BMW 3 Series Saloon Review 2022 - Select Car Leasing
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BMW 3 Series Saloon Review 2022

Introduction

Introduction? Let's face it; the BMW 3 Series needs no introduction. But we'll try, anyway.

It has long been the daddy of the compact executive saloons, despite increased competition from its rivals, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, in recent years, not to mention Alfa Romeo, which the 3 Series previously blew out of the water with little to no effort.

Ironically, you used to want a BMW because it was exclusive, but, of course, the downside to making so many is that this is no longer the case.

Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that the 3 Series is so popular, as it’s always been such a good car.

Even splitting off the coupe version into the 4 Series a while back hasn’t dented enthusiasm for the saloon. And nowadays, there's a range of 'xDrive' four-wheel drive versions and plug-in hybrids.


Select's rating score* - 4.7 / 5

At A Glance

The latest generation of the 3 Series has recently had its mid-life facelift, bringing a revised front end to the party and subtly tweaking some of its characteristics.

There wasn't much wrong with it before, so we hope those tweaks have done the trick.

The front now features thinned-out headlights and a more aggressively chiselled lower grille, which looks like an open mouth.

While the entry-level Sport trim appears athletic, featuring triangular-shaped air intakes on either side of the lower grille, the bodywork is more aggressively shaped on the M Sport, and M trims to allow two larger ‘L’-shaped intakes.


Thankfully, the front end doesn't feature the new double-height kidney grilles recently appearing on some newly launched BMW models.

Around the sides, it's much the same, with a crease towards the bottom of the door, adding some additional presence.

At the rear, the Sport model is plainer, but black panels curve upwards on the sides of the other trims as if BMW is trying to bring some of the shaped front-end to the back of the car.

It looks nice, with the aggression dialled up a notch, and any notion that the 3 Series looks a bit tame has been dealt with by the designers, even at entry-level.


Key Features

As you've probably guessed from the descriptions so far, there are three trim levels offered on the BMW 3 Series: Sport, M Sport and M. However, the latter shouldn’t be confused with the M3, which, in effect, is marketed as a separate car.

On the entry-level Sport, you get 17-inch alloys, a 14.9-inch infotainment screen with SatNav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and DAB radio, a 12.3-inch digital instrument display, gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel, LED lights, a sports leather steering wheel and three-zone climate control.

The M Sport upgrades the wheels to 18 inches and adds Alcantara Sensatec black upholstery, an aluminium interior trim, and sports suspension.


The M models get adaptive and configurable sports suspension.

There are several powertrains offered, too.

For the Sport and M Sport models, there are two 2.0-litre four-cylinders: the 320i with 184PS, available with rear and four-wheel drive, while the 330i, with 245PS, is available with rear-wheel drive only.

One diesel is offered, the 320d, which has 190PS and is obtainable in both rear and four-wheel drive.


Alternatively, you can opt for a plug-in hybrid, the 330e, with 292PS, also available with both rear and four-wheel drive.

If you go for the M model, though, you’ll be blessed with power – and four-wheel drive.

There are two 3.0-litre straight-sixes, with the petrol producing 374PS and the diesel outputting 340PS.

All come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.


Performance & Drive

The entire 3 Series range impresses, with all engines in the line-up well refined, including the 2.0-litre diesel, which has lots of low-end torque.

Likewise, the petrol models excel with lively acceleration, especially in the 330i, which thunders off the line.

It is no match for the plug-in hybrid, though, which adds nearly 50PS on top of the most potent petrol and has an instant burst of acceleration that is common in cars with electric motors.

The one we're interested in is even more powerful – the M340i, which will get from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds.

Helped by its superb eight-speed automatic transmission, it’s got lightning acceleration which takes it to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.

It roars off the line pleasingly, throwing you back with considerable force, and if you put it in Sport or Sport Plus mode, it'll even make the exhaust system louder, while the latter setting reduces the traction control, too.


When you’re not drag racing off the line at the supermarket traffic lights, though, it’s equally capable of being a comfortable grand tourer which can go on and on, racking up the motorway miles.

It should go without saying that accelerating to overtake on motorways isn’t an issue – nor does it present a challenge on B-roads.

