Buying Guide. This month we look at the current F30 320i and 328i models. As the current 3 Series begins to mature prices for used examples are dropping and it’s easy to forget the petrol models offer just as much as the diesels… Words: Simon Holmes. Photography: BMW.
For some readers it may seem like the current 3 Series has only been around for five minutes and in the grand scheme of all things BMW that’s not far from the truth. But the sixth generation of the Three actually arrived fresh-faced in early 2012, making the earliest cars some three years old now.
The all-new F30 picked up where the E90 left off but the sharper styling made an impact that brought the 3 Series right up-to-date. The front end was the biggest change, now looking far more stylish and modern with its long and low bonnet line, gaping air intakes and slender headlights that merged into the wide kidney grilles. The proportions elsewhere were improved thanks to graceful lines and pronounced wheel arches, joined by a sloping coupé-style roofline. Rear end styling seemed to have taken a notably safer approach but it was certainly a more modern improvement on the older and aged E90.
The slender lines may have made the F30 look longer, lower and wider but surprisingly that wasn’t actually the case. The new car was indeed 93mm longer than the E90 but it was also 8mm taller and 6mm narrower, though you would struggle to tell as the wheels were now positioned further out to increase the track by 37mm at the front and 47mm at the rear. The wheelbase was also extended 50mm in length, giving the car more interior space and, with it, comfort as there was 15mm more knee room at the back. Despite the sloping roofline rear headroom was also increased by 8mm and boot space increased 20-litres to a sizable 480-litre total.
But as we’ve come to expect with new models, despite the increased dimensions weight actually decreased when compared to the equivalent previous model. What made that all the more impressive was the fact the F30 was loaded up with an even higher specification than ever before. Standard equipment for all cars, except the ES models, included 17-inch alloys, PDC, two-zone air-con, a rain sensor and automatic headlights, Bluetooth, automatic air-con, iDrive with a 6.5-inch screen, keyless starting, a USB connection, a multi-function steering wheel and cruise control with automatic brake function. There were also plenty of cutting edge extras if you paid the premium such as Park Assist to effectively park the car for you, a Head- Up Display and full internet access.
The F30 was also more focused on efficiency, too, as all models featured Auto Start-Stop, Brake Energy Regeneration, an optimum gearshift indicator and Drive Performance Control, enabling the ability to switch between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. However, not everything was technically an improvement. The E90 LCI models were fitted with LED indicators whereas the F30 was not, although a smart guess would be that the LCI version of the Three will see LED lighting reintroduced. Elsewhere, it was also noted that the gas-strut boot hinges were replaced with somewhat obtrusive ‘gooseneck’ hinges.
The initial line-up was made up of two diesels and two petrol models, one of which was the 328i. However, it was not using the straight-six that the model designation used to denote, instead powered by a 1997cc in-line four-cylinder engine with BMW TwinPower turbo technology. Named the N20B20 it was a new and very advanced engine, featuring Vanos, Valvetronic, direct injection and a single, twinscroll turbocharger. This one engine would be fitted across the range in varying states of tune to cater for different models and right at the top was the 328i. In this guise it produced 245hp at 5000rpm with a torque figure of 258lb ft at 1250rpm. This translated to a 0-62mph time of just 5.9 seconds when connected to the manual gearbox. Top speed was 155mph and yet it still returned an average of 44.1mpg with 149g/km, which were slightly improved upon with the eight-speed automatic.
At the release it was announced three more engines were soon to follow, one of which was the F30 320i fitted with another, detuned variation of the same 2.0-lite N20 engine. This time it produced 184hp at 5000rpm and 199lb ft of torque at 1250rpm, which gave a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and a 146mph top speed, again with the manual ‘box. It’s notable that its performance was slightly quicker than the 320d model. The new petrol model also delivered 46.3mpg and 144g/km.
Prices began at £25,860 for the 320i and £29,060 for the 328i but for the first time there was no less than five levels of trim available to cover all tastes, preferences and budgets. It started with the conventional SE as the ES was not available on the petrol models. Then came the Sport, Modern and Luxury lines and added later in 2012 was the M Sport. Each offered a slightly different package when it came to looks, trims and finishes. The Sport cost £1000 more than the standard SE and featured unique alloys, a black chrome tailpipe finisher and gloss black air intakes in redesigned bumpers and the kidney grilles featured fewer slats. Inside there was red stitching on the sports seats, a leather sports steering wheel, red highlighting on the instrument needles and gloss black trim with red finishers. There was also Sport written on the sill trims. The Modern was also £1000 more than the SE and featured exclusive light alloys, redesigned bumpers and matt chrome finishers instead of the gloss black items fitted to the Sport. The seats were half leather and the interior finishers were two-tone Oyster coloured.
