BMW 3 Series (2012 – 2019) Review

BMW 3 Series (2012 – 2019) At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
The BMW 3 Series does it all, reliably and efficiently, offering cut-above motoring to the everyday motorist. It still has a driver-pleasing edge, though, with superb handling and an enthusiastic nature. Some things, fortunately, never change…

+Brilliant to drive, powerful and fuel-efficient engines, good interior space and practicality.

-Interior quality lags behind Audi, early models get a basic infotainment system, folding rear seats were optional.

Insurance Groups are between 18–43
On average it achieves 75% of the official MPG figure

The BMW 3 Series is a benchmark premium executive saloon car. These days, it easily outsells more traditional family cars such as the Ford Mondeo, and sometimes even appears in the UK’s top 10 best-selling cars list. Over the years, BMW has refined the 3 Series, curing complaints about the early 1980s cars such as cramped interiors and thirsty engines. 

As with every previous model, this sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series (codenamed F30 by the company) was, at launch in 2012, the best yet. A core model in the BMW range, and one that drives a big chunk of its profitability, tireless work by the engineers created another car that was quickly considered a sector front-runner.

The best bit with any 3 Series is how it drives, and BMW was careful not to disappoint here. Years of experience in building sporty-feeling saloons is clear from the first turn of the wheel.

The steering is firm and direct, body control is excellent and the handling is anything but soft or soggy. The fact it is rear-driven also helps the balance and purity, marking it out from something like an Audi A4. BMW also offered grippy all-wheel-drive versions, called xDrive, for better winter-weather ability.

The previous 3 Series quite a choppy ride, and could become rather uncomfortable over rough roads in the city. This was an area BMW improved – and while you’ll never mistake it for a smoother-running Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the 3 Series unquestionably delivers the best balance of ride and handling in its class. That’s particularly true of cars fitted with the optional adaptive damping system.

Engines are strong across the board. Diesel dominates, with BMW’s leadership in producing smooth and powerful, yet efficient and CO2-friendly motors leading to most being sold with a 318d or 320d diesel engine.

The standout is the 320d EfficientDynamics, which has implausibly low CO2 despite its effortless punch. This generation of 3 Series also offers a brilliant eight-speed automatic gearbox alongside the engaging six-speed manual.

We have long admired BMW’s excellent infotainment systems and the 3 Series doesn’t disappoint. Even the entry-level setup is intuitive and easy to use, with early cars only missing out due to their lack of standard sat-nav. This was fixed in 2015 and, a year later, the system became even more impressive with a full overhaul. Use a BMW and you have to wonder how Mercedes-Benz makes it so complicated…

Those with long memories will remember that the BMW 3 Series used to be a byword for impracticality. Business executives on long trips would gripe about the lack of rear-seat space, with cramped knees and squeezed feet. This generation cured that once and for all, with a much more accommodating rear to complement the spacious front seats.

The boot is also pretty commodious, with up to 480 litres of space on offer, although it’s not quite as practical as it sounds due to the restrictions of the saloon body shape – and not helped by BMW’s bizarre decision to leave folding rear seats on the options list.

Today, prices are becoming very tempting and there’s plenty of choice on the market thanks to the 3 Series’ strong new sales. That it is such a well-built car, one that’s proven to be very reliable, further validates interest in this image-conscious model. One of the most popular second-hand cars on sale, it’s not hard to see why the BMW 3 Series is such a winner.

Ask Honest John

When should I get the transmission fluid in my car changed?
"My 2016 BMW 335D automatic has now covered 74,000 miles. Do you think its worth having the transmission fluid changed in its ZF 8-speed gearbox? "
Yes. We'd recommend a gearbox oil change every 62,000 miles or eight years (whichever comes soonest). For the longevity of the gearbox, it's worth changing the transmission oil now.
Answered by Andrew Brady
Is a used car with very low mileage cause for concern?
"I’ve seen a BMW 320i M Sport that I’m rather interested in. It’s at the main dealer. It was registered in late July 2017 but has covered only 2500 miles. Is that low mileage likely to be a problem? I tend to keep cars for 4-5 years and cover 6000-8000 miles per year (in normal times). Many thanks. "
It's a bit worrying, yes. Cars don't like being left unused for long periods. Parts seize up and there could be issues when it's pressed into regular use. If it's cheaper than similar cars and comes with a warranty, it could be worth a punt.
Answered by Andrew Brady
Are used BMW 3 Series really expensive to own?
"I read about the BMW 3 Series being reliable, but servicing, repairs and - I imagine - insurance is a lot more expensive than for non-premium cars. I see lots of these high-mileage, diesel cars looking nice with good MoT history and an affordable price tag. Which cars would be a good alternative? Thanks a lot."
On the one hand, the BMW 3 Series is popular with police forces because of its indestructibility and high-mile capability. On the other hand, an older 3 Series (diesel models in particular) will require a fair bit of regular maintenance and yes, this will be costlier than in a mainstream choice. Parts will be a bit pricier than something like a Volkswagen Passat and servicing (especially at a main dealer) could be more expensive. Insurance will depend on factors like your age and driving experience. If you want a practical estate car that'll be cheap to run, look at something like a Toyota Avensis or Honda Accord.
Answered by Andrew Brady
Are diesels a definite no for city driving?
"I'm considering getting a secondhand BMW 3 or 5 Series but the vast majority of my driving is in the city and I rarely do over 20 miles per day. There are some great deals on diesel cars but should I avoid them due to DFP issues? I don't mind taking it for a blast down the motorway once in a while but does that work?"
The feedback we get from low-mileage diesel drivers is overwhelmingly negative. Lots of DPF and EGR problems, all caused by the fact the vehicle seldom reaches its optimum operating temperature. I would advise buying a petrol, hybrid or electric vehicle. A diesel isn't designed for the usage you have described.
Answered by Dan Powell

What does a BMW 3 Series (2012 – 2019) cost?