BMW 3-Series vs 5-Series: which should you buy?

BMW 3-Series vs 5-Series: which should you buy?

Both BMW's compact and its mid-size executive cars are among the best in respective classes, but which is the better buy - the 3-Series or the 5-Series?

The 3-Series and 5-Series are both bywords for executive success – smart, Germanic saloons that excel at what they do, and are perennially popular as a result.

But does the smart money go on the smaller 3, or the bigger 5? Well, it largely depends what you’re after…

Styling

Both of these cars are strong lookers, but it’s the 5-Series that’s the most modern. The 3-Series had a mid-life facelift last year with improved tech and interior styling, and it’s still a handsome beast, but the main exterior shape is now over five years old. Don’t let that put you off, though – it’s both familiar and beautifully finished.

The 5-Series is much newer, and is equally handsome, although the larger lines aren’t quite as delicate as those of the 3.

There are similarities in the two cars’ profiles, though. Since the 1970s, BMW has gone for very much a ‘Russian Doll’ look across its range, with similar-looking cars of varying sizes. It’s a tradition that continues to this day.

Model range

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Both of these cars are built to appeal to a broad mix of customers, from fleet-focused drivers who need tax and fuel efficiency to those who are buying an all-out performance car with their own money, which is where the wonderful M3 and M5 models come in.

Of the two, it’s the 3-Series that’s the most diverse – as well as a saloon, it comes as a Touring estate, and lends its platform and many of its components to the 4-Series Coupe and Cabriolet. There’s also a 5-door ‘GT’ variant, which used to be offered on the 5-Series, but not since the previous generation car was withdrawn.

For eco-minded motorists, there’s also the 330e plug-in hybrid model.

The 5 is offered with a smaller range of engines, though the 530e is also a plug-in hybrid. The Touring estate is especially handsome, and also practical.

M Sport models on both the 3 and the 5-Series are designed to offer sensible running costs coupled to M-inspired styling and are unsurprisingly amongst the most popular models in each range.

On the road

The two cars are both extremely driver-focused, even in the less sporting trim levels. Of the two, though, it’s the 3 that’s the ore engaging driver’s car, certainly within the more mainstream end of the range. The steering its terrific and the handling reassuring, especially with optional xDrive four-wheel-drive.

The 5-Series is softer and has a more supple ride, but don’t mistake that as a suggestion that it’s not a great driver’s car. It is – it just feels bulkier and wider. Performance models of the 5 are actually more rewarding than those of the 3-Series, as the wider chassis can cope with more power.

Irrespectively, both are BMWs and the brand has never made a car that’s bad to drive – the same stands true of today’s 3 and 5-Series, whichever engine or trim level you choose.

Value for money

BMWs aren’t cheap, but you pay for good quality, and in fairness the current model range is no worse value than any other German brand, and if you choose the right trim level there are some appealing and relatively affordable options, especially if you take advantage of retail-focused models such as the M-Sport. For these, there are often some very affordable PCP deals on the table.

The 3-Series is the older car, though, and in order to keep it competitive, BMW has upped the spec levels in the latest models, which in turn make it the better value for money.

Verdict

Put simply, you pay your money and you take your choice. Neither of these cars will disappoint, as both are great to drive and will hold their value well. They’re also handsome, desirable and well-equipped.

At a push, the newer and bigger 5-Series edges it in the desirability stakes – but there’s a very good reason, too, why the 3-Series is a regular in the UK’s top 10 bestseller charts…

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