After that came the Luxury for another £1500 on top of the Sport and Modern. This came fitted with bright chrome finishers, exclusive 18-inch alloys, Dakota leather seats and anthracite wood trim with pearl chrome finishers.
Last of all came the M Sport, for £2300 more than the SE. It was fitted out with lowered and stiffened suspension, a unique aero kit and 18-inch M light alloys. The interior featured leather Sports seats, aluminim finishers and a shortened gearshift to accentuate the car’s sporty feeling.
In 2013 the xDrive was announced, although it was only available in selected models, one of which being the 320i at a premium of £1500. It came with either a manual or automatic gearbox option but the extra traction cost a little performance and economy. All models are currently still in production but as it approaches the three-and-a-half-year-old marker an LCI update will happen later this year. Expect sharper styling and a slightly improved specification but this may well be the prime time to buy one secondhand as the market begins to fill up with cars that have shed a majority of their deprecation already.
There’s no doubt that the equivalent diesel versions, particularly the 320d, are the more popular selections with buyers of both new and second-hand, but that’s no reason to disregard the petrol models. For a start, there are less engine problems to worry about and although the newer diesels seem a lot more reliable than before, so did the older versions at one time, whereas petrol models have always maintained a consistently good track record. Then there’s the price of diesel to take into consideration and unless you plan on doing plenty of miles on a regular basis then a diesel may not necessarily be the right choice for you. There’s also no longer such a large divide between the way they perform since the current petrol engines started using turbochargers.
It’s important to remember when looking at an F30 that these cars aren’t exactly pennies to buy and being a newer model they should have been looked after. However, the 3 Series has long been the favourite of sales reps and plenty have been put to use travelling up and down the country on a regular basis, notching up the miles. These cheaper high milers shouldn’t necessarily be avoided as they are usually well maintained but not always looked after so be vigilant in spotting a car that’s not been cared for as it should.
When it comes to finding a good model it’s certainly worth looking at a genuine Approved Used BMW. The prices are reasonable and you can usually barter a free BMW service or two plus they come with a fresh warranty for a year, which can be handy as the earliest cars will be running out of their original three-year plan by now. As it’s still early days for these cars it’s always worth considering an extended warranty, too, for some peace of mind as the F30 is essentially still an unknown quantity for any serious issues that it may develop as it grows older.
If you’re debating between the 320i and 328i then consider that both cost the same to tax at a modest £145, except for the 320i xDrive, which is £180. Also the 328i is a lot rarer and virtually impossible to find with a manual gearbox. It was a far less popular company car, so there aren’t really any higher milers for bargain money out there either. The performance on the road between the two definitely differs and if you’re concerned you won’t be happy with the 320i’s grunt then testdrive a 328i as well.
As for prices, we found a well spec’d 2012 320i SE with a massive 120,000 miles on it for under £11,000 and similar cars with less than 100,000 miles hover around the £13,500 mark. An SE with around 20,000 miles can be had for £16,000 and nearer £18,000 will get you a low mile xDrive SE. Approaching £20,000 will bag you a 2013 car with 15,000 miles or less in a choice of trim levels. Prices for a 328i start around £17,000 for a 2012 SE with less than 20,000 miles and tip over the £20,000 mark for a low mile M Sport car. Remember that as the F30 is due an LCI update later this year this will generally lower prices a little as buyers swap for the newer version.
Usually for a Buying Guide the first port of call would be to look for signs of rust but this is certainly not a problem with a three-year-old BMW and the F30 came with a 12-year corrosion warranty. If there is the slightest sign of rust or corrosion anywhere on the car then run a mile; it’s a sure-fire sign it’s had some bad repairs in the past. Be vigilant looking for signs of accident damage so inspect panel gaps and check for mismatched paint. Also look out for signs of a careless previous owner that’s paid the car little attention, as it can have a big effect. Smashed foglights, heavily stone chipped front ends and parking dents all indicate the car has led a hard life already. It’s also an indication of mileage, so make sure everything tallies as it should.
Lastly, BMW didn’t strictly call it a recall but there was a ‘quality enhancement’ carried out by the dealers for a majority of cars to change the water drain grommets in the bulkhead. It’s worth finding out if the car is eligible.
