Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 84%

The BMW 3-series has established itself as the best seller in the compact executive class.

Brits love the badge – especially on this model. But would we fall under its spell? Auto Trader Web Editor Adrian Higgins drove the M Sport diesel saloon model to find out.

1. Looks 9/10

The 3-series was launched more than 30 years ago but the designers have managed to keep the original’s DNA while ensuring it has a contemporary look. Familiarity inevitably dulls the wow factor but despite its ubiquity on UK roads this is still a strikingly handsome car. It hits just the right balance between boring and over-fussy with well-thought lines giving it a real sense of movement. Instantly recognisable signature design features include the twin headlights, rear hockey-stick shaped light clusters and shark’s fin aerial. This fifth generation model was launched in 2005 and is 49mm longer, 6mm taller and 78mm wider than its predecessor.

2. Looks inside 9/10

Of course the 3-series interior has been 30 years in the making too. And it’s been time well spent. The M Sport model we drove featured a very cool black interior roof, quality leather upholstery (a £995 extra) and M Sport branding on the gear knob and steering wheel. The information display will be familiar to BMW fans with a single instrument binnacle housing the speedometer and rev counter. Simple and elegant, the whole interior exudes style in spades. I mean, even the cupholders are classy.

3. Practicality 9/10

Space for driver, passengers and possessions is good. Compared to the previous model there is 20 litres more boot space (creating a cavernous 460 litre capacity), 7mm more headroom for front seat occupants and 19mm more legroom for those in the back. We drove with five in the car and found it more than adequate while daily practical needs are met with storage including discreet cupholders both front and back.

4. Ride and Handling 8/10

This is a driver’s car and as such it boasts excellent handling. The M Sport version we drove was great fun, responding swiftly and really giving a great driver experience. The ride can be a little unforgiving though and we received a few complaints from rear seat passengers during the week-long loan.

5. Performance 8/10

When it comes to the 3-series, buyers have an enormous range to choose from with a comprehensive selection of petrol and diesel models to choose from. We drove the four cylinder, 163bhp 320d M Sport which can complete the journey from 0-62mph in just 8.3 seconds and can keep going until it tops out at 140mph. This is a very involving car to drive, though there is cruise control when you just want to let the car take the strain.

View our BMW 3-Series slide show

6. Running Costs 9/10

Another area where the 3-series performs fantastically well. A fun to drive car which can carry five in comfort but still returns nearly 50mpg on average ticks all our boxes. It is group 14 insurance, will hold its value, is unlikely to break down and costs £135 a year to tax. Not bad eh? Buyers can choose between three year/36,000 mile or five year/60,000 mile service options.

7. Reliability 8/10

The new generation was launched in March 2005 so hard to comment on its reliability just yet but BMW have a well-deserved reputation for producing reliable cars and are ranked eighth in our Reliability Index.

8. Safety 8/10

Driver aid Dynamic Stability Control will help you keep out of trouble, while six airbags will help you out if you don’t. Run-flat tyres will do exactly what they say on the tin to enable you to travel up to 150 miles at 50mph should your car suffer a puncture. The 3-series also benefits from BMW’s Active Steering which, in the event of understeer being detected, corrects the car. It achieved a full five star rating following its EuroNCAP crash test.

9. Equipment 8/10

Air conditioning, CD player, foglights, onboard control, keyless entry and Start/Stop button control all come as standard. The model we drove also features sports suspension, shortened gearshift, illuminated door handles , cruise control, rear parking sensors and superb sports seats.

10. X-Factor 8/10

Being a BMW 3-Series. It’s become the most popular car in its class and is, for many people, the vehicle they aspire to. It’s easy to see why with a package which involves great driving, performance, economy, safety and practicality.

Key facts

Model tested: BMW 320d M Sport Saloon
On the road price: £27,275
Price range: £20,465-£35,735
Tested: January 2007
Road tester: Adrian Higgins

Interested in this car?

Browse for used BMW 3 Series