- Excellent driving position
- High-quality interior throughout
- High-tech media system
The interior of the 3 Series has an evolutionary design, so it’s not radically different to the old car, however the controls have been condensed into a slicker set-up with fewer swathes of buttons and switches. Unsurprisingly, the car’s major functions are controlled via the firm’s latest iDrive system – BMW calls it Live Cockpit Plus – which uses a rotary controller, touchscreen or voice control. It’s less menu-heavy compared with the old system which is great news, but it’ll still take some time to learn where everything is.
The large infotainment screen (8.8 inches in size, 12.3 inches on M Sport or as an option) is crisp and bright and the rotary controller easy to use. However, we’ve found that there can be connectivity issues with this. Over several hours spent in the car, the Apple CarPlay integration can be patchy at best, and that’s after you’ve spent a long time working out how to select CarPlay in the first place. It feels unnecessarily fiddly when in most other cars you simple plug a cable in. Plus, every time we stopped at a toll booth, it disconnected and lost what it was doing prior to that.
Technology niggles like this aside, the interior of the 3 Series now matches the Audi A4 for quality and design. It’s not showy but it feels very high quality with pleasant materials used throughout, and some neat details.
Getting comfortable behind the wheel is easy too, with plenty of adjustment in the seat and the steering wheel – especially if you opt for electric adjustment for the seats. You can sit nice and low – feeling every inch the sporty BMW – or pump the seat up a little higher if you prefer. The generous amount of headroom means this should be fairly flexible.
The BMW Live Cockpit Professional package replaces traditional analogue instrument dials with a 12.3-inch digital display, but is limited to M Sport models. Due to the placement of the graphical dials on the screen, we found them to be a little tricky to read at a glance, even if the screen display itself is clear.
The standard conventional dials on SE and Sport models are clear enough, although the display for the sat-nav readouts seems relatively small nowadays, especially when compared to those used to the larger, full-screen virtual cockpit-style screens.
- Excellent refinement and good seats
- Ride is good, but not as soft as a C-Class
- Adaptive suspension helps boost comfort
The 3 Series’ natural habitat is the motorway, and it excels in this environment when it comes to comfort and refinement. The seats are supportive and comfortable – especially M Sport sports seats that have a wide range of adjustment – and will suit a range of drivers because of this.
And while the ride remains accomplished on M Sport cars with sportier suspension settings, it can feel a little firm over rough surfaces with a slight jiggly feel. It’s something you’ll only pick up on if the roads are especially broken up, but specifying the adaptive suspension system helps to alleviate this. Even without it though, the 3 Series blends being comfortable and composed very well.
The larger, optional 19-inch wheels amplify the firm ride quality on M Sport models, so it’s best to try one with them fitted before choosing them. We tested a 330d M Sport with these and found the suspension had to work hard to try and contain all the lumps and bumps on the country roads we were on, resulting in a bumpy driving experience more akin of a performance hatchback.
One thing that strikes you is just how quiet it is in the cabin of the 3 Series. While the diesel engines can be a little vocal, any other sounds are incredibly well isolated. At speed, the engine is almost inaudible, and road and wind noise are minimal. The 3 Series comes with double glazing as standard and far more sound insulation all-round compared with the previous car, and it shows. It’s a very well hushed car at all speeds, and makes long journeys very relaxing.
We tested the 318d Sport on 18-inch wheels and standard suspension, which provides a smooth ride quality that isolates bumps from the cabin very well. It’s undoubtedly firmer than some of its rivals, but remains forgiving and yet manages to grip well, so it’s very well balanced.
Mid-spec Sport models and above come with leather seats, while the interior is spacious and bright – although M Sport models come with a darker headlining.
The standard stereo is also good, sounding nice and clear, but those wanting a bit more punch can opt for the optional Harmon/Kardon system.