As you would hope, problems here are virtually non-existent and nothing is showing early signs of causing a repeated issue either. There was another BMW-issued ‘quality enhancement’ to be carried out by dealers, this time regarding corrosion around the battery terminal and surrounding area. This was addressed easily enough so check to see if it’s been done.
N20B20 BMW F30 engine 184-245bhp
Other than that, problems in the UK are yet to emerge, however, it’s worth knowing that in North America a recall has been issued following power assisted brake failures. This is actually caused by a restriction in the oil supply from the intake camshaft to the brake vacuum pump. There’s been no sign of the issue arising here or in Europe, at least so far.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
BMW appears to have improved the quality, or perhaps the design, of their larger alloy wheels as the previously common cracking issues from running over potholes seems to have been eradicated. Run-flat tyres are standard issue across the board and, again, there are no major issues with these.
The braking system shouldn’t cause you any concern either, aside from the recall which is covered in the ‘Engine’ section. However, it appears the F30 does like to go through rear brake pads quicker than you might think, with some owners reporting that their pads needed replacing with less than 15,000 miles on them. This does seem to depend on driving style, though, as the DSC system uses the back brakes.
Transmission and drivetrain
A majority of cars were selected with the eight-speed automatic that’s fitted across the entire BMW range. It’s a fantastic gearbox but there has been the odd report of a unit malfunctioning which requires a full replacement at the dealership. You will know if it has a serious problem as an error message will display on the dashboard. Whilst it’s certainly not a common occurrence be aware of any noticeable clunking in the lower gears, particularly on downshifts at low speed as this can be an early indication something is not right. It’s also usually worse in Sport mode where the shifts are more aggressive, so we’d recommend that you test the car in all modes. The manual gearbox is pretty bulletproof and should give no worries but there are some complaints about the amount of clutch travel. This is normal as it is particularly long on the F30, but clutch travel reducers/clutch stops can be bought to help.
Although you shouldn’t find it on the outside, believe it or not, there is an issue with rust on the inside of the car. Or, to be more specific, the front seat bases going rusty. Whether or not this is a large cause for concern is debatable it seems as it does appear to be only surface rust and for that reason BMW is not exactly forthcoming in its willingness to change them. If you kick up enough fuss with the dealer then these have been known to be replaced, usually with the galvanised versions, however expect a battle. If it does annoy you or you fear it could spread then it should at least be treated before it takes a stronger hold. Elsewhere there’s little to worry about aside from the odd build quality issue, so check all the trim and plastics fit together nicely and make sure the seat material is all tight and taught. Some early cars had issues with the leather becoming loose where it attached to the bottom of the seats but this is covered by warranty. Also check the door and window seals don’t squeal at speed, as this has been known to occur on occasions.
Steering and suspension
There’s one rather common issue here that appears to affect an uncomfortably large proportion of cars. It’s a light vibration or shimmy that can be felt through the steering wheel. It usually occurs around the 40-45mph mark, is worst around 50- 55mph and then completely disappears at the 60mph mark. It doesn’t shake the car itself, it’s only felt through the wheel alone and sometimes it’s as subtle as a light buzz you can only feel through your finger tips. Dealers seem to have problems tackling the issue and speaking to owners there are several theories as to why it occurs. Sometimes it can be as simple as wheels being out of balance or tyres wearing in, as it has been known to get better over time. But a more substantial and common cure for the issue seems to be taking the car for a full laser alignment checkup by a professional to ensure the toe settings are correct. If it’s even half a degree out then the Electric Power Steering system seems to accentuate the problem, creating the vibration. Other than that there shouldn’t be any serious problems to worry about. Occasional reports of a knocking from the front suspension have all been resolved with a trip to the dealer.
The current 3 Series is more advanced, dynamic and stylish than ever before so it’s no surprise that it’s popular. This bodes well for second-hand buyers as the market is full of cars which in-turn brings the price down to decent levels for a three-yearold car. The diesel models are the obvious choice but the current range of petrol engines should not be disregarded. The introduction of turbo technology means they perform better than you will expect and deliver efficiency to rival a diesel for most day-to-day driving. Plus they seem bulletproof but then the F30 as a whole seems exempt from many serious issues, at least at present. With prices the way they are and the package you get in return it’s a car certainly worth considering if you’re looking for something fresher to replace your E90 with.