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There is a newer version of this car Read the latest BMW 3-Series Saloon review here

BMW 3-Series Saloon review

2012 - 2019 (change model)
Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 54.4
” Despite its age it remains a compelling all-rounder “

At a glance

Price new £23,425 - £85,185
Used prices £2,903 - £58,128
Road tax cost £0 - £570
Insurance group 18 - 50
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Fuel economy Not tested to latest standards
Range 409 - 853 miles
View full specs for a specific version

Available fuel types

Petrol

Diesel

Hybrid

Pros & cons

PROS
  • Engaging handling regardless of engine
  • Comfort isn’t spared for agility
  • Generous equipment levels
  • Performance/efficiency balance
CONS
  • Interior doesn’t feel as premium as some rivals
  • M Sport ride can be unsettled without adaptive dampers
  • Cabin isn’t the roomiest in this segment

Written by Parkers' experts Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 3 September 2023

Overview

For six generations the BMW 3 Series Saloon dominated the compact executive car market, and in this review we cover the 2012-2018 F30 version of this extremely popular fleet and family car from a used car perspective.

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 such as the Audi A4 Saloon? What about the sharp-driving Jaguar XE? Maybe the Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Not at all, but the likelihood is you’ll keep coming back to the 3 Series because of its all-round abilities.

BMW 3 Series known faults and common problems

The F30 3 Series was launched in 2011 before going on sale in 2012 with a variety of petrol and diesel engines. A facelift in 2015 introduced new engines and a range of other updates before this generation was replaced in 2019. The F30 was exceptionally popular, so finding a good example that’s been looked after shouldn’t be too tricky.

As you’d expect, it’s a more sporting alternative to the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class which still retains everyday usability and a decent level of comfort, so many have done high mileages. It’s therefore worth paying attention to the service history of any prospective purchase to make sure all recall work has been carried out and that the recorded mileage checks out. They’re a popular car with clockers.

Reliability is generally good assuming the car has been serviced regularly, and prices start from under £5,000 for leggier cars. Go to a car supermarket or dealer and you’ll find much newer, lower mileage cars albeit at much higher prices.

Buying guide

Common issues, and what to look for if you’re looking at getting one

  1. MILEAGE MALADIES

As a popular company car, many F30 3 Series will have covered tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles. With many of these easy motorway miles, it’s not uncommon for unscrupulous sellers to alter the mileage shown to a much lower figure to increase their profits. Make sure to check MOT and service history to make sure you don’t get caught out.

2. DIFFERENTIAL DAMAGE

Keep an ear out for a noisy differential as the car drives past you. It should have its oil changed periodically, and if this hasn’t been done it can cause lots of expensive damage. If you have your concerns, speak to the owner and carefully peruse the service history.

3. BRAKE BOTHERATION

There’s nothing wrong with how the 3 Series stops when everything is as it should be, but they do have a reputation for chewing through discs and pads. Try to see how much meat there is on the pads, and whether the discs have a lip on their outer edge. It’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, but the cost of replacement should be factored into the agreed price.

4. FAILING FLYWHEELS

If it’s tricky to change gears in manual models or you feel vibrations when you do, it might mean your dual-mass flywheel is on the way out. Automatic models should shift gears smoothly, but an abrupt auto might just need new transmission fluid and filters.

5. TIMING CHAIN ISSUES

All F30 3 Series engines use a timing chain which can be problematic if oil changes aren’t carried out on schedule, with the four-cylinder ‘N20’ engines the most troublesome. Listen out for rattles and whines from the engine, and you can also see the timing chain when you unscrew the oil filler.

6. STARTER MOTOR PROBLEMS

All versions of the 3 Series can suffer from sickly starter motors. Listen out for lethargic starters that struggle to fire up the engine as they can be an expensive thing to replace.

7. BAD BLUETOOTH

There have been reports of Bluetooth connectivity issues, although this should be fixed with a software update from BMW.

8. RECALLS, RECALLS, RECALLS

The F30 had a number of recalls during its life including engine, airbag and driveline issues, and the recalls don’t necessarily affect every model. As BMW would have rectified any issues free of charge, they should be sorted by now. Even so, it’s worth checking in the service history and online to see if everything has been corrected.

9. DPF & EGR PROBLEMS

Diesel models can suffer from a couple of issues. If the car is running poorly, a blocked exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve could be at fault. Alternatively, it could be a diesel particulate filter (DPF) that’s strangling the system. Diesels that do mainly short trips will be more prone to this, so that low-mileage example you’ve got your eye on might be hiding some issues.

10. BAD MODIFICATIONS

While a tuned F30 3 Series with more power and potentially lower fuel bills sounds tempting, there is a price to pay. A remap or tuning box will ask more of the standard car’s engine, gearbox and other driveline components, especially if the current owner has a heavy right foot. Similarly, look out for poor quality non-standard alloy wheels, lowered suspension and other ‘upgraded’ parts.

What models and trims can you buy?

On paper, the most efficient F30 3 Series is plug-in petrol-electric hybrid 330e, quoted at 148.7mpg thanks to plenty of electrical assistance.

The real-world figure, especially away from urban environments, won’t be that astonishing if you drive it like an equivilent diesel model, but its handling is as impressive as other 3 Series derivatives and it’s capable of running on electricity alone for 25 miles. 

BMW hasn’t forgotten enthusiasts who prefer the purity of petrol engines, with a wide range of three, four and six-cylinder engines from humble 318i to the boisterous 340i. There’s a good choice of diesel engines, too.

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.

Topping the 3 Series line-up in both price and performance terms is the 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 BMW 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.

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 and tech. There’s no doubting it’s well-assembled, and the technology still works well, but rivals such as the Audi A4 upped the ante in terms of quality.

Over the next few pages, we’ll review each aspect of the make/range, taking into account its practicality, comfort, fuel economy and performance. If you’re short on time, you can also skip to our verdict page to see if we recommend the Focus Mk3 as a good used car.