And it’s the latter location where the M340i proves itself, with superb steering precision and tonnes of grip, making it a joy to take around a corner at speed.

If you want performance, you'll want to select one of the Sport driving modes, as the steering provides more feedback than in other modes, which adds to your confidence behind the wheel.

It rewards that confidence, too, as you can feel the refinement of the chassis as you head around the bends, limiting body roll impressively.

In Sport mode, it’s not just the steering response that’s ramped up – the transmission becomes that little bit quicker to do its job. Meanwhile, the xDrive system, which sends more power to the rear wheels, can cause the back end to kick out slightly if you overdo it.


In terms of ride comfort, it’s still quite firm – and this was a key criticism of the outgoing version. So, while facelifting the 3 Series, BMW has worked to improve this without spoiling the handling.

Rivals, such as the Audi A4, still have a more absorbing ride, but BMW has taken a step forward here and still provides a better overall package.

The entry-level Sport trim has a more forgiving suspension setup.

The top-of-the-range M models have the advantage of adaptive suspension, an expensive optional extra on the mid-range M Sport trim. At the same time, the M version also gets launch control and electronic differential lock.


A little over 10PS of power comes from a tiny electric motor as part of the M340i’s hybrid system. Yes, strictly speaking, it’s a mild hybrid, enabling it to cut the powerplant when coasting down a hill, as well as when stationary.

Speaking of hybrids, you’ll find the handling of the PHEV a little more subdued due to its extra weight, but we’d challenge you to find a plug-in car that’s any better.

Overall, it’s the legendary handling we’ve come to expect from the BMW 3 Series.

With all trims and all powertrains, it’s still king of the castle.


Running Costs & Emissions

As you can imagine, the M340i xDrive doesn't return the best fuel economy figures, but 34.9mpg and 182g/km of CO2 are impressive, considering it produces 374PS.

Of course, you could sacrifice the roar and 34PS by having the diesel equivalent, which manages 46.3mpg, producing 159g/km of CO2.

As for the rest of the range, the petrol 320i manages 44mpg and 145g/km of CO2, while the more powerful 330i is fractionally less economical at 42.8mpg and 148g/km CO2.

The other diesel, the 320d, claims figures of 58.8mpg and 127g/km CO2.

Apart from the M340i, all these figures are for rear-wheel drive variants, though, so they’ll be slightly worse than this if you opt for the xDrive all-wheel drive versions.

Company car drivers will likely opt for the 330e plug-in hybrid, which can return up to 217mpg, producing just 30g/km of CO2 and a 37-mile all-electric range.

In terms of reliability, BMW's historical reputation is long gone, and it only ranks around average nowadays, although it's still ahead of its fellow German rivals.


Interior & Technology

The 3 Series' interior looks the part as you'd naturally expect.

The infotainment touchscreen and the digital instrument display are housed within one single curved unit. It is a feature taken directly from the all-electric BMW i4, creating more of a cockpit-like feel to the cabin.

The infotainment system uses BMW's latest Operating System 8, which continues to be as good to use as the car is to drive, with clear graphics, intuitive menus and, of course, the iDrive rotary control.

No system on the market can better it, although more and more are starting to give it a run for its money.


One annoying feature is that physical controls for the air conditioning have been removed and are now contained within the touchscreen.

At least you can get around this by using the iDrive controller. Plus, there’s also voice control, which is one of the more reliable we’ve used, although it’s not perfect – and the temperature settings always remain in view on the screen, which helps.

The ease of BMW's system allows us to forgive the lack of physical dials. Still, it's a genuine inconvenience to change the temperature on the move via the infotainment system in nearly every other car with the same setup.

Overall, the interior quality is top-notch, well designed and well built, although the quality of Audi's cabins means it's not entirely on the same level, but we're splitting hairs.


Practicality & Boot Space

Finding a comfortable driving position in the 3 Series is simple, as there’s lots of room up front to stretch your legs. Furthermore, the seats and steering wheel have plenty of adjustment, although electric seats are optional.

Adjustable lumbar support is also an added extra across the range, which is frustrating given it’s a feature you can have as standard on the second-from-top trim of a Volkswagen Polo.

