Buyers Guide BMW F30 / F31 3 Series
When it was launched ten years ago the F30 was the most advanced 3 Series ever made, today it represents an excellent used buy… Words: Words: Bob Harper Photography: BMW.
Ultimate Guide: BMW F30 / F31 3 Series
It’s 10-years since the F30 generation 3 Series arrived in our lives. We delve deep into the model to reveal everything there is to know…
It seems barely possible that the F30 generation of 3 Series is celebrating its first decade this year, but it’s almost ten years to the day since the sixth version of the iconic executive saloon first saw the light of day when it was revealed at the Munich plant back in 2011. The arrival of a new 3 Series is always an important time for BMW and helps define how the entire BMW range is viewed by both the press and the buying public. When the F30 was launched the 3 Series saloon accounted for one fifth of all BMWs sold so it was a model that BMW really couldn’t afford to get wrong.
As you’d expect there was quite the fanfare to accompany the launch of the new car and BMW had plenty to shout about, claiming “The new BMW 3 Series Saloon is a car of contradictions: larger and more spacious than the model it replaces, but lighter; quicker in many cases, but more fuel-efficient; and more nimble and agile while even safer. There have been big steps forward in style, quality, comfort and specification for only a minimal price increase.” There were a number of firsts for the 3 Series too, with an engine line-up that was exclusively turbocharged, electro-mechanical power steering across the board as well as an eight-speed automatic gearbox option and previously unavailable options such as a head-up display being offered to customers to for the first time.
It was great when it was new and is still a brilliant used buy with a large number of examples to choose from with a variety of differing engines and trim levels there’s more or less an F30 3 Series to suit every driver whether you’re looking for the ultimate in economy or feel the need for speed.
What goes wrong?
Generally speaking the F30 generation is so far proving to be a pretty reliable machine but there are always exceptions to the rule so give potential purchases a thorough check over, especially when it comes to the various gadgets and gizmos. Look for a cast iron service history and ignore any examples that look to have had stretched oil change intervals.
Unless you have your heart set on an unusual colour combination with some specific options you should have plenty of choice when buying an F30 so if you’re unsure about any potential purchase it’s best to walk away and find one that’s perfect.
The F30 was first revealed in October 2011, made its motor show debut in Detroit in January 2012 and went on sale in February that year in just about all the world’s major markets. While BMW generally experiments with its design language with less mainstream models it usually plays it fairly safe with the 3 Series and that was certainly true of the F30. It was neatly styled – nothing too outlandish for this vital sector of the market – and was instantly recognisable as a BMW and as a 3 Series.
What was most obvious was that the F30 had grown considerably, with the latest machine being 93mm longer than the outgoing car and with 50mm of that extra length going into the wheelbase it came as no surprise that the F30 offered more spacious accommodation than before, particularly for rear seat passengers. The new car also featured a stiffer body and an all-new chassis with widened front and rear track (37 and 47mm respectively) in the quest for even better driving dynamics but also to move even the smaller wheels to the edges of the wheel arches for improved aesthetics. The boot was bigger too – up 20-litres to 480 – but even though the Three had increased in size BMW reckoned it weighed either the same or up to 50kg less than the old car depending on options and specification.
It was perhaps inside that the greatest steps forward were made for the F30 with a much more upmarket feel than previous generation. The increased rear accommodation made it feel more spacious than BMW’s figures might have suggested as 15mm more knee room and 8mm of additional headroom might not sound much, but it definitely felt better than before. The dash layout and design seemed to have taken their design cues from the contemporary 5 and 6 Series and with a slight angle towards the driver it felt sporty enough, too. All models featured a 6.5-inch monitor sitting on top of the dash and if Professional navigation was specified the screen grew to 10-inches. The quality of trim was a step up on the previous E90 generation, too.
When the F30 was launched the entire 3 Series Saloon line-up featured turbocharged power units and comprised of one six-cylinder and three four-cylinder engines – 320d, 320d EfficientDynamics, 328i and 335i and these were closely followed by the 316d, 318d and 320i in March 2012.
All the four diesels used the same 1995cc engine, but in different states of tune, with power outputs ranging from 116hp to 184hp. The 320d EfficientDynamics was particularly noteworthy, offering 163hp, 280lb ft of torque, an 8.0-second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 143mph, while emitting just 109g/km of CO2 and returning 68.9mpg on the combined cycle.
