If you're looking for a car that makes a bit of a statement, is fun to drive, comfortable and won't break the bank then the BMW 3-Series is well worth considering. If you choose to buy a new one then your main challenge will be to decide exactly what specification you would like from the huge range of possible combinations of style, trim, colour, engine size and fuel, wheels and so-on. You could find an excellent nearly-new or older used car for a fraction of the cost of a new one but there are a few things to look out for if you do. Here's our handy guide to finding the car that suits you best.
The 3-Series is one of BMW's most popular and longest-lived models. Best described as a ‘compact executive' car, it was first launched in 1975 and since then it has gone through a few makeovers: in fact, it is now in its sixth generation and along the way, has picked up a string of awards. So you will need to strike a balance between your budget and the age and specification of the car you go for but we'd suggest looking for one towards the end of the fifth generation (2005 – 2011) or ideally from the current series launched in 2012 – say up to three years old. The latest models are very well equipped, spacious and economical. Of course it's not just about age: given its popularity as a fleet car some may have racked up quite high mileages over a relatively short period of time. A three-year old car with say 30,000 miles on the ‘clock' would be a very good compromise – but having said that, BMW's engines have a reputation for longevity and reliability. If you're not likely to clock up high mileages then you would be safe opting for one with a much higher odometer reading but you will need to ensure it has a full service history and run a full history check to give you peace of mind.
The last two generations of BMW 3-series offer a wide range of options with both petrol and diesel versions. The present generation is offered in saloon, estate ('Touring') and GT versions, and with no fewer than eight specifications from SE to the very quick M Sport. A relatively recent addition includes four-wheel drive versions. The 320d is the most commonly found on the used market, and has a great mix of performance, reduced emissions, and value for money – so is likely to suit drivers who do a lot of motorway miles when diesels perform at their best. For a low-mileage 320d that's three years old or so, you can expect to pay around £12,000. For a nearly new model (less than two years old), you can expect to knock about £10,000 off the list price. If you prefer a petrol car then you could pick up a very nice 2009 320i Touring Automatic with around 22,000 miles on the clock for less than £13,000.
Things to Look Out For
As with any used car, you'll need to check the car's history, ensure that its MoT is current and closely examine the body for blemishes and that its condition reflects the mileage it has covered. But there are also a couple of things to watch out for that are specific to the 3-Series. There have been reports of interior trim working its way loose over time, so listen out for any rattling on the test drive – particularly with older models. BMW originally offered run-flat tyres as standard on the 3-Series, but these were very expensive to replace so some owners have had standard tyres fitted instead – so make sure you know which are currently fitted. And as always, check the service history. A significant number of 3-Series were bought and used as fleet cars, which is not necessarily a bad thing as they will have been well maintained and any problems sorted out quickly.