Review: BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012)


Superb to drive. Great handling and steering. Upmarket image. Economical diesel engines culminating in amazingly efficient 320d Efficient Dynamics at 109g/km of CO2.

Firm ride especially noticeable on larger alloys. No spare wheel. Limited rear legroom. Too many coil, injector and high pressure fuel pump problems on petrol engines.

BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012): At A Glance

It's well known that the BMW 3 Series sets the standard for premium saloons when it comes to handling. But there's more to this 3 Series than just driver enjoyment. It comes with decent levels of standard equipment and some of the most efficient engines available.

This is thanks to a range of systems called Efficient Dynamics (introduced in 2007) which are designed to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The culmination of this is the remarkable 320d EfficientDynamics model that was launched in 2010. This 163bhp model drives as well as a standard 320d and yet has CO2 emissions of just 109g/km and can average 68.9mpg.

Of course if you're after performance, there's plenty of choice too from the muscular 335d to the sublime 335i - an engine that's good enough to rival the high-performance M3. On the road, the 3 Series is a great drive, whatever engine you opt for, with nicely weighted steering and plenty of grip, helped by the fact it's rear-wheel drive.

However, it loses out slighty to other premium saloons - such as the Audi A4 - when it comes to rear passenger room and boot space. The ride is on the firm side too, something which is more noticeable on M Sport models with their larger alloy wheels and sports suspension. But this doesn't prevent the fifth generation BMW 3 Series from being one of the best cars currently on the market.

Road test BMW E91 320d and 325i Touring

What does a BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012) cost?

List Price from £32,575
Buy new from £27,327
Contract hire from £269.27 per month

BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4531 mm
Width 1817 mm
Height 1406–1421 mm
Wheelbase 2760 mm

Full specifications

From behind the wheel of the 3 Series, you feel as though the cabin is focussed towards the driver, giving it a real 'cockpit' like feel. This is helped by the high-placed gear-lever, wide central console and thick-rimmed steering wheel. That's not to say it's cramped though and it certainly feels spacious enough with plenty of room for both passengers in the front.

The same can't be said for those in the rear though. With a moderately taller driver (or front seat passenger) those in the back will find their legroom quite restricted, but there's adequate head room. All the seats are comfortable though and offer plenty of support - ideal for longer journeys. M Sport models come with sports seats which offer even better side support, but the standard ones are more than adequate enough for everyday driving.

There's also plenty of adjustment in the driver's seat, whether you have manual or electric adjustment, so finding that perfect driving position is easy. Visibility is good too - both front and back. But perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the interior is a feeling of refinement. Everything works with precision and there's an upmarket finish with plenty of high quality materials used throughout. The standard steeeo system isn't the most straightforward of systems (and looks a little dated) but it has an air of understated quality about it that echoes the rest of the car.

The boot of the 3 Series is a good size and has a wide opening, plus with no spare wheel there's extra storage available underneath the boot floor (where the spare would usually be). However, folding rear seats don't come as standard so if you want to carry larger stuff such as bicycles you'll have to opt for the 60/40 split seats which are an optional extra.

But while you may think standard equipments levels on a BMW may be meagre, that's not the case with the 3 Series. Sure, you pay good money for one of these, but at least the firm doesn't skimp on what you get. All cars come with four electric windows, alloy wheels, a trip computer, air conditioning, a CD stereo, a leather steering wheel, Isofix child seat mounting points and DSC dynamic stability control. The M Sport ones are easy to pick out thanks to their bigger wheels and body kit - these are the models to go for if you want to impress.

Child seats that fit a BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012) like to drive?

Like its predecessor, this BMW 3 Series sets the standard in this class for handling and once behind the wheel, it's easy to see why. It's really positive in corners with plenty of grip, even in the more powerful models, while the nicely weighted steering also gives you plenty of 'feel'. The stiff chassis means there's hardly any body roll in corners either, which enthustiastic drivers will enjoy.

It's also incredibly well balanced and feels very agile, dealing with sudden changes in direction with no fuss, helped by the reactive and precise steering. The one downside is a rather firm ride.  The suspension has been designed to suit the firmer sidewalls of the runflat tyres (fitted as standard to all models) so the driver can feel the surface of the road without jarring the occupants in the car.

