Overview & Reviews
The BMW 3 Series is the company's top seller in the United States and a favorite in the marketplace for good reason: It's a classy entry-level luxury car endowed with world-class fit and finish, spirited performance and an exquisite ride-and-handling balance unmatched by most vehicles at any price. That's true no matter which model or year you choose, as generation after generation of 3 Series has offered the same benefits despite constant evolution. Accordingly, buying a used 3 Series is a solid bet -- there's nary a bad apple in this barrel.
As for the new 3 Series, it's slightly larger and faster than its predecessor, yet lighter and more fuel-efficient. It also boasts a bolder look inside and out, revised suspension and steering, and more interior space. Although some may argue that the car's sporting edge has been blunted a bit, we still find the 3 Series sedan and wagon exceptionally rewarding to drive. If you're looking for the current coupe and convertible, note that they're now known as the 4 Series and are reviewed separately.
Current BMW 3 Series
Today's BMW 3 Series is offered as either a sedan or a wagon. It's broken down into 320i, 328i, 328d, 335i and ActiveHybrid 3 models. The 320i and 328i sedans and 328i wagon get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces either 180 horsepower (320i) or 240 hp (328i). The 328d sedan and wagon are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel-powered four-cylinder that also makes 180 hp but considerably more torque; highway fuel economy is impressively in the low 40s. The sedan-only 335i gets a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 with 300 hp. The ActiveHybrid 3 sedan pairs the 335i's engine with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack, resulting in a healthy 335 hp; however, fuel economy is about the same as in the 328i.
Transmission choices are limited to a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic, with the former unavailable in the wagon and ActiveHybrid 3. Rear-wheel drive is standard on all 3 Series sedans, while all-wheel drive is available on the sedan (except the ActiveHybrid 3) and standard on all wagons.
Standard features on the base 320i include alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, manual front seats, leatherette upholstery, Bluetooth and the iDrive electronics interface with a 6.5-inch display. The 328i upgrades to power front seats, while the 335i and ActiveHybrid 3 throw in larger wheels, xenon headlights and a sunroof. As usual, the options lists is long and strong, including everything from a hard-drive-based navigation system with a larger display screen to a Dynamic Handling package with a sport-tuned suspension and variable-ratio steering.
In reviews, we've lauded the exceptionally well-rounded nature of this 3 Series. Whether you're devouring miles on the interstate, running errands around town or making time on your favorite back road, the car always feels up to the task, even if its electrically assisted steering is less engaging than what previous generations of the 3 Series offered. Inside, drivers will find a restrained show of luxury, with an emphasis on comfort and involvement. The supportive seats underneath are complemented by a clean, clear analog gauge cluster dead ahead. The four available design "lines" -- Luxury, Modern, Sport and M Sport -- add visual spice to what has historically been a rather drab interior. Materials and build quality are exceptional; even the standard leatherette (vinyl) upholstery looks and feels better than one might expect.
Overall, if you can afford the price of admission, the BMW 3 Series is still the standard-bearer in the compact luxury-sport class. Thanks to its wonderfully balanced dynamics, powerful and efficient engine lineup and wide range of configurations, the 3 Series earns our very strong recommendation.
Used BMW 3 Series Models
The current, sixth generation of the 3 Series bowed for the 2012 model year. You may have to look twice to tell it apart from the previous generation, but a close inspection reveals a more voluptuous hood and sleeker taillights, among other changes. There's also an overhauled dashboard, revised suspension tuning, a new electrically assisted steering system, BMW's adjustable driving settings and additional feature content. Furthermore, the backseat has been enlarged to accommodate adults with greater ease.
Initially, the current 3 Series was offered in 328i or 335i trim with rear-wheel drive. For 2013, all-wheel drive was added to the roster, and both the 320i and ActiveHybrid 3 sedans debuted. The wagon and the diesel engine were introduced for 2014. Notably, the previous-generation 3 Series coupe and convertible were sold alongside the current-generation cars from 2012-'13, while the 4 Series was readied for production.
The previous, fifth-generation 3 Series debuted in both sedan and wagon form for 2006. Compared to the earlier 3 Series, it boasted bigger dimensions, new styling, updated electronics and improved performance. Originally, the model designations were 325i and 330i. The former was powered by a 215-hp 3.0-liter inline-6 engine, while the 330i featured a 255-hp 3.0-liter inline-6 engine.
BMW introduced the 328i and 335i model designations and associated engines for 2007, as well as the redesigned coupe and convertible. This was the first year for the 328i's 230-hp 3.0-liter inline-6 and the 335i's 300-hp engine. Also, the 3 Series coupe could be equipped with all-wheel drive for the first time.
For 2009-'11, a 335d sedan model was sold that featured a 3.0-liter diesel-powered inline-6 that produced 265 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. Its blend of power and fuel economy was unmatched at the time. Other changes for 2009 included freshened styling for the sedan and wagon, as well as the debut of the "xDrive" moniker for all-wheel-drive models (replacing 328xi and 335xi). The high-performance 335is arrived for '11, as did slightly better fuel economy for the 335i's turbo engine that year.
