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BMW 3 Series engines, driving and performance

How does the BMW 3 Series drive?

Much better than it needs to. The BMW 3 Series has long been a keen driver’s car, and it’s still the benchmark for a family car that handles well. With perfect 50/50 front-rear weight distribution, the 3 Series is incredibly balanced and agile.

The steering is quick to respond to your inputs, which makes carving through a twisty B-road a really enjoyable experience. It’s a slight shame that the steering feels a bit remote, but that’s a common thing with modern cars thanks to their electric power steering systems, which are more efficient than older hydraulic systems.

The 3 Series is rear-wheel drive – the preferred setup for keen drivers. A clever traction control system means that, in normal driving, you’re never left wanting for grip. For a little extra poor-weather traction and stability, BMW offers four-wheel-drive versions of the 3 Series, called xDrive.

Is the BMW 3 Series comfortable?

The 3 Series’ suspension has a bit of a trick up its sleeve – if you’ve got lots of people and luggage on board, the suspension firms up slightly to keep the ride compliant. And over the majority of surfaces, the 3 Series is very comfortable.

On really broken Tarmac, the ride feels firm but still not uncomfortable. Big impacts and jolts are smoothed out for the most part, and over smaller ripples the suspension is communicative.

Designed to spend all day on the motorway, the 3 Series is quiet and soothing at speed – which is all the more impressive considering it’s also fun on the back roads.

What’s the best engine to get?

There are plenty to choose from, especially in cars built up to 2022. If you’re searching for a petrol 3 Series you’ll find 318i, 320i and 330i versions, all with a 2.0-litre engine but with differing power outputs. By far the most popular is the 320i with 184hp, which returns 42mpg and is pretty sprightly.

It’s a similar story with the diesel engines – in the past, you could pick 318d, 320d and 330d versions, but the middle option has long been the big seller. For a car designed for motorway miles, the 320d’s 54mpg figure makes total sense – if you can achieve that figure you’ll manage 700 miles between fill-ups. And yet, it’s quicker and brawnier than the 320i so, if you do regular long journeys, the diesel still is the best choice. If you only stay around town, don’t choose the diesel as you could cause DPF issues in the long run.

In fact, the best choice for townies is the 330e plug-in hybrid, which offers 36 miles of electric driving from a fully charged battery. It has a petrol engine as a backup, so could be the ideal choice if you want to save some money on fuel and mainly do short journeys.

Or, if you’re more about speed than fuel economy, the 3 Series lineup also has plenty to pique your interest. There’s the full-beans M3 – and, for the first time ever, an M3 Touring – but there are also M340i and M340d models, both with four-wheel drive, huge power outputs and considerably fewer pound signs than the M3.

BMW 3 Series performance

The 3 Series might not offer the raucous point-and-squirt performance of the Tesla Model 3, but all versions are certainly quick enough to feel brisk. In particular, the popular 320i and 320d hit 0-62mph in around seven seconds, which is plenty to get up to motorway speeds rapidly.

The plug-in hybrid 330e and the 330i petrol are even faster, and that’s before you get to the M340i and M340d with their sub-five-second 0-62mph times. Of course, the top trump in the 3 Series pack is the M3, which needs just 3.8 seconds to sprint to 62.

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