The BMW 3 Series has ruled the compact part of the mid-sized executive segment for around half a century and, back in 2018, the company's hopes were high for this seventh generation ‘G20’-era version. It was smarter, slightly larger, more efficient and considerably high-tech. All the things you'd expect really. Something else you'd expect from this model is rear wheel drive handling purity. It doesn't disappoint in that regard either. Let’s check this car out as a used buy.

The History

Think of a really sharp handling relatively compact mid-sized sports saloon and it’s probable that you’re thinking of this car, BMW’s 3 Series. Over more than four decades, it’s dominated the segment it first invented and by 2018, upwards of 15 million of them had been sold. The Bavarian marque used to advertise every car it made as being ‘the ultimate driving machine’, but that hasn’t been a slogan appropriate to many of the SUV-inspired or electrified models the company’s brought us in more recent times. And it’s also been a difficult mantra to meet as the 3 Series has become larger and heavier over the last few years. With this seventh generation ‘G20’ model, it was time for a re-set. Back in 2018, we wondered whether this ‘G20’-series design would be good enough to provide it.

Actually in many respects, this was by 2018 one of the brand’s larger models. For years following its original launch in 1975, this ‘3’ was the entry point to BMW’s range, but since the 1 Series hatch slotted in below it back in 2004, the 3 Series had been on a growth spurt, gaining more in size in its fifth and sixth generations than the previous four combined. Hence the needed change in descriptive terminology from ‘compact’ to ‘mid-sized’ executive saloon, justified in this G20 version by a rear cabin that at last on a 3 Series, claimed to be able to offer decently class-competitive levels of passenger space. Wherever you’re sitting in this car, the Munich maker claims it’ll feel properly luxurious, something previously only possible on mainstream models if you’d spent a fortune on extra cost options. From launch, G20 3 Series buyers were also promised safety upgrades, transmission improvements and key media system updates.

It was the rejuvenated driving dynamics that many loyal BMW customers were keenest to put to the test. For the first time in a very long time, this promised to be a BMW that really would return the brand to the values it started out with. This ‘G20’-series seventh generation 3 Series was subtly updated in mid-2022, but it’s the earlier 2017-2021-era versions of it we look at here.

What You Get

So what have we here? A 3 Series certainly, but one that’s clearly evolved, both in style and size in both Saloon and Touring estate forms. This ‘G20’-series seventh generation design is 85mm longer and 16mm wider than its predecessor and features a nose section dominated by a larger and much more imposing take on this car’s familiar broad-framed kidney grille. Inside up front, for the first time in a 3 Series you’re guaranteed the feel of a proper luxury car, even in the lower echelons of the range, surrounded as you are by widescreen, chrome-garnished expensively elegant cabin architecture. In the rear, there’s certainly more room to stretch out than was the case with the previous ‘F30’-generation MK6 3 Series model, the distance between the front and rear seats extended by 11mm. And the boot? Well with a Saloon, there’s 480-litres of capacity, rising to around 500-litres with the Touring estate. You’ll get a little less than that with the PHEV powertrain.

What To Look For

Our owner survey revealed many satisfied users of this ‘G20’-era 3 Series model, but inevitably, there were a few issues reported. Quite a few owners have complained about an exhaust rattle when the car starts up from cold. Others have mentioned oil leaks from the rear differential – check for any spots of oil beneath the back wheels. Creaking sounds from the interior plastics came up as an issue; as did a rattling from around the sunroof. Others reported connectivity issues with the iDrive infotainment system, so check that out thoroughly. Some owners mentioned that the audio system bass turns off randomly, especially on models equipped with the optional harmon Kardon system upgrade. We’ve also come across reported problems with the Cross Traffic Alert safety system. Otherwise, it’s just the usual things. Insist on a fully stamped-up service record and check the alloys for scratches and scuffs.

On The Road

Much is familiar here; a front engine, rear wheel drive formula with near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution has defined the 3 Series to date and this seventh generation G20 model didn’t deviate too far from that script, But also much was different. The company’s xDrive 4WD system was more widely available across the line-up. And BMW’s engineers were given permission to add more of a sporting edge to this ‘G20’ design, being aided in that quest by this MK7 model line’s adoption of the aluminium-rich ‘cluster architecture’ platform which by 2018 was being used by the brand’s larger models. From this optimum starting point, the development team then added in a whole range of handling updates, with the most significant addition being the special so-called ‘lift-related’ dampers. These clever shock absorbers incorporate structures that provide extra damping at the extremes of wheel travel and were standard on all models, allowing quite a firm sporting set-up to be adopted, but also one able to deliver a fluent ride over tarmac imperfections.

Just prior to the 2022 facelift, BMW introduced its 48V mild hybrid (non-plug-in) technology on most of the petrol and diesel engines, but the efficiency benefits were fractional.


With this MK7 G20 3 Series, BMW returned to creating the kind of car it’s always been best at making. No other rival from this period serves up as deliciously rich a driving experience as this. Over the years, the 3 Series has changed a lot about the way we buy cars in this class, continually forcing its rivals to play catch up. This one was no different. As you were, people.