But, even if you spend more time on the motorway than interesting B-roads, it makes for a fine way to get about. The diesel versions are exceptionally economical, all of them are smooth and civilised, and the interior – while not the most spacious – is of high quality. It’s worth test-driving as close a model as possible to the one you’re considering, though, as wheel sizes and suspension set-ups have a large effect on how comfortable the 3 Series is. Some will find it too firm over bad surfaces for their liking.
You couldn’t mistake the 3 Series for anything but a BMW and, while its front end – with a large radiator grille and characteristic BMW lights – is very similar to those of the company’s larger saloons, the 3 Series gets a unique look at the back. LED lights are standard at both ends of the car, and all versions of the 3 Series also get exhaust outlets at both sides of the rear bumper to emphasise the car’s sportiness.
The top-ranking M Sport version gets further visual aggression, helping make it the most popular trim level. In comparison, the entry-level SE car is restrained looking, while the mid-range Sport trim makes for a good compromise.
The headlights and tail-lights are also new, along with updated alloy wheels. Interior changes include a new steering wheel and instrument cluster, refreshed two-tone upholstery, and 7.0-inch and 8.0-inch infotainment system options.
Even in its most basic form, the interior of the BMW 3 Series is very high quality, with tactile materials and slick switches used throughout. There are several interior trim options to allow you customise the appearance of the cabin, but for the most part, the theme is dark, with modern silver accents brightening it all up. A large centrally-mounted touchscreen is very quick to react, and is complemented (depending on options and trim level) by a swish digitally-rendered dashboard that changes appearance depending on the driving mode you have selected. The driving position is quite low down, but comes with a lot of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel. The seats are wonderfully supportive, too, and leather upholstery is standard on most versions.
The BMW 3 Series is a rear-wheel drive car by default, which means it needs a raised transmission tunnel down the centre of the car. This robs whoever has to sit in the middle of the three rear seats of some foot space, although the seats either side get plenty of foot room. In terms of headroom and legroom, the 3 Series is not significantly better or worse than its direct competitors from Audi and Mercedes – which mean ample space for tall adults – though many cars from mass-market brands provide a lot more rear space; the Skoda Superb for example.
Likewise, the boot of the 3 Series is on the same level as its premium rivals, but not the wider market. Thankfully, split-folding rear seats are standard should you need to carry larger items.
Up front, there’s lots of storage room, including a large bin under the middle armrest, two cupholders, a space in front of the gear lever and a decent glovebox.
The way the 3 Series behaves on the road depends largely on the specification of the car. Even with the most forgiving of the various suspension setups fitted, the car has a very sporty character: it’s grippy, controlled and keen to change direction, and the crisp steering also helps makes it really enjoyable to drive on a twisty road, more so than most of its rivals. Be aware, though, that even with the most forgiving setup, it’s still not all that forgiving: bumps and potholes aren’t ridden with as much slickness as some buyers might like.
Bear in mind, too, that the behaviour of the 3 Series is quite sensitive to the size of the alloy wheel fitted, and the bigger your rims, the less comfortable your car will be. Those in search of comfort would also be wise to resist the M Sport version, as it comes as standard with lower, firmer M Sport suspension that unsettles things further.
That said, M Sport buyers can opt to upgrade to an adaptive suspension, which allows you choose – via the various driving modes – how comfortable or sporty the car is to drive, but we haven’t had a chance to try it yet. The range-topping M340i has four-wheel drive as standard, while buyers of the 320d can also add four-wheel drive as an option to aid traction in poor weather conditions.