This website uses cookies to enhance and provide your experience.

We review the 2018 BMW 3 Series saloon

111
Enlarge

The Car.co.uk verdict:

4.0

As BMW’s longest-running and most popular model, the new BMW 3 Series Saloon has a lot to live up to – and this smart, sporty rear-wheel drive saloon doesn’t disappoint. Like the previous BMW 3 Series saloon, there are a range of petrol and diesel engines and trim levels to choose from, as well as four-wheel drive ‘xDrive’ versions.
 
As 3 Series fans have come to expect, this saloon strikes a pleasing balance of luxury, practicality and driving pleasure. It’s reassuringly smooth on motorways, but really comes alive on winding B-roads. Be warned though, the sportier models may be a little too firm on bumpy surfaces for some.

Pros

  • Excellent body control and incisive steering, offering a supremely sharp driving experience
  • Bags of useful, innovative technology on board
  • Highly efficient petrol and diesel options available

Cons

  • Ride can be a little too firm over bumps, especially in the M Sport models
  • Interior not as spacious as some competitor models
  • Not quite as well-finished and sleek inside as an Audi A4

At a glance

  • Looks
  • Practicality
  • Engine & power
  • Reliability
  • Equipment & options
  • Interior
  • The drive
  • Cost
  • Safety
  • Why buy

Looks

4 out of 5

Reassuringly familiar, it offers executive finesse with a sporty edge

The BMW 3 Series saloon is unmistakable in its appearance. Its distinctive lights and large radiator grille at the front are similar to the manufacturer’s bigger saloons, while its rear has a sleek, sporty look finished off with exhaust outlets at each side of the rear bumper. Anyone hoping for a major overhaul on previous 3 Series may be underwhelmed, but for those who love the classic lines of this BMW staple, it will more than make the grade. The LED lights that feature at both the front and back of the car also add to its appeal.

The M Sport BMW 3 Series saloon version definitely offers the most bling when it comes to trim, while the SE is the most restrained in its appearance. If you want something in the middle, the Sport trim could be just right.

Some may argue this car is outdone in aesthetics by competitors such as the Mercedes C-Class, but the 3 Series undoubtedly delivers executive finesse with an edge.

 

Practicality

3.5 out of 5

Comfortable and easy to use - but lacking the space of some saloons

The 3 Series is in line with other premium saloons when it comes to space and comfort in the cabin. There’s reasonable head and leg room in the back, even for tall passengers, although this area isn’t as spacious as it is in some other cars from mass-market brands, such as the Skoda Superb or Volkswagen Passat. It’s also worth noting that because the 3 Series is a rear-wheel drive, it needs a raised transmission tunnel that runs down the middle of the car. This means that anyone who sits in the middle seat at the back of the car has less foot space.

The 480-litre boot is adequate in size, but don’t expect it to be as large as in non-premium saloons. Helpfully though, the car comes with split-folding rear seats as standard, giving you extra room if you need to fit bigger items into the back. Other useful features include two cup holders in the front, a sizeable glovebox and a large bin located under the middle armrest.

Engine & power

5 out of 5

A wide range of options that all pack some serious punch

All models in the 3 Series range are designed for speed, and there are lots of options to choose from. The entry-level 320d boasts a 2.0-litre, 187bhp, four-cylinder engine and has a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, which despite its power is extremely smooth once warmed up. The 330i petrol option runs on a 2.0-litre, 255bhp engine and features an eight-speed automatic gearbox. According to BMW, this model can reach a speed of 62mph in just 5.8 seconds.

The range also includes a six-cylinder 330d with a 3.0-litre, 263bhp engine, as well as a 330e plug-in hybrid model with an 87bhp electric motor and an 87bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine. For some serious speed, the M340i has been designed with a 3.0-litre, 369bhp, six-cylinder engine.

The 3 Series caters to a wide range of tastes when it comes to power, performance and fuel efficiency, so you certainly won’t be stuck for options if you’re choosing a model from this range. Whichever you go for, keep an eye on your speed because they can all be deceptively fast.

Reliability

3 out of 5

Too early to know for sure, but there are reasons to be wary

Because it’s so new to the market, there isn’t much data to go on in the way of reliability. However, the record of the previous model was far from perfect, and the manufacturer has received criticism for the dependability of its cars in general. In fact, it was ranked as the least reliable carmaker in the 2018 JD Power UK Vehicle Dependability Study. For context though, competitor premium car manufacturers including Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes also tend to sit low down in dependability rankings, so this may not be a major turnoff to those who like the look and feel of the 3 Series.

For added peace of mind, BMW offers a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, which can be extended for an additional cost. This is more generous than Audi’s warranty and is in line with the likes of Mercedes and Jaguar.