Of the petrol models, both the 320i and the 328i came with the four-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged N20 with outputs of 184hp and 245hp respectively, offering 0-62mph times of 7.3- and 5.9-seconds, while the 328i has a combined economy figure of 44.1mpg. The 335i used the same basic engine as the outgoing model but offered better performance economy and emissions, especially when hooked up to the automatic gearbox.
All F30 Threes came as standard with a six-speed manual with an automatic being an option, and this self-shifter had eight ratios making the auto models particularly efficient. There was more good news for buyers of the 320d EfficientDynamics, as for the first time this model was available with the eight-speed auto.
Further models joined the line-up later in 2012 – the 316i, the 320i EfficientDynamics, the 330d, the 320i xDrive and the Active Hybrid 3. The all-wheel drive 320i xDrive became the first 3 Series saloon to be offered in the UK with this type of drivetrain while the Active Hybrid 3 was the 3 Series’ first foray into hybrid power. The combination of the 335i’s turbocharged straight-six and an electric motor offered excellent performance – 0-62mph took just 5.3-seconds – but it’s 2.4-mile all electric range meant that this wasn’t really designed with the eco warrior in mind.
Brawnier diesel models also joined the fray, the 330d in mid-2012 and the 335d in 2013, along with a middle-ground option, the 325d. While the 335d offered the ultimate in performance it could only be ordered with xDrive so those after traditional rear-wheel drive thrills were limited to the 330d (which could be specced with xDrive, too), but it was still a hugely impressive machine. The 330d was only offered with the eight-speed auto but with 258hp and 413lb ft of torque.
It knocked off the 0-62mph dash in just 5.6-seconds yet returned a combined fuel economy of 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions of just 129g/km. So there was an extensive engine line-up (and we haven’t even got to the LCI models yet!) but there was an equally extensive selection of trim levels to choose from. ES models (only available on the 316i and 316d) were a little bit down on spec but still received auto air, 17-inch alloys, keyless go, cruise, Bluetooth, iDrive and a USB audio interface, but you’d have been better off with an SE spec machine. This added 17-inch Star-spoke style 393 alloys with run-flat tyres, auto air-con (two zone), an auto dimming rear-view mirror, rear PDC and a rain sensor with auto headlight activation. On the 328i and above, SE spec also added Extended lighting, front PDC and Servotronic steering.
New for the 3 Series were Sport, Modern and Luxury trim levels which all aimed to give the car a different feel and ambiance. Sport was perhaps the most convincing with unique-to- the-model 17-inch alloys, black high-gloss air intakes with redesigned bumpers, sports seats with red stitching, a Sport leather steering wheel and further sporty detailing. Modern was the least successful with matt chrome highlights and a two-tone Oyster interior – it was quietly dropped when the F30 received its facelift. The Luxury models majored on lashings of chrome, gloss wood interior trim and leather seats while M Sport featured the expected array of M aerodynamics, wheels, leather sports seats and sport suspension. The major change for the F30 came mid-2015 when the car underwent its mid-life refresh.
Exterior upgrades weren’t ground-breaking with minor styling tweaks to the bumpers along with restyled head and tail lights which featured increased use of the now de rigueur LEDs. Inside there were some updated components but it was under the skin that the most important changes were to be found.
Virtually the entire engine line-up was revamped with the new modular B class family of engines, with just the 330d and 335d retaining previously used units. For the first time in the 3 Series a three-cylinder engine was used for the new entry-level petrol model, the 318i, which effectively replaced the 316i. It punched above its 1499cc weight and with 136hp it could just dip below the nine second mark from rest to 62mph and thanks to its relatively light weight was actually quite entertaining to drive.
For the 320i the N20 was ditched and replaced with the B48 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit that developed 184hp and 214lb ft of torque which gave it a 7.2-second 0-62mph time yet offered around 50mpg on the official combined cycle. The same engine, but in a different state of tune, was used in the 330i which replaced the 328i. With 252hp and 258lb ft and it could reach 62mph from rest in just under six seconds in manual Saloon form. Top dog in the petrol line up was the new 340i which was the first BMW to receive the new B58 modular version of the six-cylinder petrol unit. With a swept volume of 2998cc it developed the same 326hp and 332lb ft of torque and was good for a 5.1-second 0-62mph time.
The 316d, 318d, 320d and 320d EfficientDynamics all used the new B47 unit to replace the old N47 and had outputs ranging from 116hp and 190hp and offered up to 72.4mpg. The 320d EfficientDynamics managed to dip below the magic 100g/km CO2 barrier (when spec’d as an auto) which made it a very popular company car choice.
