- Range of petrol and diesel engines available
- Plus a 330e plug-in hybrid option
- Performance is strong across the range
When selecting your BMW 3 Series, you’ll be met with a wide range of familiar engine options, whether it’s petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid that takes your fancy.
BMW 3 Series petrol engines
The petrol line-up kicks off with the 320i, a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 184hp and 300Nm of torque. It’s capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in 7.1 seconds and will go on to reach a top speed of 149mph.
If you require more performance, there’s the 330i, with a 258hp power output and 400Nm of torque. This will allow the 3 Series to get from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. It’s smooth and responsive in its power delivery, and is an interesting alternative to the noisier 320d. There’s even quite a fruity sound coming from the exhaust.
Both petrol engines come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
BMW 3 Series diesel engines
The diesel range is a little lengthier, kicking off with the 318d, a 2.0-litre turbodiesel producing 150hp and 320Nm of torque. This comes with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes – with 0-62mph times of 8.4 and 8.3 seconds respectively.
We tested this engine with the automatic gearbox and found performance to be adequate for most. There’s enough grunt for overtaking and getting up to motorway speeds, but they do require a little planning, taking a little longer to build speed above 60mph. You won’t feel short-changed with this engine, even if you want more grunt from time to time, but it’s hardly surprising to see why the mid-range diesel is the most popular choice.
The big seller is the 320d, offering 190hp and 400Nm of torque. This too comes with a choice of gearboxes, with a 7.1-second 0-62mph time for the manual and 6.8-second time for the auto. This is the only car to be available with a choice of rear-wheel drive or xDrive all-wheel drive at the time of the car’s launch. The 0-62mph time for the xDrive is 6.9 seconds, and is auto-only.
While the 320d’s performance figures look strong, in reality it doesn’t actually feel quite as eager as it did in the old car. It exceeded expectations in the old car, but this time around it feels a little more reluctant. However, that’s damning it with faint praise as it’s still an excellent all-rounder that will be a perfect fit for the majority of buyers.
The torque on offer is fantastic which means you don’t have to put too much effort into getting up to speed, and it does so smoothly thanks to the excellent automatic gearbox (where fitted). The only niggle with this powerplant is that it’s quite noisy and grumbly when pottering around town and getting up to speed. However, refinement at speed is excellent thanks to comprehensive insulation, which offsets the noisiness elsewhere.
When fitted with xDrive, traction when pulling away quickly is also impressive, feeling assured and responsive.
At the top of the diesel range is the 330d, with 265hp and a whopping 580Nm of torque. This engine only uses an automatic gearbox, with a 0-62mph time of just 5.5 seconds and a limited top speed of 155mph.
This currently makes it the fastest accelerating 3 Series to reach 62mph and it certainly feels that way. That said, the muscular performance isn’t quite as intimidating as some may expect, with a smooth power delivery that gently pushes you into the seat, rather than delivering its torque in one big shove.
As an all-round sporting saloon, the 330d is close to being all the car you’ll ever need, with its six-cylinder performance, noise and balanced rear-wheel drive chassis. BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system is also available with this engine, which should help see you through the winter months, too.
BMW 3 Series driving modes
There’s a range of driving modes available on the 3 Series, consisting of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Individual. There’s also an Adaptive option on cars fitted with adaptive suspension. Eco Pro and Comfort are largely self-explanatory, while putting the car in Sport will make the throttle response sharper, the suspension stiffer (on cars with adaptive suspension) and make the steering heavier. In action, the steering becomes far too heavy, so the best option if you want more response from the engine is to configure your own setup in the Individual settings.
- Fine handling a 3 Series trait
- Feels light and agile while remaining comfortable
- Settings can be configured via drive modes
The 3 Series has long been known as the best car to drive among the compact saloons on sale. And while rivals like the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE strongly challenge the 3 Series in this regard, the BMW remains the best option if you want the best blend of performance, driver enjoyment and comfort in one, rounded package.
Around town, the 3 Series’ lighter controls pay dividends making much lighter work of lots of turning of the steering wheel, be it parking in car parks or on urban streets – it’s one of the welcome improvements over the old car. This lighter feel doesn’t leave it feeling less involving, though – it’s still responsive and feels very agile indeed.
This agile feel comes thanks to a lighter overall construction than the car it’s replaced, as well as being stiffer overall. On a twisty road, then, the 3 Series feels very well controlled with minimal body roll and a very composed feel. There’s a great sense that the 3 Series feels like it’ll look after you on a twisty road, feeling light on its feet and like it’ll do exactly what you ask of it.
You can tweak the driving experience via mode selection next to the gearlever, with choices of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Adaptive. The latter is only available on cars fitted with adaptive suspension. These modes tweak the responsiveness of the throttle and gearbox, as well as the weight of the steering. To complicate things a little, there are Individual settings available within each mode, so you can tweak the car’s settings to within an inch of its life.
It’ll be a purely personal thing, but one thing we would suggest is avoiding the steering setting to be in Sport – it makes it feel unnecessarily heavy and feels like a lot of effort and hard work just to go through some corners.
Driving the 330e plug-in hybrid
The ultra-low CO2 emissions and 41-mile electric driving range make the 330e attractive from an environmental and company car perspective, but BMW hasn’t forgotten keen drivers here.
Using the same 184hp engine as the 320i but enhanced with an electric motor hidden away in the eight-speed automatic transmission, this has a regular combined power output of 252hp but can produce 292hp for 10-second bursts thanks to a special XtraBoost function.
As a result, this is not only a very efficient car, but also a very fast one – especially once you’re already up and running, as the extra kick from the electric motor means it puts on more speed with real determination.
It’s not the most satisfying thing to drive – the engine note sounds a little forced, the steering feels a little artificial and the suspension sometimes seems to struggle to balance out the extra weight of the hybrid batteries under the rear seat – but as an all-rounder that offers low running costs and big speeds, we can understand why BMW expects it to be so popular.
That said, we believe the most enthusiastic drivers will be better served by one of the larger conventional engines, with the 330d in particular offering an exceptional blend of oomph and economy.