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BMW 3 Series review

Written By Nathen Bridgwater on Monday, January 14, 2013 | 6:38 PM


The latest BMW 3 Series has a lot to live up to, as its predecessor has ruled the competitive compact executive sector since making its debut in 2005. However, the old car wasn’t without its faults, and recent improvements to the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class weakened the BMW’s grip on the class crown. As a result, the latest 3 Series couldn’t have come soon enough. Bigger, more refined and with a range of efficient new engines, the all-new model once again propels the 3 Series saloon to the top.

The latest BMW 3 Series has a lot to live up to, as its predecessor has ruled the competitive compact executive sector since making its debut in 2005. However, the old car wasn’t without its faults, and recent improvements to the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class weakened the BMW’s grip on the class crown. As a result, the latest 3 Series couldn’t have come soon enough. Bigger, more refined and with a range of efficient new engines, the all-new model once again propels the 3 Series saloon to the top.

Our choice: 320d ED SE

Video: Watch CarBuyer's video review of the new 3 Series
Styling
4

Viewed in profile, the BMW 3 Series is virtually indistinguishable from the car it replaces. There’s the same low nose, relatively upright windscreen and trademark kink in the C-pillars. But move to the front and you’ll find distinctive headlamps featuring LED running lights, while at the back the BMW looks very similar to the firm’s larger 5 Series model. At present there are six trim levels to choose from – ES, SE, M Sport, Luxury, Modern and Sport. The latter is marked out by racy black trim that outlines the windows and lower grille. All models get alloy wheels as standard. Inside, the slickly styled, clearly laid-out dashboard takes its cues from the latest 5 Series. All the materials have a classy look and feel, and build quality is first-rate. Most models get a choice of either wood or metal-effect trim inserts, apart from the Sport, which gets a garish red finish.
Driving 5

The outgoing 3 Series set the class standard for driving dynamics, so it’s no surprise to find engineers have worked hard to make the latest car equally as engaging. As you’d expect, the steering is direct and well weighted, there’s plenty of grip and the rear-wheel-drive chassis feels beautifully balanced. What’s more, noise levels are lower than before, easily matching the refined Audi A4. All models get Drive Performance Control, which allows you to select from Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes – each setting lets you fine tune the steering, throttle and ESP settings to suit road conditions. Optional Adaptive Drive damping and Sport steering deliver an even sharper drive, while the comfort setting serves up a softer ride. A familiar line-up of four and six-cylinder engines are available, with the flagship 335i managing 0-60mph in just 5.5 seconds while returning 35.8mpg. However, the star of the show is the 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel in the 320d, which combines 60mpg+ with a 0-60mph sprint of just 7.5 seconds. A six-speed manual is standard on all versions, with a slick eight-speed auto available as an option. Drivers wanting extra all-weather security can opt for the 320i xDrive, which features the firm’s advanced, electronically controlled permanent four-wheel-drive system.
Reliability
4.5

The 3 Series gained a full five-stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, shooting it straight to the top of its class. All versions benefit from six airbags, electronic stability control and tyre pressure monitoring. Also included is BMW Assist, that automatically calls the emergency services if the car is involved in a serious accident. If you’ve got deep pockets, then there’s the option to add blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist. Every new 3 Series feels solidly engineered, so it should deliver trouble-free motoring.
Practicality 4.2

The previous-generation 3 Series suffered from a cramped cabin, and the new car is bigger in almost every area. Inside, it now rivals the Audi A4 for space, with occupants in the back getting decent head and legroom. There’s also plenty of storage, thanks to deep door pockets, a large glovebox and plenty of cupholders. Opening the tailgate reveals a well shaped, 480-litre load bay, which is exactly the same size as the Audi A4's. Unfortunately, you’ll have pay around £400 extra if you want the flexibility of split/fold rear seats.
Running Costs 4.5

The combination of BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology and reduction in weight has helped make the 3 Series one of the most fuel-efficient compact executive models money can buy. Leading the way is the 320d EfficientDynamics, which emits just 109g/km of CO2 and promises an impressive 68.9mpg display at the pumps. Yet even the scorching 242bhp twin-turbo 328i petrol keeps emissions down to 149g/km and will manage nearly 45mpg. As with all BMW models you can take advantage of great value pre-paid servicing packs, which help to keep the cost of mechanical maintenance to a minimum. However, if you want to keep your bank manager happy, then we’d recommend steering clear of the expensive options list.
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