The last two diesels, the 330d and 335d xDrive used tweaked versions of the previous N57 engine with outputs of 258 and 313hp respectively. Both were popular models. The LCI models also saw changes to their suspension and steering to enhance their sporting credentials while both the eight-speed auto and six-speed manual ‘boxes featured minor revisions, including rev matching on the manuals when changing down the ‘box. The last major arrival was the debut of the 330e in 2016. It combined a four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined output of 252hp and an official combined economy of up to 148mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 44g/km. It has an electric range of up to 25-miles but the battery pack did rob some boot space, dropping its capacity to 370-litres which did blunt its practicality a little.
The F30 was eventually replaced by the new G20 model in early 2019.
The major change came in 2015 when the car underwent its midlife refresh
We’ll start here with the diesels as the range of engines fitted to the F30 tend to be slightly less reliable than the petrol units – indeed, in What Car?’s latest reliability survey some BMW diesel models were significantly more likely to be troublesome than their petrol counterparts.
The four-cylinder N47 diesel found in the pre-facelift F30 was much improved over earlier versions of the engine but there’s still the timing chain issue to be wary of. The chain is located at the back of the engine so replacement involves the removal of the engine – it can be done by removing the gearbox, but either way it’s going to be costly when repairs are required. A failing chain can be spotted by a rhythmic ‘shh, shh, shh’ noise rather than by a heavy rattle you might expect and if a car you’re looking at exhibits this noise then walk away and look at another.
Extended service intervals didn’t help so we’d recommend changing the oil on one of these units every 8,000-miles or so, no matter what the service indicator tells you.
Turbos and injectors seem to fare much better than on older versions of the engine, but can fail on higher mileage examples. Other problems to be aware of include front exhaust flexi-pipes can split whilst gradual coolant loss can be due to the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) cooler leaking coolant into the inlet manifold and thus into the engine to be burnt off. The EGR valves themselves can jam and require either cleaning or replacement and there have been numerous EGR-related recalls so double check that a potential purchase has had this done. The B47 that replaced the N47 seems to be healthy so far, although they can still suffer from EGR problems.
The N57 found in the 330d and 335d uses a similar design but the smoother running of the six-cylinder unit seems to make them less susceptible to the chain issue, but listen closely as they have been known to fail. Turbos and injectors are again fairly robust, but the faults still apply and cheap diesel can also make a mess of the high pressure fuel pump and injectors, too. It’s also worth asking yourself whether you really need the additional performance of a 335d – its additional complexity makes the 330d a better buy when it comes to forking out for repairs.
Generally speaking the petrol engines fare better than the diesels with the four-cylinder N20 and later B48 units proving to be pretty reliable. The N20 is pretty solid but there have been the odd instances of timing chain problems and they can suffer from the occasional oil leak from the oil filter housing and valve cover gasket. So far the B48 looks to have a good reliability record but with all these engines regular oil changes are key to keeping them in fine fettle.
The six-cylinder N55 petrol in the 335i is generally not a bad unit although like many N series engines it does seem rather susceptible to an oil leak, notably from the oil filter housing gasket. As it’s a direct injection unit it can also suffer from carbon build up which can be removed with walnut blasting. Rattling from the top of the engine will generally be down to the hydraulic lifters rocking in their bores and this is more likely to happen on units that haven’t had regular oil changes or have generally been a little abused. Direct injection pumps can fail, too. So far the B58 in the 340i is looking pretty solid and doesn’t exhibit any notable foibles so that’s good news.
Fortunately there aren’t too many problems to be found with the F30’s gearboxes, either the six-speed manual or ZF eight-speed auto (ZF 8HP). Which you choose is down to personal preference but there are a couple of items to note. On the manuals, especially higher mileage cars you can get a rattle from the dual mass flywheel and even an aftermarket item will set up back around £600 plus the cost of a new clutch too, plus labour. Also check that the box engages reverse without problems – they have been known to be problematic.
The eight-speed auto is very good and rarely gives cause for concern, any problems generally being related to the electronics rather than the ‘box itself. They’re sealed for life units but ZF reckons the oil should be changed by around 75,000-miles or eight years, especially if used in hot conditions, if driven in a sporting manner or if the car is used for towing.
Differentials and drive shafts aren’t a cause for concern, but do listen out for any untoward noises from the diff as a whining unit is not unheard of, even if it’s pretty rare.
Steering and suspension
Overall there aren’t too many problems with the F30’s underpinnings but hard driven examples may now be ready for replacement dampers, especially if the car’s been driven hard when fully loaded. Listen out for knocks or clunks on a test drive as bushes can wear out with one of the more regular problems being the bump stops which can split. Parts aren’t expensive but the struts have to be removed to effect a replacement.
