If you’re in search of a luxurious saloon, the BMW 3 Series and BMW 5 Series will no doubt have made your shortlist. Both are smart, stylish vehicles that offer comfort and performance in abundance, but which should you go for? To help you decide, we’ve made a used BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series comparison, highlighting the key features on both.
Both models have a lot to offer in the looks department, but those in search of a more modern design will prefer a used BMW 5 Series. It has a bolder, more striking finish with sharper lines and squarer headlights. The used BMW 3 Series meanwhile, has a slightly safer, more classic design.
Inside is a similar story: the 3 Series has a simple layout with intuitive dials and switches, made functional by the matt black finish, while the 5 Series’ controls look slick and hi-tech thanks to the chrome effect accents. The display screen is also slightly larger than that of the 3 Series. That said, the 5 Series’ cockpit could seem a little overwhelming to some, making that of its sibling more attractive.
Both models have high-quality, soft-touch materials and delicate finishes to give their interior a premium feel. Space is ample in both too, although the 5 Series, being a step up from the 3 Series, offers a little more legroom in the rear.
As the smaller of the vehicles, you’d expect the used 3 Series to be less practical, but this isn’t the case. Offering plenty of room for all occupants, as well as a 480-litre boot, it’s more than capable of transporting a family of four and their luggage in complete comfort. There’s a host of cubby holes and storage compartments in the cabin too, meaning the space stays uncluttered even on longer drives.
The 5 Series, meanwhile, has a more luxurious feel due to its all-round larger dimensions. Both the front and the rear can seat adults comfortably, and the 530-litre boot allows for those bigger or more awkwardly shaped pieces of luggage. The extra space comes at a premium, however, as the 5 Series starts from several thousand pounds more than its little brother.
BMW is renowned for the reliability of its models, so it’s no surprise that the BMW 3 Series’ reliability is top-notch. A used model of under three years old retains its manufacturer warranty, which covers unlimited mileage where most are limited at 60,000 miles. The BMW 5 Series’ reliability score is similar with the unlimited mileage warranty as standard and few elements to complain about.
Performance is, of course, an important factor for any driver, but particularly so for saloon owners. A smooth, comfortable ride is paramount, especially for those who are using their vehicle as a business car as well as a family one. Both models have a range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from; as a smaller car, the 3 Series delivers a punchy drive with the smaller petrol engines in the range, while the diesels offer excellent efficiency and CO2 emissions of under 140g/km. There’s also a version of the 2.0-litre petrol unit that is coupled with a small electric motor and provides up to 250hp and around 25 miles on electric-only power.
The 5 Series benefits from the larger engine variants in its range, with the 3.0-litre turbo petrol option providing strong performance and keen acceleration. Those looking for economy, however, should opt for the 2.0-litre diesel, which returns 68.8mpg.
On balance, there’s little between the engines, but those wanting a more economical drive and lower running costs will prefer the BMW 3 Series, while those looking for power should opt for the 5 Series.
If your business mainly takes you around town, the BMW 3 Series is the clear winner. With smaller dimensions, it offers a more agile drive and better manoeuvrability. Its ride also feels more sporty thanks to the supple suspension and the excellent power delivery from the engines. That said, it’s comfortable on the motorway too, with responsive steering and firm grip providing a stable and controlled ride.
If life takes you long-distance, the model to choose is the 5 Series. It’s built for high speed cruising, with suspension adapted for comfort and a real sense of poise on the motorway. It’s also packed with technology such as Adaptive Cruise Control to make driving effortless. On country roads and city streets, meanwhile, it remains composed and smooth.
Drivers of premium cars have come to expect an extensive range of technologies to assist their journey. Neither the 3 Series nor the 5 Series disappoint in this respect. On the BMW 3 Series, entry-level SE trims come equipped with sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, and cruise control as standard. There are also rear parking sensors, which are handy in urban environments where parking is tighter and a smaller turning circle is needed.
Bluetooth, a DAB radio, and automatic lights and wipers are also standard, while the ED Plus trim adds leather interior details and heated front seats.
The BMW 5 Series comes with even more kit as standard, including heated leather seats and front (as well as rear) parking sensors on the entry-level SE trim. There’s also a 10.2-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and dual-zone climate control for optimum comfort.
When comparing the BMW 3 Series vs 5 Series, it’s clear that both vehicles offer much to the discerning driver. Which you choose, however, largely depends upon your specific needs. As a smaller model, the 3 Series is ideal for city driving and offers lower running costs on several of its variants. If you do more miles, the 5 Series offers more in terms of comfort and technology, making it an excellent option if you need one vehicle to handle both work and family life.