What is the BMW 3 Series?
For many consumers, the BMW 3 Series is a car to aspire to own – and for other automotive manufacturers, it’s a model to aspire to emulate.
Arguably defining the compact executive car segment, the 3 Series is not your sole choice in this arena, tackling direct rivals such as the Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volvo’s S60 and V60 twins.
This year has heralded its arrival in seventh-generation guise, with a range that’s still in its infancy, but it will doubtless become one of BMW’s bestselling models.
- Top speed: 140-155mph
- 0-62mph: 5.5-8.4 seconds
- Fuel economy: 40.4-58.9mpg
- Emissions: 113-134g/km of CO2
- Boot space: 480 litres
Which versions of the BMW 3 Series are available?
As the Mk7 version of the 3er only went on sale at the start of 2019, the range is currently modest in terms of its complexity, but it will expand both in terms of bodystyles and engine choices.
So far, only the BMW 3 Series Saloon, also known by its internal codename of G20, has been released in seventh-generation guise, but an all-new, estate-bodied BMW 3 Series Touring (the G21) should be on sale before the end of 2019.
A replacement for the unusual hatchback-shaped BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is looking unlikely.
Engine choice is currently restricted to petrol-engined 320i and 330i models, with a punchier M340i expected in the UK by the summer.
Diesels have been popular with the 3 Series since they first went on sale in Britain in 1993, so expect to see more of the 318d, 320d and 330d than their petrol siblings.
Smaller-capacity motors will flesh-out the range, as well a 330e plug-in hybrid. A fully-electric 3 Series is also likely during this model’s lifecycle.
What is the BMW M3?
Since the Mk2 3 Series, the performance pinnacle of the range has been badged BMW M3, the most-recent iteration being the F80 derivative of the sixth-generation 3 Series Saloon.
While the first M3 was a left-hand drive-only road racer, more recent generations have become softer-yet-quicker, which wins over some fans, but loses others.
BMW 3 Series styling and engineering
Despite being longer and wider than the 3 Series it ousted, the G20-generation is lighter by an average of 55kg model-for-model, courtesy of an increased use of aluminium in its structure.
Based on BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) that underpins everything from the 3 Series to the enormous X7 SUV, the overall structure is 50% more rigid than before, plus it features clever aerodynamic tweaks, such as a flat underbody, to boost fuel efficiency.
Although its looks don’t break any new ground – it appears to be an evolution of many recently-launched BMWs, including the cojoined grille ‘kidneys’ – it will continue to appeal to those looking for something both sporty and prestigious.
Is the BMW 3 Series good to drive?
With a double-wishbone suspension arrangement at the front and a multi-link design at the rear, combined with rear-wheel drive on most model (xDrive four-wheel is also available), the recipe is there for the 3 Series to be an enjoyable drive.
If anything, the busyness experienced behind the wheel feels more reminiscent of older generations than the most recent one – it’s a sporty saloon that keeps its driver engaged, that’s firmer-riding and more playful as you press-on.
How much does the BMW 3 Series cost?
Whether you’re buying outright or financing a 3 Series on a PCH or PCP deal, it’s not exactly cheap, but prices are comparable with similar specification Audi A4s and Mercedes C-Classes. If anything, it’s the Jaguar XE that is available with some very tempting deals, but its lack of cabin space, especially in the rear, counts against it.
See how drivers of the BMW 3 Series rate their cars with our comprehensive owners’ reviews.
BMW 3-Series Model History
Sixth-generation BMW 3 Series (2012-19)
That’s not to say that the 3er was lacking in dynamic appeal, simply that it could only be bought with more practical bodystyle options.
First to reach British showrooms in early 2012 was the four-door BMW 3 Series Saloon (the F30 to use its internal codename), followed later the same year by the estate version, the BMW 3 Series Touring (F31).
Further expansion came in 2013 with a new five-door hatchback line, the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo (F34).
Turbocharged petrol and diesel engines were the mainstay – the smallest being a three-cylinder 1.5-litre – with a plug-in hybrid 330e available only as a Saloon.
Performance fans had to wait until 2014 before the BMW M3 arrived (with its own F80 code), with a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine and muscularly pumped-up bodywork to set it aside from the others. Those hoping for a fast estate were disappointed, though – it was the M3 Saloon or nothing.