This fifth-generation 3 Series provided perfectly sorted vehicle dynamics, strong engines and excellent interior build quality. If that sounds familiar, it's because these qualities have been 3 Series hallmarks for decades. The only notable downsides to the car are limited interior storage space and mediocre rear passenger space, even in the sedan and wagon. Used-car shoppers might want to pay special attention to the iDrive electronics interface that came with the optional navigation system -- it was considerably less user-friendly prior to 2009, so we suggest playing around with it before signing on the dotted line.
The highly regarded fourth-generation ("E46") 3 Series debuted as a sedan for the 1999 model year. The coupe, convertible and wagon models fell in line a year later in 2000. This iteration of the BMW 3 Series never failed to impress as a top choice in the segment. Our editors consistently attested that the E46's world-class suspension, engines, steering and brakes made it a delight to drive, while its interior design and overall quality satisfied those desiring luxury and prestige.
Originally, the available engines included a 170-hp 2.5-liter inline-6 (curiously dubbed the 323i) and a 193-hp 2.8-liter inline-6 in the 328i. You might want to look at the newer models, though -- for 2001, feature content and engine technology were boosted, and all-wheel drive became available. The 2.5-liter model was renamed 325i and produced 184 hp, while the more powerful model was renamed 330i based on its new 3.0-liter, 225-hp engine. An exterior face-lift for sedans and wagons arrived for 2002, with the coupes and convertibles following suit for 2004. Detail improvements like navigation, bi-xenon headlights and rain-sensing wipers helped carry the 325i and 330i BMWs through the remaining few years.
From 1992-'98, BMW's 3 Series was in its third generation ("E36"). Even though these 3 Series models are getting on in years today, they were peerless at the time when it came to combining luxury and sport. Body styles included a sedan, a coupe, a convertible and a short-lived hatchback. Engine choices ranged from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder to a 190-hp six-cylinder. In general, any BMW 3 Series from this generation that's been well maintained and has low mileage remains compelling, though keep in mind that maintenance costs can easily outstrip the car's market value within a few years.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 3,778.00
Wonderful Car! - 2015 BMW 3-Series
By David Smith - February 2 - 7:11 pm
My brakes work great. The interior is rather ugly as is in most Elantras the good part about that is they come with so many cool options for seats and dash kits that you can purchase to really make the car feel like your own. It is a great buy and I would recommend all of my friends and family to purchase one just so they can see how comfortable and smooth driving the elantra gls really is. I do plan on purchasing a newer one this year and turning mine into a rally car
Awesome - 2018 BMW 3-Series
By John G - May 24 - 10:26 am
BMW is the choice for all generation...
Sportwagon - Child Seat Comments included! - 2014 BMW 3-Series
By Wilson - January 18 - 3:57 pm
I spent the better part of a frigid New England (just snowed) morning test driving two cars 1) a 2014 BMW 328xi wagon with luxury package and 2) a new 2015 BMW 328xd wagon with nav and a couple of the basic packages. I had never driven a diesel before so I felt I owed it to myself to try these two head-to-head. While the diesel had a broadly useable torque band, I felt it lacked uphill oomph especially in the 2nd or 3rd gear range (tough to tell because the transmission shifts so smoothly in both models). Granted this was a 25 degree day and we basically started it cold from the dealership, but after having driven a similarly cold gasoline model over the same roads earlier in the morning, the diesel just didn’t compare. In my opinion, the diesel was overpriced even with the 2015 “leftover” discount, about $7k more than the lightly used 2014 with 10k miles. The diesel exhaust note, as many reviews have noted, is coarse and loud at revs. The gasoline exhaust note is fake, pumped in through the sound system. You can actually hear it change its volume if you switch from Comfort to Sport under hard acceleration. Still, I prefer a quiet car with some audio theatrics to one that sounds like an economy car with gravel under the hood. Now for some comments that pertain to both models: 1) Very few reviews ever cover the fit and functionality of child seats. The local used car dealership graciously allowed me to mess around with different configurations after I test drove it. I am 6’0 and need to use a fair amount of front seat track to get comfortable behind the wheel. In the rear-facing position, I found the child seat to be workable, but it took a fair amount of finagling. Both test cars were equipped with power front seats rather than the manual kind found in some of the base models. For 6’0+ drivers, you might have to live with your seatback a little more upright than you’re used to in order to get the child seat to fit correctly in the rear-facing position. I also found it helped to drop the driver’s seat almost to the floor. In the front-facing position, there were no problems at all. Now, I didn’t try one of our newer child seats – a Britax G3 Marathon. Those stay in my wife’s minivan since she does 90% of the child transportation. They are a bit more bulky, mostly laterally, than the regular G3 because they have the extra head protection. With BMW’s new 40-20-40 folding seatbacks, you might be able to utilize your “20” with two regular G3s in the back, but you’d have a much harder time doing the same thing with the wider G3 Marathons. 2) The stock stereo system is middling. Not sure the upgrade would necessarily be worth it, but it could be worth considering. 3) Despite some criticism of the new suspension, I found the Sport mode in both models to be amply stiff for hard corners in slippery conditions. Yes, I did try a couple after dropping off my sales minder at the front door. 4) Visibility out the back is limited and the side mirrors are tiny. Unfortunately, this means springing for blind-spot detection is a must. 5) After half an hour in the standard seats, I wasn’t loving them. The seat bottoms are totally flat with just average padding. They reminded me of the mid-90s Subaru Outback wagon seats. Both my testers had lumbar support, which even for me as a relatively healthy mid-30s guy is a must. I would probably limit my search to models with the sport seats from here out. 6) The new touch-sensitive controller is little too sensitive for the initiated, but I found myself accidentally clicking stuff when I was trying to use the jogger control. 7) Overall, I don’t think either of these models is worth the near $50k price tag, but finding a lightly used CPO at <$40k seems right for the gasoline-powered model. The diesel model really doesn’t warrant a premium, but my commutes most days are fairly short so I’m probably not the target market for it.