It works to an extent, but on M Sport models (which have larger alloys and lower, sports suspension) the ride can be very stiff, especially on poor surfaces or bumpy roads, where the 3 Series can feel fidgety. It's better on the motorway or smooth dual carriageways, but even then it doesn't feel as forgiving as alternatives like the Audi A4.

There's a wide choice of engines available in the 3 Series range. When it was launched in 2005 there was a 150bhp 320i, the 218bhp 325i and the 258bhp 330i, plus one diesel - the 163bhp 320d. All are strong and refined while the impressive 330d was added in 2005, followed by the 325d and amazing 335d which are actually the same six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine but with different power outputs.

The big changes came in 2007 when the Efficient Dynamics technology as introduced to all the engines in varying degrees. This brought lower fuel consumption and emissions but also more power. Cleverly, you won't notice any different from behind the wheel, but you will at the pumps. The 318i, 318d and 320d were all significantly upgraded - the 318d especially so as power rose to 143bhp while fuel economy improved to 62.8mpg.

To add to the confusion, there were even more changes in 2008 when the 3 Series was given a facelift with the 330d replaced by a newer engine. But perhaps the most notable engine arrived in 2010 when the 320d EfficientDynamics was introduced. It emits just 109g/km of CO2 - a figure you'd usually associated with a small hatchback with a tiny engine - which means it's peanuts to run.

But this is a full-blooded 163bhp diesel that's superb to drive with all the power and punch you'd expect from a BMW diesel engine. It certainly doesn't feel like a 'green' model from behind the wheel and performs with all the gusto of the standard 320d. 0-62mph takes 8.0 seconds yet it can average 68.9mpg, making it the most efficient 3 Series ever. Despite aerodynamic changes and a lower ride height, it doesn't look unappealing like some green versions do either.

The other model of note is the 316d. This actually uses the same 2.0-litre diesel engine but with power reduced to 116bhp and less torque too. This has good benefits for economy which is boosted to 62.8mpg while CO2 emissions are 118g/km of CO2.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
316d 63 mpg 10.9 s 118 g/km
318d 53–63 mpg 9.1–9.3 s 119–140 g/km
318d Automatic 53 mpg 9.3 s 140 g/km
318i 43–45 mpg 9.1–9.9 s 146–155 g/km
318i Automatic 43 mpg 9.9 s 155 g/km
320d 53–69 mpg 7.5–8.0 s 109–140 g/km
320d Automatic 53 mpg 7.6 s 140 g/km
320i 42–44 mpg 8.2–8.9 s 148–159 g/km
320i Automatic 42 mpg 8.9 s 159 g/km
325d 50 mpg 7.0 s 151 g/km
325d Automatic 46 mpg 7.2 s 160 g/km
325i 39 mpg 6.7 s 168 g/km
325i Automatic 38 mpg 7.1 s 174 g/km
330d 50 mpg 6.1 s 152 g/km
330d Automatic 46 mpg 6.2 s 164 g/km
330i 38 mpg 6.1 s 173 g/km
335d 43 mpg 6.0 s 174 g/km
335i 31–34 mpg 5.6 s 196–218 g/km
335i Automatic 33 mpg 5.8 s 202 g/km

Real MPG average for a BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

20–59 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

The oil is my BMW 3 Series is reading high - should I have it checked out?

The oil appears to be reading high in my diesel E90 BMW 3 Series, both via the dashboard indicator and also by manually checking (after driving approximately seven miles and leaving five minutes to cool). Should I have it checked out?
Yes. Might be because active regeneration of the DPF is not occurring or is being interrupted.
Answered by Honest John
More Questions

What Cars Are Similar To The BMW 3 Series (2005 – 2012)?

Key attributes of the this model are: Economical and Compact premium.

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What do owners think?

Our view gives your our opinion, based on driving hundreds of cars every year, but you can't beat the views of someone who lives with a car day-in, day out.

  • 5 star 33%
  • 4 star 50%
  • 3 star
  • 2 star
  • 1 star 17%

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