Equipment & options

5 out of 5

An array of features to please even the most demanding driver

There is a BMW 3 Series saloon specification to suit virtually all tastes. This range doesn’t skimp when it comes to fixtures and fittings. All models come with enticing packages that include a variety of extras. For example, the SE comes with 17-inch alloys, three-zone climate control, heated front seats and a ‘light carpet’ that makes it easier to find your way to your car in the dark. It also features front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, a reversing camera, power folding door mirrors, and a touchscreen iDrive 7.0 infotainment system complete with touchscreen display. This system is paired with a digital cockpit.

The Sport model has additional features, including luxurious leather sports seats and larger alloys, while the M Sport goes further still with extras including gesture controls and a head-up display.

Even in its most basic incarnations (which, let’s face it, aren’t that basic), this car has an abundance of well thought out features that add to the driving experience.

Interior

4 out of 5

Comfortable, classy and pretty much on par with other premium models

Considerably better fitted out than previous 3 Series saloons, the new range has a high-quality, slick interior. A dark cabin is brought to life with silver accents, and buyers can choose from a range of trim options to create a customised look and feel. The outstanding features of the cabin are the large, centrally mounted touchscreen display and the smart, digital dashboard, which changes its appearance according to the driving mode you opt for.

Ambient lighting strips add to the sense of style and luxury, but some may see the interior as a little cold and clinical compared to rival Mercedes or Audis.

The seats in the S3 Series are pleasingly supportive and leather upholstery is available as standard in most versions. The driving position is lower than in many other cars, but there is a lot of leeway for adjustment of both the seat and steering wheel. For added comfort, you can pay extra for adjustable lumbar support.

The materials generally look and feel the part, but in areas such as the dashboard, they don’t exude quite the same luxuriousness as the Audi A4.

The drive

4 out of 5

Sporty, responsive and fun – if a little firm over the bumps

No matter which BMW 3 Series saloon spec you choose, you’re guaranteed a fun, responsive ride. This car is perfectly balanced and offers excellent grip on the road, even when changing direction quickly. Unlike the Mercedes C-Class, which can take time to settle after a sharp manoeuvre, the 3 Series saloon with its flat line can move left and right at speed seemingly effortlessly. This ensures a sense of solidity and security when cornering. Combined with its finely tuned steering, this makes the car a pleasure to drive on winding roads.

Be warned though, the suspension is definitely at the firm end of the spectrum, so you’ll feel those bumps and dips in the surface beneath. This is especially noticeable in the M Sport, which comes with a firmer and lower suspension as standard. There are softer suspension options available with the M Sport however.

The 3 Series saloon may not be a sports car, but it offers a much more responsive, fun drive than most saloons.

Cost

4 out of 5

Typical price for a premium saloon - and strong resale value expected

The BMW 3 Series saloon price tag is pretty much what you would expect from a car of its kind. You’re obviously going to shell out more for this premium model than you would for a bog standard saloon, but it’s decent value given its make and high specs. Slightly less expensive than the C-Class and a little more costly than the A4, it’s available with on-the-road prices starting at around £33,600.

Resale values are expected to be strong for the 3 Series, and higher than many competitor models – which could give you added confidence when you part with your cash. If you’re planning to get a company car, you may also be pleased to note that thanks to their impressive engine efficiency, you could benefit from lower tax bills. For example, the 320d automatic’s CO2 emissions of 112g/km put it in a lower benefit-in-kind tax bracket than its direct competitors.

Safety

4 out of 5

Plenty of features to help keep you safe on the roads

The 3 Series saloon doesn’t yet have a Euro NCAP rating, but when it does, it would be a big surprise if it’s anything other than good. BMWs typically perform well in NCAP tests, and the previous 3 Series surpassed its direct competitors from Mercedes and Audi.

Plus, this new, revised version has all the safety gear as standard that you would expect from a premium car in its price bracket, including traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, and a full complement of airbags. It also has automatic emergency braking that looks out for pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars.

There’s the option of adding a Driving Assistant Plus pack too, which comes with blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and cross traffic alert. These features warn you if you’re about to emerge from a side junction into the path of a vehicle.

Safety is also enhanced by the stability control system, which helps to prevent loss of traction and skids.

Why buy

4 out of 5

Classic good looks and handling that’s sure to put a smile on your face

If you want an executive style car with a sporty twist that delivers on luxury, hi-tech features and sharp handling, the BMW 3 Series saloon could be the ideal car for you. It may not be quite as spacious as some other saloons, but it still ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to comfort and practicality.

Its main selling point though is the way it drives. This car handles like a dream on even the most snaking roads. An added bonus is its best-in-class infotainment system.

With its firm suspension though, particularly in the sportier models, the BMW 3 Series saloon won’t be to everyone’s taste. Before buying, its worth test driving the closest possible model to the one you want to make sure you’re happy with the way it feels.