Discover what sixth-generation 3 Series drivers think of their cars with our owners’ reviews and find examples for sale.
Fifth-generation BMW 3 Series (2005-14)
Smoother, more divisive styling signaled the arrival of the Mk5 3 Series from early 2005, but at least the two-door versions looked notably more athletic than their more upright, practical counterparts.
Up-first in early-2005 was the BMW 3 Series Saloon (E90) joined later in the year by its estate counterpart the BMW 3 Series Touring (E91).
Arriving after all of the mainstream models towards the end of 2007 were the M3 derivatives of all bodystyles barring the Touring – it proved to be the only generation of M3 powered by a rumbling V8 engine.
Read our user-generated fifth-generation 3 Series owners’ reviews and discover models for sale.
Fourth-generation BMW 3 Series (1998-07)
An elegant, but safe styling evolution ushered-in the Mk4 3 Series towards the end of the 1990s, all sharing the E46 development code.
Debuting first in 1998 was the BMW 3 Series Saloon, followed the following spring by the svelte BMW 3 Series Coupe. Before the year was out the BMW 3 Series Touring had joined the range as a more practical proposition.
Later that year saw the Saloon and Tourings receive a facelift with all new bodywork at the front; a similar reworking of the Coupe and Convertible followed in 2003.
M3 versions went on sale in 2000 – only in Coupe and Convertible forms – but they didn’t receive the revised frontal design of their less-powerful siblings come the mid-life facelift.
Find out what drivers of the fourth-generation 3 Series think of their cars with our owners’ reviews and hunt-out ones for sale.
Third-generation BMW 3 Series (1991-00)
Much was made of the sophisticated ‘Z-axle’ rear suspension of the Mk3 3 Series (E36), a system that had already been seen on the low-volume BMW Z1 sports car a couple of years earlier. It was good, though – the 3er cemented its place is the compact sports saloon to have, bar none.
First to reach Britain in 1991 was the smoother, more elegant four-door BMW 3 Series Saloon, by far the most popular bodystyle offered, with a petrol-only engine range initially.
A genius move was replacing the previous two-door Saloon with an all-new BMW 3 Series Coupe in 1992 – styling was similar to the Saloon, but all body panels were different, as the car was lower.
The Coupe was the basis for 1993’s BMW 3 Series Convertible, but a more intriguing newcomer arrived in 1994 with the advent of the BMW 3 Series Compact – a cheaper, three-door hatchback with a simpler interior and a less sophisticated rear suspension arrangement.
It wasn’t until 1995 when the estate version, the BMW 3 Series Touring debuted, unusually after high-performance M3 versions of the Coupe, Convertible and Saloon had gone on sale, this time with right-hand drive.
BMW bit another bullet in 1993 by finally offering diesel engines to UK 3 Series buyers – those early 325td and 325tds models immediately won a loyal following.
Read our user-generated third-generation 3 Series owners’ reviews and search for examples with our cars for sale section.
Second-generation BMW 3 Series (1983-93)
With the Mk2 3 Series, the first signs of BMW’s later model complexity began to appear with a range of models all known as versions of the E30 development code.
Two-door BMW 3 Series Saloons arrived first in 1983, with four-door versions arriving for the first time later the same year – a vital addition to combat the then-new Mercedes-Benz 190 Series.
Further expansion arrived in 1986 when the fully open BMW 3 Series Convertible reached the UK, followed two years later by the brands’s first estate, the bijou BMW 3 Series Touring.
A high-revving four-cylinder engine producing up to 235hp in later models marked-out the high-performance BMW M3 – it was left-hand drive-only when it arrived here in 1987, but that didn’t stop it from garnering devout followers.
First-generation BMW 3 Series (1975-83)
BMW’s range was much, much simpler four decades ago, so the notion of the original Mk1 3 Series – the E21 – only being offered initially as a two-door didn’t seem odd.
That first BMW 3 Series Saloon went on sale in the UK right at the end of 1975, gradually replacing what’s retrospectively become known as the ’02 Series’.
Four- and six-cylinder petrol engines and lively rear-wheel drive handling helped the 3er gain a reputation as the must-have sports saloon, providing you could stomach the steep asking prices and paucity of equipment.
Further appeal was generated from 1978 when a soft-top BMW 3 Series Cabriolet produced by Baur joined the range as an official conversion.