The BMW 3 Series Coupe is stylish, recently updated and has an unrivalled blend of performance and economy

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It’s hard to think how BMW could fail with a car like the 3 Series coupé. You take perhaps the world’s finest four-door executive saloon, take away the rear doors, give it a sleeker body and cherry pick the best of an already impressive engine range and create perhaps the most desirable coupe package out there.

There are those who would argue that the 3 Series coupe is the 3 Series. The car started life as the two-door E21 back in 1975, and has been a stalwart of the world’s most recognizable car range ever since.

The bar has been raised for coupes like this. The 3 Series steps up

This latest, fifth-generation E92 3Series coupe changes the formula from previous 3 Series coupes. Whereas its predecessors have usually only had the styling changed at the rear to reflect the different bodystyle, the E92 gets its own distinctive bodywork, and therefore greater visual differentiation from the saloon and Touring.

These changes were supposed to bring with them a new name for the E90 3 Series coupe and its cabriolet sibling: 4 Series, in the same way BMW gave the 5 Series coupe the 6 Series badge.

But BMW’s marketing men have decided to stick with the 3 Series name, which in turn means the sledgehammer BMW M3 model that crowns the range (and gets a V8 for the first time) kept the M3 name rather than a switch to M4.

While the step change hasn’t brought a new name, it has brought more premium pricing to reflect the 3 Series coupe’s new-found sophistication. And in a market place that’s more crowded than ever – chiefly with the Mercedes C-Class coupe and Audi A5 – can BMW back this up with the kind of quality 3 Series-badged product we’ve come to expect?

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BMW 3 Series xenon lights

To say the BMW 3 Series coupe’s styling is understated is, well, an understatement – despite the fact that this is the most divergent 3 Series coupé yet, sharing just three body parts with the E90 saloon it is loosely based on.

It is another BMW from the Chris Bangle era that’s incapable of doing itself justice on the page, and is therefore immeasurably sleeker in the raw.

The coupe is sleek and low. We love it's looks

Find an E92 coupe looming large in your mirror and you’ll differentiate it from the E90 saloon by its lower front lights (possible because of standard-fit dual xenons), aggressively flared wheelarches and mesh-filled grille.

And as it effortlessly wafts past, you’ll be looking at a broader, sleeker, less bland-looking rear. This rear view of the E92 coupe makes the E90 saloon appear fussy and ugly, but then that’s not saying much. From most angles, it looks like a different model altogether.

Does it possess the presence a coupé should? Perhaps not. Is it more attractive than the E90 saloon? Immeasurably so. Unmistakably a BMW, its classy shape and elegant proportions looks so much better in the metal than in pictures, which don’t do justice to the discreet crease lines.

Although the body may have been all-new over the E90 saloon, the E92 retains the same basic underpinnings. So there’s MacPherson struts up front and multi-link at the rear for the suspension.

The saloon and coupe share the same 2760mm wheelbase. The coupe has a slightly narrower rear track than the saloon (1510mm versus 1535mm) and the front track is also narrower (1500mm versus 1505mm).

The rest of the car highlights how much progress BMW has made with the coupé - rear access is decent and there's room in the back for two adults.


BMW 3 Series Coupé boot space

Inside, the experience is more familiar than outside, the coupé changing little from other 3 Series variants. BMW fit different door linings and sculptured individual bucket rear seats, but you’re more likely to notice the new robotic arms that offer forward the front passenger seatbelts.

It’s hardly ground-breaking technology (Mercedes has had a similar system on its coupés for years) but the execution is perfect and the integration seamless.

Boot capacity is a useful 430 litres

With a broad transmission tunnel, rear-seat accommodation is strictly for two, but nevertheless this represents the most usable 3 Series coupé yet. The rear seats are adequate for most adults, and with memory front seats access isn’t difficult.

Likewise, luggage space increases by 20 litres over the previous model, and can swallow two full-size golf bags with ease.

Cabin materials are of good quality and it’s as well bolted together as an Audi A5 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. We are disappointed that the driver-centric cabins of old have now been abandoned by BMW though, particularly in the more driver-focused coupe.

Seat comfort is difficult to fault. Obviously the chassis engineers saw some ride quality potential in the seat base by making it softer, and at times you can find yourself bobbing vertically in the seat when the car itself is barely moving. This could become slightly nausea-provoking on longer trips.

But minor grievances aside, it’s business as usual for the 3 Series coupé: upmarket, practical and desirable.


BMW 3 Series Coupé engine bay

An extensive variety of BMW petrol and diesel engines is on offer in the 3 Series coupe. On the petrol side, there’s a 141bhp 2.0-litre for the base 318i, a 168bhp 2.0 four-pot for the 320i and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder units with 168bhp and 215bhp in the 325i and 330i respectively.

The petrol range is crowned by the 335i, which gets a 302bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit notable for being the first petrol engine in BMW’s modern era to use turbocharging.

The 335i and 335d offer all the firepower you’d ever need

The 335i is a car not to underestimate: 5.3sec to 60mph and a scarcely believable 12.8sec to 100mph. For some perspective, the E46 M3 was just a second quicker to three figures.

The 325i feels far more like a tourer than a sports coupé. It's an accomplished, refined cruiser, but its relatively low torque figure (199lb ft) means that while in-gear acceleration is decent enough, it never seems rapid.

