility
- Generous equipment levels
- Performance/efficiency balance
- Interior doesn’t feel as premium as some rivals
- Ride can be unsettled without adaptive dampers
- Cabin isn’t the roomiest in this segment
- Wide range of expensive options
For six generations the BMW 3 Series Saloon has dominated the premium four-door executive car market.
It’s the saloon that rival manufacturers benchmark against, in terms of desirability, drivability and quality, among many other facets. And while some match or even surpass the BMW in certain areas, it remains at the pinnacle of excellence in this segment.
Should you ignore the alternatives in the shapes of the Audi A4 Saloon, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class to name but a few? Not at all, but the likelihood is you’ll keep coming back to the 3 Series because of its all-round abilities.
Plus, if you’re looking for something more lithe and slinky, the very closely related two-door 4 Series Coupe and Convertible (the replacements for previous generations of 3 Series Coupe and Convertible) are sold alongside the five-door 4 Series Gran Coupe.
Popular with private and business customers
Not only is the BMW 3 Series Saloon understandably high on the wish list for many private buyers, it’s also a sought-after company car.
Why? Well, if you are a business looking for a good motorway cruiser with a premium badge, excellent fuel economy and pin-sharp handling, then the five diesel models in particular prove to be great all-rounders.
Choose the fuel-miserly ways of the 320d EfficientDynamics and claimed diesel consumption is quoted at 72.4mpg.
It’s not the most efficient of 3 Series, though – that honour goes to the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid 330e, quoted at 148.7mpg. The real-world figure, especially away from urban environments, won’t be that astonishing.
BMW hasn’t forgotten enthusiasts who prefer the purity of petrol engines, with four in the main line-up from the humble 318i to the boisterous 340i.
Most models have rear-wheel drive, but for those seeking the security of all-wheel drive then BMW 3 Series xDrive versions are worth hunting out.
BMW M3 has a legacy to live up to
Topping the 3 Series line-up in both price and performance terms is the latest BMW M3 Saloon, bearing a badge that’s become fabled in motoring enthusiast circles over the past three decades.
Turbocharging the M3’s six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine has liberated 431hp, elevated to 450hp if you plump for the sharper M3 Competition Package. Choose the latter with the M Double Clutch Transmission – a gearbox that behaves like an automatic – for an impressive 4.0-second 0-62mph time.
Premium quality and generous equipment levels
In days of yore, premium German saloons were sparsely equipped; the argument being that you were paying instead for the engineering excellence.
While that might have been true, it won’t wash with contemporary tech-savvy buyers, so whether you opt for an SE, Sport, M Sport or M Sport Shadow Edition 3 Series Saloon, you will find it bristling with equipment including LED lights front and rear, dual-zone climate control and sat-nav.
Where the 3 Series is starting to show its age – this sixth iteration was launched in 2012 – is with its interior. There’s no doubting it’s well-assembled, and the technology still feels current, but rivals have upped the ante in terms of quality.
Step into a 3 Series having spent time in an Audi A4 and you’d be forgiven for assuming there was a £10,000 price differential.
The Parkers Verdict
Sharp-suited looks, dynamics honed to prioritise driving pleasure over outright comfort and a broad selection of powertrains to suit those looking to maximise efficiency or speed.
Other compact executives are more spacious, some feel more luxurious, while others are even faster. But none of them is a BMW 3 Series Saloon.
Continue reading our expert BMW 3 Series Saloon review to find out why this remains the premium four-door of choice.
What owners say about this car
My first ever BMW in 40 years of driving and it's going to take some beating when I replace it. Being... Read owner review
Torquey engine, and can be easy to drive in a relaxed way, or full rev range can be used. Auto... Read owner review
I bought the used 320d Sport saloon after having owned a 55 reg 320d for a few years. I love... Read owner review