Competitors

You can see how this car fares against its competitors by clicking on the car's name below.

Audi A5
4 stars

BMW 3 Series (05-12)
5 stars

Citroen DS5
3 stars

Lexus IS
3 stars

Mercedes C Class
4 stars

Saab 9-3
3 stars

Volvo S40
3 stars

Volvo V40
4 stars

Volvo V50
3 stars

Volvo V60
3 stars

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BMW 3 Series Review

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BMW 3 Series Tested February 2012

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Rating

5 stars

Quick Summary

Highly recommended. The new BMW 3 Series is not just improved; it’s a real step forward - especially the 328i. Read our BMW 3 Series review to find out why.

Road Test

The BMW 3 Series is now into its sixth incarnation, which might make some manufacturers a bit complacent,  but not BMW. Our BMW 3 Series review shows that the company has made a massive effort to make the 3 Series the undisputed champion of the compact executive market. The styling is evolutionary rather than epoch making, but it is definitely smarter and sleeker than the outgoing model. Unusually the windows are larger - for 30 years, windows have been getting gradually narrower to emphasise how strong cars are (more metal and less glass gives the impression of crash safety). The interior is also usefully larger, especially in the rear, where it is genuinely comfortable even for very tall passengers, which really is a first for a BMW 3 Series. Even the rear doors open wider (to almost 90 degrees) to make access easier.

Moreover, the driver experience is not compromised by these passenger benefits. The sculpted dashboard is very smart, although some of the trims are curious, from the ridged wood of the 'Modern'  to the aluminium panel underlined by a bright red stripe in the 'Sport' (a bit 1980s).

But as we discovered in our BMW 3 Series road test, the driving experience is where you forget about the finer points of interior design. The standout engine in the series is the 328i. Intriguingly it no longer has 2.8 litres, or even six cylinders, but it is an apparently unassuming 2.0 four. However after five minutes behind the wheel, you no longer care about the BMW 3 Series specification, because the performance is so good, with 242 bhp and 0-62 mph in 5.9 seconds (6.1 for the automatic). Its turbocharger is so well integrated that there is no perceptible power band - it pulls as cleanly as a normally-aspirated six-cylinder, but without that six-cylinder yowl at high revs. Under hard acceleration it has a carefully engineered hint of menace from the exhaust,  and it will pull with delight all the way to 6,800 rpm. Best of all it is also unbelievably economical, with a CO2 figure of 149 g/km and an official fuel consumption figure of 44.8 mpg. Powering up mountains in Spain, we still acheived 36 mpg, so real-world figures could actually approach the claimed ones. Most buyers in the UK will still favour the diesel of course, and they won't feel short-changed unless they routinely traverse Alpine passes. The 320d Efficient Dynamics is the economy king with a CO2 figure of just 109 g/km and a claimed fuel consumption of 68.9 mpg. Our BMW 3 Series road test experience is that you would have to take it on a racetrack to make it go below 40 mpg, and an overall figure of well into the fifties is easily achievable.

The handling backs up the engine. It is responsive without being jumpy and even the electric steering is respectable (we have yet to discover an electric system as good as the best hydraulic one, but this one is good enough that you hardly notice the difference). The ride has also improved - even on the low profile tyres in Sport mode, it is well controlled.

In today's market there are few new cars that are clearly ahead of the competition - the 2008 Ford Fiesta road test was the last time we drove a car and knew straight away it was the best in its class. The new BMW 3 Series is another of those rare cases. It has a better chassis, better engines and all models offer a brilliant combination of performance and economy. Right now, you really can't buy better.

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