The top seven bestselling cars in the UK may all be affordable models from brands including Ford, Vauxhall and Nissan, but the car in eighth position is very much an upmarket machine. With a BMW badge on its nose, power being sent to the rear wheels – in true BMW style – and a plush interior in between, the premium BMW 3 Series is a surprise bestseller.
However, though prices may be higher than rivals from Ford and Vauxhall, the 3 Series does warrant its price tag, with a range of powerful but efficient motors on offer, a comfortable cabin and sharp handling around corners. You may not get that much standard equipment for your money with a 3 Series, but you won’t feel short changed with one of these on the drive.
The smart choice for those on a budget: 316i SE – £25,105
Though the 316i petrol is the entry-level 3 Series, with prices starting at £24,255, you still get a car which embodies BMW’s top traits – strong performance and fuel economy, impressive roadholding and lots of feel good factor. We’d steer clear of the basic 316i ES though, as this feels Spartan compared to the 316i SE, which carries a reasonable £850 premium.
The four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet whisks the 316i to 62mph in a brisk 8.9 seconds while fuel economy is also good with a claimed combined figure of 47.9mpg. You may think a diesel engine is a wiser option in a car the size of the 3 Series, however, you’d have to stump up an additional £2,020 for an equivalent 316d, which offers much weaker acceleration. Up the budget to a similarly nippy 318d and you’d need to find £3,270 more than the 316i would set you back – meaning that you’d have to cover many tens of thousands of miles every year to ever regain the price premium in lower fuel bills.
The smart choice for value for money: 320d SE – £29,475
If you have a little more money to spend, the 320d is a very wise buy, thanks to its impressive acceleration and fuel economy. There is no economy penalty over the lesser diesels – with all returning an official figure of 62.8mpg – though this model can still sprint to 62mph in a rapid 7.5 seconds. Meanwhile car tax weighs in at a meagre £30 per year.
Standard kit matches the 316i SE above. Consequently, the car includes dual-zone air conditioning, rear parking sensors, cruise control, Bluetooth and handy rear parking sensors. Also included is a digital radio along with sat nav, automatic windscreen wipers and headlights plus 17-inch alloy wheels.
The smart choice for technophiles: 330d xDrive Luxury – £38,805
Technophiles after more toys – and with deeper pockets – will want to consider the 330d xDrive Luxury. With a smooth six-cylinder motor, xDrive four-wheel drive – which should make this BMW much more capable than other 3 Series models in snow – and plush Luxury trim, this sophisticated car is packed with kit.
In addition to the standard equipment on the SE models above, this 330d gains an eight-speed automatic gearbox (which normally costs around £2,000), metallic paint (an option costing £645 on more affordable models), front parking sensors, leather upholstery and striking 18-inch alloy wheels. More impressive than all of this, though, is this car’s acceleration and fuel-sipping economy. Thanks to its four-wheel drive system, the 330d xDrive rockets to 62mph in just 5.3 seconds, though it still returns fuel economy of 54.3mpg and identical CO2 emissions to the 316i petrol above – warranting annual car tax of £130 per year.