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The big test

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A new 3-Series is about as big as it gets in terms of desirable company cars, but can it maintain the class-leading position of its predecessors?

BMW 3-Series - 2019 - Image 37

On the road

On the road

The new BMW 3-Series is as big a deal as anything that will launch in to the company car sector this year. It’s long been the attainable aspirational car, the sign that ambitious executives have reached a certain height on the career ladder.

It’s also been long-lauded for its driver appeal, with the rear-drive layout and chassis set-up orientated towards fine handling, added to which there has always been a great selection of engines.

BMW’s task with the new model was to keep all the good bits and make steps forward in areas crucial to the modern business world. The key targets for the new 3-Series’ development were to maintain and improve that sporty drive, bring on new innovation and focus on the car’s design.

Test notes

1. Although SUV sales are climbing all the time, the 3-Series is still more important. BMW says it will sell three of them for every X3 SUV it sells in the UK.

2. It’s a sign of how far things have come that the first-generation M3 performance car shares its 6.8-second 0-62mph time with the new 320d. 

3. The M Sport trim level will take a high share of sales, with 65-70% of customers picking the top  spec, and SE and Sport equally splitting the rest.

The new car has launched with five engines, although more will be added as we move through 2019, and the 320d, the company car meat and drink for many years, will be the key one for the corporate market. Sitting in the middle of the three diesel options, the 190hp 2.0-litre engine comes with a low of 110g/km in SE trim, or 112g/km on larger wheels. The CO2 figure rises by another 5g/km for the manual gearbox that is still offered on this 320d, and on the 150hp 318d that is only a fraction better on emissions. Given there’s no worthwhile efficiency saving, the £1300 price step to the more powerful version is probably a sensible move. The top diesel, the 265hp 330d, is almost £3000 more than the 320d, and is a lovely, strong powertrain for those with the money to afford the extra price and the tax hit also involved with the 133-138g/km model.

The 320d is also the only model currently offered with the xDrive four-wheel-drive system. It adds £1500 and 8g/km, but is growing in popularity among buyers, and the 320i and 330d engines will get xDrive versions in the third quarter of 2019. That 320i is one of two petrol engines currently offered, along with the 330i.

The all-new BMW 3-Series - 2019

BMW continues to be a standard setter in the UK company car market and the new 3-Series is one of the hottest new cars of 2019. The new car has made improvements in the key areas without losing the driver and badge appeal that put it at the top of the class.

Posted by Company Car Today on Wednesday, 2 October 2019

BMW has kept the trim levels simple, running from SE to Sport and M Sport, with the entry model getting a notable spec upgrade to include the likes of a reversing camera, three-zone climate control, folding door mirrors, ambient lighting and 8.8-inch touchscreen as standard, as well as lane-departure and front-collision warnings. Sport takes the alloys up an inch to 18-inch, as well as adding heated sports leather seats and a larger fuel tank that goes from 40 litres to 59, all for a £1400 upgrade, while the further reasonable £1500 step to M Sport adds the 10.3-inch touchscreen with intelligent personal assistant system, as well as sports suspension and the attractive M Sport bodykit.

From a design perspective, there’s no doubting that this is a 3-Series, although round the rear in particular there is a faint hint of Lexus IS, particularly with the tail lights. The nose takes on a larger, bolder grille that, while not as in-your-face as that of the facelifted 7-Series or new X7, still dominates the nose more than previously, and the black colouring makes it stand out more, like it or not.

On the inside, the slight lifts in quality put the new BMW where it needs to be, and the M Sport gets the larger 10.3-inch infotainment screen that is accompanied by the Intelligent Personal Assistant system that has the ability to learn driver preferences, behaviour and even individual voice nuances. The ‘Hey BMW’ voice activation command can be changed to anything the driver wants – within taste and decency limits – and can control functions including the radio station, climate control temperature, phone calls, navigation destinations and even colour of the ambient interior lighting.

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The 3-Series has evolved over seven generations since the first car was launched in 1975, and has come to define the segment in which it competes.

BMW’s biggest-selling car globally, the 3-Series has grown by more than 35cm since the first two-door model was launched.

The first six-cylinder 3-Series arrived in 1977, and helped propel the model past one million sales by 1981. It was the following year that the second-generation car arrived, with the range expanding to include the first four-door saloon in late 1983. This model also greeted convertible and estate models for the first time, and the 3-Series’ first diesel.

In 1990, the Mk3 car was launched, spawning the Compact in ’94 and the first 3-Series Coupe in ’95.

The fourth-generation car of 1998 was a turning point for  UK fleets, with the first company car favourite 320d being launched, then with 134hp and 49.6mpg. It became the 3-Series’ biggest-seller in 2003.

Come 2005, the fifth-generation car featured Efficient Dynamics tech, then the Mk6 followed in 2012, and was the first four-wheel-drive 3-Series in the UK.

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - In Context - Evolution of the BMW 3-Series Image

What they said

What They Said

“The BMW 3-Series is the most complete and capable car for fleets in the premium mid-size segment. At the heart of the seventh-generation model are innovative connectivity features that have been designed with our business customers in mind, including BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant and Microsoft Office 365 integration."

"The 3-Series once again raises the bar for unparalleled handling characteristics yet at the same time remains highly competitive for company car drivers with BIK rates from 30% on the 320d.”

Rob East, general manager, corporate sales, BMW Group UK

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019  - What They Say - Rob East, general manager, corporate sales, BMW Group UK

Comparatively speaking

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - Comparatively Speaking Chart

Need to know

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - Need to Know Chart


Three things we like...

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - Three things we like - The rear has the most obvious styling change, and it works well

The rear has the most obvious styling change, and it works well

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - Three things we like - It’s a neat touch that the car on the dash is colour-coded

It’s a neat touch that the car on the dash is colour-coded

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - Three things we like - Folding mirrors are standard on all trims, a move that is not before time

Folding mirrors are standard on all trims, a move that is not before time

...And one we don't

The Big Test - BMW 3-Series - 2019 - And one thing we don't - The bold black kidney grille is larger than before, and maybe a bit too in-your-face

The bold black kidney grille is larger than before, and maybe a bit too in-your-face



Drive  9/10

The 3-Series is still the king of the fine-handling compact executive saloons, it’s a relief to report. 

Efficiency  9/10

The 320d trumps ail its major rivals for CO2 emissions, which also means lower BIK bills.

Practicality  8/10

Rear seat area is larger than before, although still not as roomy as bigger rivals’. Boot space matches that of the Audi A4.

Equipment  8/10

Improved equipment on the entry car in particular is welcome, and there are very sensible walk-up prices, while options aren’t too costly, especially the packages.

Looks  8/10

The rear is more shapely, but the nose is only subtly changed, and not completely for the better.

Comfort and refinement 8/10

Better aerodynamics and improved glazing both help the refinement levels, and the 3-Series rides well enough for a more sporting saloon.

Cabin  8/10

Nice quality, logical design and a decent spread of stowage options, plus handy pre-set buttons that can also control navigation destinations and phone contacts.

Infotainment  9/10

The rotary control is maybe a touch too sensitive, but the infotainment system has been well developed and integrates clever functionality.

Whole life costs  9/10

Excellent residual values and SMR costs help turn a competitive price into running costs and driver benefit-in-kind payments that better its main rivals’.

CCT opinion  9/10

It’s not a dramatic improvement, but that wasn’t required because the old car was still up with the class best even as it got to the end of its life.


The 3-Series makes improvements in the key areas that were required without losing the driver and badge appeal that put it at the top of the class.