Another known foible of the F30 is a rattle from the steering, especially when travelling over rougher roads. The only known cure is a new electric rack – around £2,000 for the part from BMW. F30s do seem to be quite susceptible to their suspension geometry going out of kilter after a few years and have a full geometry check every few years will do wonders for the way the car drives and should also prevent excessive tyre wear, too.
You won’t find rust on an F30 unless it’s been poorly repaired but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the usual checks. Do the panels line up correctly with more or less uniform gaps? Is the paint finish consistent between panels? Are the lights all in good condition without and crack, chips or water ingress? Are any exterior trims in good order?
F30s do seem to be susceptible to their suspension geometry going out of kilter...
Wheels, tyres and brakes
For the F30 generation the spectre of cracked alloys that seemed to plague the E90 3 Series seems to have been resolved but give the wheels a good check over anyway. Check for cracks and kerb damage. Virtually all models came with runflats and by the time the F30 hit the streets they were pretty good from a ride comfort perspective, but if buying an M Sport on the optional 19-inch rims don’t expect a magic carpet ride. 17s offer a decent ride, the 16s on the EfficientDynamics models are even better and 18s are a tolerable compromise between looks and ride comfort. Check that whatever boots it’s fitted with are a known brand – nothing screams that a car’s been run on a shoestring like budget rubber.
There aren’t many worries on the braking front other than regular pad and disc replacements – rear pads can require replacement frequently on hard driven examples as the DSC uses them to keep on top of the car’s stability. ABS is more or less problem free and the F30 is too new to worry about rusty brake pipes unless it’s spent its entire life driving through sea water.
The F30 was pretty well screwed together and the materials used were of a decent quality so a potential purchase should still be in good order. Both the leather and fabric seats seem to wear well but do the usual checks for rips and tears or any staining. Bolsters seem to resist wear fairly well, too.
One seat-related item that does not do so well are the seat bases which have a tendency to rust. Its unsightly rather than a structural problem and if you make a big fuss you might have them replaced by a dealer under goodwill or warranty.
Check all the electrics work well – these 3 Series had more equipment than ever before so it pays to take your time and ensure everything works as it should. Does the air-con blow cold? Does the sat-nav boot up quickly? Do all the windows work? Simple things to check, but they’ll avoid financial pain further down the line if checked prior to purchase.
With a vast number of different engines to choose from and an extensive range of trims there really is an F30 to suit all tastes and budgets. Pre-facelift diesels aren’t compatible with London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone so avoid those if you regularly head to the capital. Other than that the 2.0-litre diesels are great machines, offering a great blend of performance and economy, although if you can stretch to a 330d you won’t regret it – it’s almost as quick as a 335d F30 and is a gem to drive.
The petrol models do seem to be a little more reliable than the diesels and the 320i is a very nicely balanced and entertaining machine to drive. The 328i F30 and 330i F30 do offer considerably more go without being significantly more expensive to run so again, these are the models we’d recommend. If you’ve somewhere to charge it and do lots of short trips a 330e could also be a good option, but do bear in mind the loss of luggage capacity if you plan to regularly fill the boot.
Post face-lift cars do drive a little better and have the advantage of packing the latest technology – if budget allows then these are the cars to go for. Overall though any F30 is a very decent machine – buy the best you can and enjoy it!
F30 Diesel models (selected highlights) BMW 320d LCI 330d LCI
- Engine: B47 four-cylinder N57 six-cylinder
- Capacity: 1995cc 2993cc
- Max Power: 190bhp @ 4000rpm / 258bhp @ 4000rpm
- Max Torque: 295lb ft @ 1750-2500rpm / 413lb ft @ 1500-3000rpm
- 0-62mph: 7.3-seconds 5.6-seconds
- Top speed: 146mph 155mph
- Economy: 67.3mpg 56.5mpg
- Emissions: 111g/km 131g/km
F30 Petrol models (selected highlights) BMW 330i LCI 340i LCI
- Engine: B48 four-cylinder B58 six-cylinder
- Capacity: 1998cc 2998cc
- Max Power: 252bhp @ 5200-6500rpm / 326bhp @ 5500-6500rpm
- Max Torque: 258lb ft @ 1450-4800rpm / 332lb ft @ 1380-5000rpm
- 0-62mph: 5.9-seconds 5.1-seconds
- Top speed: 155mph 155mph
- Economy: 43.5mpg 36.7 mpg
- Emissions: 151g/km 179g/km