Wanted a Bimmah, Never looking Back - 2003 BMW 3-Series
By firstname.lastname@example.org - January 17 - 11:59 am
I bought my 2003 BMW 325I in 2013. At ten years old and 140,000 miles I knew it was a little bit of a risk, but you can pick these up for the same price youd pay for a Civic in similar condition. BMW or Civic? Come on, no brainer. Fortunately I have a lot of tools and am very mechanically inclined, so I can do all of my own work. Ive had to change the water pump, cooling hoses, window motors, and a few little things. With youtube and a little ingenuity none of it is a big deal at all. If you plan to pay a dealership for this kind of little stuff, forget it. Its well worth a little work here and there to have a car with a buttery smooth straight 6, and absolutely impeccable handling. Three years later I still enjoy driving it. Sometimes I go to the store in the middle of the night and get my girl ice cream, really just because I want to drive somewhere. No more Hondayotas in my driveway. Theyre laughable after driving what is truly the ultimate driving machine. Mine just hit 170k with no current issues at all. Ill get 200+ smiling the whole way. I will warn, however, if youre buying a used one, the maintenance and care that has gone into it previously is of the utmost importance! Check it, double check it, do your research and then check it again!
Bye Bye BMW - 2015 BMW 3-Series
By Behzad - January 13 - 7:04 am
how sad , when once you could by a premium , howling lovable Straight 6 for the money , and now what you get is a 4 cylinder sounding like a broken blender machine , and a lot of "Green" blah blah blah ! and when you complain about it , them start bragging about how fast and powerful and "Economical" it is , this isnt what a BMW (and more generally a sports car is all about) ,no amount of savage power is going to replace its "Soul" , that is now gone .
GREAT CAR! - 2001 BMW 3-Series
By JB GARRISON - January 5 - 12:56 pm
Owning my 2001 325i for 8 years, 80K+ miles, only replaced battery, cooling system (just last month) and rear window motors (both in one week). But overall, GREAT! Handles very well, stops on a dime! comfort and great mileage: drive from Indy to Destin FLA only 1.5 tanks. Dont want to get rid of this beauty. Now at 120K+ miles, may sell. But do not want to.
A small "Abrams Tank from BMW - 2014 BMW 3-Series
By Garrett Thurber - January 4 - 11:58 am
This car goes where you point it with the steering wheel. It also has three different transmission settings for you to choose from Eco for the best gas consumption with a little less power, Comfort (the default) for a bit less rigid ride with a little more power than Eco, and Sport for driving the car like a BMW is supposed to be driven full power and absolutely no hesitation.
Very happy - 2011 BMW 3-Series
By Kerry young - December 28 - 2:06 pm
Poor gas mileage
Do not invest into BMW! - 2011 BMW 3-Series
By Chris - December 25 - 9:05 am
DO NOT INVEST INTO BMW!!! This company does NOT stand by their word nor treat the customer with respect. If you have a warranty they will not stand by it. All they want is your money... Heads up! When you purchase a car that is considered a lemon how many times does somebody have to bring the car in with the same issues? Especially within the week & first year of buying a vehicle? The 1st week after i bought The car it broke down! With loud and shaky idles, transmission issues, steering issues, bmw has seen the repair history. Im honestly afraid of what the future holds for this car. I feel my families safety is in jeopardy & this is documentation if anything happens. Is this something that usually happens & is this a good experience for a BMW owner? Ive brought this car in numerous times within the first year, one of them being within the first week that I bought it. Did BMW even do the proper screening for this CPO? Doing my research there are numerous recalls on this car and I feel that the issues directly relate with the problems with this car. I wanted give bmw every opportunity to make this right and since youre not doing so and just are offering only me one payment which doesnt help anything with the lemon you guys sold me. I will be sharing my story from many different avenues and not recommending BMW. Im extremely disappointed and very discouraged!
Do not get one! unreliable - 2002 BMW 3-Series
By Jade - December 21 - 2:32 am
so unreliable!!! Ive spent more than this car is worth in repairs. Its in the shop more than it is on the road. Now there is an electral problem no one can seem to fix. Mine has about 150,000 miles on it, and Ive had it for 2 1/2 years. Ive spent over $5,000 in repairs, and the car was $7,500. I still owe $3,500 on it. My advice get a Chevy.