Nevertheless, the seats are pretty relaxing, and there's a decent amount of headroom in the front.

The back isn’t quite as accommodating, but you'll still comfortably fit two adults in there for a long journey without any problems. And there's certainly more space in the rear compared with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The pillars aren't massively thick at the front, which aids visibility. But the ones at the rear are quite a bit fatter, which makes seeing behind you a tad tricky.


Thankfully, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and parking assistance – which provides automatic steering into a vacant parking space – are all standard.

Interior storage is also quite generous, with reasonably large and partitioned door bins, a nicely sized glove compartment and a capacious cubby in the centre console.

Boot space is 480 litres, although you'll get quite a bit less than that in the plug-in hybrid.

Usefully, the three back seats can fold down individually – a 40:20:40 split – which is more convenient than the 60:40 configuration of most cars.

The seats can be folded by pulling levers in the boot.


Safety

The 3 Series was last put through its paces in 2019, so it's the same generation but before the recent facelift.

It was awarded a five-star safety rating, scoring 97 per cent for adult occupants, 87 per cent for kids and 76 per cent for safety assists.

Although you get automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, parking sensors, traffic sign recognition and cruise control with brake function as standard, most of the clever tech is part of the Driving Assistant Professional pack.

This is an optional extra but includes lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, which can automatically adjust your speed to keep you maintaining the gap from the vehicle in front, bringing you to a complete stop if necessary.

It also includes a blind spot monitor and cross-traffic alert, while Parking Assistant Plus will park the car for you.


Options

With the safety systems dealt with, you'll want to decide on a body colour.

If you want anything other than solid white, you'll have to fork out extra, with metallic finishes in black, red, white, blue and grey on offer.

In addition to the above, light grey, dark grey and dark blue are offered for the M Sport trim.

The Sport trim has three interior colour schemes for its perforated Sensatec upholstery at no extra charge – a choice of black, dark red or beige.

Those who don't want the high-gloss black interior trim can also change it to quartz silver.


The equivalent upgrades for the M Sport introduce Alcantara leather, replacing the default cloth seats for a hefty price, with a choice of dark red, black and grey, chocolate brown, black and blue or creamy white upholstery.

The M version also has a choice of a lighter brown.

Both the M Sport and M versions get 18-inch alloys, but these are upgradable to a 19-inch alloys.

You can also add a host of other upgrades, including a powered tailgate and electric memory seats, as part of the Comfort Plus Pack.

The Technology Pack adds a Harman Kardon sound system and wireless charger, amongst other things. At the same time, the Plus Pack will get you a Driving Assistant Professional, adding many additional safety features.


Rival Cars

The two main rivals for the 3 Series' crown are the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Both have got a lot closer to the BMW in recent years, with the Merc making up a lot of lost ground over the past decade or so. Meanwhile, Audi’s engineering takes some beating.

But BMW is still out in front.

While the Audi A4 is the more comfortable, the BMW’s driving dynamics are unmatched.


Although not entirely on the same level, Jaguar's XE and, more recently, the Alfa Romeo Giulia are two alternatives worth looking at.

If the Alfa's gorgeous looks are essential to you, then you could do worse than look at the Genesis G70, which, while lacking the refinement of most of its competitors, takes some beating in terms of its majestic looks.

If your heart is set on a 3 Series, but you need more boot space, remember there's an estate version of it, which is just as capable to drive.


Verdict & Next Steps

The BMW 3 Series continues to lead the way as an overall package.

With superbly refined engines, handling and fuel economy to match, there are no bounds to BMW's engineering talent.

The M340i is a delight to drive but, if your pockets are bottomless, the real M3 can't be beaten. And, if they aren't deep, few criticisms can be levelled at any of the other models in the 3 Series range.

The options list is likely to need consulting to make the car feel more complete, and there are a few drawbacks, such as the lack of air conditioning controls. Plus, challengers can beat it for comfort.

In addition, while the quality of the interior is excellent, some of its competitors can offer more lavishness.

But, in terms of enjoying driving, the 3 Series is still winning the race.

Where to next?

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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the BMW 3 Series Saloon

**Correct as of 06/12/2022. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £3,617.91 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.

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