The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
The best in its class
Pros
Styling that is aggressive but not shouty
Back to its brilliant best dynamically
Roomier than previous generation
Cons
iDrive system has been improved but remains fiddly
A little bit of rumble from the run-flat tyres
Refinement nowhere near 5-series standard

BMW 3-series F30 review (2012-on)

It really is the ultimate driving machine

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What is the BMW 3-series (F30)?

The latest evolution of the evergreen BMW 3-series is, without doubt, the best-looking yet. The F30 is longer and wider than the previous model and wears the new BMW family face with attitude. It’s available in saloon and Touring (estate) versions; the coupé and convertible are due to land in 2013.

Function has always presided over form when it comes to BM interiors, and the latest 3-series is no exception. The familiar angled centre stack and clear dials are all there, but a 6.5in screen in the middle of the dashboard allows much better navigation through the menus. There is also more rear legroom, more shoulder room and more space in the boot; all that, and BMW managed to make it lighter than its predecessor.

The Bavarians have also upped the ante on spec. The ES trim, available only on the 316d, brings 17in alloys, Bluetooth and automatic air-con. Move up to the SE and you are greeted with dual-zone climate control, parking distance control and auto lights and wipers. A new Sport model brings BMW’s Drive Performance Control, which gives the driver the choice of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport or Sport+ mode, Modern spec provides half-leather seats, Luxury spec fills in the missing leather and the M Sport spec throws in sport seats, sport suspension and extra body kit. The M3 has all the trimmings and badges you’ve come to expect from BMW’s high-performance division.


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These standard specs may look impressive, but the options lists are still huge, so used examples are likely to be carrying extra goodies such as sat nav, xenon lights and alloy wheel upgrades. Dynamics are always at the forefront of BMW’s approach, and the latest 3-series exceeds the high standards set by its predecessor.

Even the most modestly engined car will delight, delivering poise, precision and great feedback that gives you the confidence to push on when roads and traffic allow. Our only real criticism is of the run-flat tyres, which tend to be noisy on rough road surfaces. The new 3-series has not been around long, so engines aren’t as varied as in previous incarnations.

At present, buyers have a choice of four diesels (all, in fact, a 2-litre unit, tuned differently): the 316d (116bhp), 318d (143bhp), 320d (184bhp) and ultra-efficient 320d ED (163bhp). Economy is impressive on all the diesel models; even the potent 320d returns a healthy 61.4mpg.

Petrol-wise, a new 2-litre engine powers the 320i (184bhp) and the 328i (245bhp), and the 3-litre 335i makes a welcome return with 306bhp at the back wheels. We love the 328i, which manages astonishing performance with economy that can approach 45mpg. The gearbox is a smooth and direct six-speed manual or a wonderful eight-speed auto.

With the latest 3-series BMW has virtually rewritten the rulebook: it’s smooth, responsive, exceptionally well poised and good on fuel. For now, this is the one to beat.

What to look out for when buying a used BMW 3-series F30

Nothing yet — no factory recalls and no pattern of problems emerging from owners — but we will report back if we hear anything.

The one to buy

BMW 328i Luxury

Factfile

Engine:
1997cc , 4 cylinders
Power:
245bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque:
258 lb ft @ 1250rpm
Transmission:
6-speed manual
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 5.9sec
Top Speed:
55mph
Fuel
44.1mpg
CO2:
149g/km
Road Tax Band:
Dimensions:
L 4624mm, W 1811mm, H 1429mm
 

BMW 3-series rivals