The 330i is, as you’d perhaps expect, the compromise between the 325i and 335i, boasting more usable torque (236lb ft) than the 325i, but not quite the performance levels of the turbocharged 335i.

The four-cylinder 318i feels dated and offers anemic performance, although the 320i fares better, being just about brisk enough for drivers who occasionally require a glug of performance. 

Diesel 3 Series coupes include a four-cylinder 2.0-litre unit with 181bhp in the base 320d, and 3.0-litre six-cylinder units with 201bhp in the 325d, 241bhp in the 330d and 282bhp in the 335d.

The 335d simply demolishes any acceleration interval below three figures – and doesn’t let up much thereafter. It’ll rev in a very undiesel-like way – a pleasant attribute, but not particularly relevant.

The performance is slightly more muted in the 325d and 330d, but not by much in the latter. The 330d features an astonishingly capable engine – and it’s quiet and economical, too. At idle, it has a muted rumble, which at cruising speeds is inaudible, and at high revs not intrusive.


BMW 3 Series Coupé cornering

The coupé inherits the same chassis merits and foibles as other BMW E90 3 Series variants, chiefly excellent body control and an enjoyable degree of throttle adjustability but a fidgety ride on its run-flat tyres.

But the new F30 3 Series range is now here, thus the age of the E90-derived 3 Series models like the coupe that are still on sale is beginning to shine through. Chief problems the coupe suffers from include wind noise around the pillars and the overly heavy controls.

The rear-drive 3 Series has a neutral balance

The 335i and 335d coupés get sports suspension as standard, further sharpening body control at the expense of a firmer urban ride. Which, along with an annoyingly short first gear and heavy steering, makes city work the 335i’s least favourable habitat.

Despite BMW stiffening the chassis as much as possible without rendering it uncomfortable, such is the 335i’s punch that at times a 10 percent stiffer set-up wouldn’t go amiss.

High-speed direction changes are best anticipated, the resultant body roll pre-empted and settled before committing the 3 Series coupe to a series of bends. Equally, driven with gusto, the trick self-drying, soft-stop brakes wilt quickly with repeated use from high speeds, and the steering, although accurate, is a touch wooden, not quite transmitting the subtleties you crave.

The steering is heavy but direct, although the active rack is best avoided as it’s devoid of any realistic feel and doesn’t belong on a car whose chassis is otherwise so well developed.

The new, smoother-reacting, dampers fitted as part of a series of mid-life revisions are generally impressive, though they can be caught out on more broken surface, resulting in jerky vertical reactions.


 BMW 3 Series Coupé

A BMW 3 Series coupe can be had for as little as £27,000 for the base 318i model. For comparison, the base 168bhp Audi A5 1.8 TFSI costs around £26,500 and Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level 154bhp C180 C-Class coupe can be had from a shade over £30,000.

While the BMW 318i coupe may look like good value next to its premium German rivals, both the A5 and the C-Class coupe offer significantly better performance and come better equipped as standard. Both cars are also much newer than the 3 Series coupe, which does however mean deals should be able to be had on the 3 Series.

Low-price, high-spec models are around if you look

Plenty of special edition versions of the 3 Series coupe are also appearing. These ‘run-out specials’ are generally very well equipped, and are where the real savings on a well-specced 3 Series coupes are to be had.

The range-topping 335i and 335d models provide the real intrigue and variety in the 3 Series coupe’s range, though.

Impressively economical (BMW claims 42.8mpg on the combined cycle, and even with the most lead-footed approach we couldn’t get below 30mpg), monumentally strong and suitably sophisticated, the 335d coupé is a dead-cert contender for title of All The Car You’ll Ever Need.

Likewise, the 335i’s inherent refinement and the instant and seemingly bottomless urge available, and the 335i makes a classic long-distance machine, covering over 400 miles between fills thanks to a realistic combined consumption of 33.6mpg. 


 4 star BMW 3 Series Coupe

There’s no denying the BMW 3 Series coupe is a very polished product. It looks great inside and out, and offers the blend of performance and economy in its engine range that its rivals can only dream of.

But generally, what the BMW 3 Series coupe delivers in easy performance and relative frugality it loses in the chassis' slightly wooden reactions. It’s a car that can no longer hide its age given how the new F30 3 Series saloon has come along and redefined what is possible from a 3 Series of any bodystyle.

All the firepower you’d ever need. A deeply satisfying package

That’s not to say the 3 Series coupe is to be overlooked, far from it; there are some real gems in its range.

We suspected the range-topping 335i would be good, but we weren’t expecting BMW’s first modern turbo petrol engine to be quite such a masterstroke – so multi-talented, so effortless, so sensationally quick.

Wrapped in a discreet, graceful and yet practical coupé body, you’re faced with car so deeply satisfying that it makes the £37,000 asking price seem good value.

Likewise the 335d; it boasts nearly the same levels of performance as the 335i, just with more impressive economy figures.

So despite its dynamic shortcomings, the 3 Series coupe remains wholly fit for purpose and a brilliantly conceived product. Its many owners are unlikely to disagree with that sentiment. 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

BMW 3 Series Coupe 2006-2013 First drives