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BMW 3-Series engines, drive and performance

2019 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 4.6 out of 54.6

Written by Keith Adams Published: 27 January 2023 Updated: 3 March 2023

  • Choice of petrol and diesel engines
  • Mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid tech
  • Strong performance whatever you choose

Petrol engines

At launch the entry-level 3 Series petrol was the 1.5-litre 318i – however, this has been dropped from the UK range, which now starts with the 184hp 320i powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. This is available with rear-wheel drive as standard or xDrive all-wheel drive for about £1,400 more.

It’s a fine default choice in either guise, though the 330i variant of the same basic engine produces a substantially more potent 258hp – chopping over a second from the 0-62mph time (6.0 seconds versus 7.5 seconds with the now standard automatic gearbox) and delivering even more driver satisfaction. It’s worth the upgrade if you can stretch to it, though it is also RWD only.

Above this sits the M340i – a 3.0-litre turbocharge petrol with six cylinders and a considerably higher level of performance again. Thanks to input from the BMW M Performance division, this has 374hp and can do 0-62mph in as little as 4.4 seconds. It comes xDrive only to make sure everything stays firmly under control. Brilliant fun, but you’ll need to spend over £50k.

We review the full-fat BMW M3 separately.

Diesel engines

The original entry-level engine has gone from the diesel side of the 3 Series range, too, with both the basic 318d and the muscular 330d no longer available to UK buyers. Both are still fine second-hand car choices on if you can find them, but the 320d is – and always has been the most popular diesel 3 Series.

This 2.0-litre turbo produces 190hp and a punchy 400Nm of torque (100Nm more than the 320i petrol). It’s very smooth, very fast and – except when cold or driven very hard – impressively quiet as well, while also returning the best fuel economy of any 3 Series. Rear-wheel drive and xDrive are available on this model, too.

Topping the diesel line-up is the M340d – a monster 3.0-litre turbo with 340hp and 700Nm (200Nm more than the M340i). Mighty mid-range acceleration and xDrive traction makes this a great way to cover big distances – but don’t expect it to be cheap to run, though it’s also priced exactly the same as the petrol equivalent.

Electric and hybrid engines

There’s no all-electric 3 Series yet – though the BMW i4 is a similar proposition – but you can buy a 330e plug-in hybrid.

You can find out everything you need to know about it in our separate BMW 330e review.

BMW 3 Series saloon review (2023)
There isn’t a bad driving model in the BMW 3 Series range.

What’s it like to drive?

  • 3 Series is a fantastic car to drive
  • Feels light and agile while remaining comfortable
  • Settings can be configured via drive modes

The 3 Series has long been recognised as the best car to drive among the smaller premium 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 performance, driver enjoyment and comfort in one, rounded package.

This is a very agile and responsive car. On a twisty road, the 3 Series is well controlled, with minimal body roll and an enormous amount of composure – which makes it simple and straightforward to drive quickly. But it’s also fun if you’re an enthusiastic driver, with plenty of feedback and a wonderful sense of balance.

You can tweak the driving experience, with choices of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Adaptive settings (the latter only available where adaptive suspension is fitted). These alter the responsiveness of the accelerator and gearbox, as well as the weight of the steering.

If you’re in Eco Pro or Comfort mode, there’s also entirely engine-off coasting as well as a stop-start system that switches the engine off as you come to a complete stop. While it’s useful at maintaining reasonable running costs and helping fuel economy at any time it can, it can also feel lurchy when you want to get going again which jars the driving experience slightly.